It was meant to be just another tennis match on Court 18. It was the opening round of the 2010 Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Court 18 is not where the big blockbuster matches are played.
John Isner wasn’t exactly a nobody, he was ranked 19th in the world. His opponent, Nicholas Mahut was ranked 148th and earned his place through pre-tournament qualifying. No one predicted this match would go down as one of the great games of all time.
As expected Isner won the first set 6-4. Mahut took Isner by surprise taking the second set 6-3. The third set was locked at 6 games all with Mahut winning the third set in a tiebreaker.
Isner had his back to the wall, Mahut needed just one more set to clinch an unexpected victory. Isner fought hard in the fourth set winning it in a tie-breaker. The game was now locked at two sets all.
Only Five Sets In Tennis
The match was headed into a fifth and final set. It was 9:07 pm and the light on court 18 was fading, the match was suspended after almost 3 hours of play. Isner and Mahut returned the next day at 2:05 pm.
There was no tiebreaker in the last set so if the match reaches 6 games all the game continues. Isner had his first match point when he was leading 10 games to 9 but he failed to convert the opportunity.
Isner had two match points when he was leading 33 games to 32 but again couldn’t finish the job. At 5:45 pm Isner and Mahut had set a record for the longest tennis match in history but they weren't done yet.
They Broke the Scoreboard
At 47 games all the scoreboard broke down. It wasn’t programmed to go any higher. With Isner leading 59 games to 58 he had a fourth match point but stumbled again and the match was tied up at 59 games all.
By now it was 9:09 pm and poor light again suspended play. Isner and Mahut had been out on the court for seven hours playing the same set. The total match time was now almost 10 hours. The crowd was on their feet cheering for both players and shouting “We want more, we want more.”
The next day the crowd got more. Isner and Muhat played for another hour bringing the total game time to 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days. Isner was eventually victorious, winning the final set 70 games to 68. The last set alone lasted more than 8 hours.
Both players had shown incredible endurance. Isner advanced to the second round where he was visibly exhausted and was profoundly beaten in straight sets, he had nothing left.
Second Longest Game in Tennis
It wouldn’t be the only long match Isner would play at Wimbledon. Eight years later Isner was in the semi-finals against South African Kevin Anderson. Anderson won the first set but Isner fired back to win the second and third sets.
The match was already three hours old with Isner needing another set to advance to the Wimbledon final. Anderson dug deep to win the fourth set and put the match into a fifth and final set.
Eight years since the longest match in history and Wimbledon still didn’t have a fifth-set tiebreaker. It was set to be another never ending match. The fifth set alone lasted more than three hours with Anderson outlasting Isner 26-24 to advance to the final. The total game time was 6 hours and 36 minutes.
Isner has played in the longest and second-longest grand slam matches in history. Isner doesn’t have any grand slams or Olympic medals to his name. Now in the latter stages of his career, it seems unlikely that he’ll go down as one of the greats of the game.
Isner will always be remembered for his ability to keep fighting. He got the best out of himself and made his opponents earn every point. After defeating Isner, Kevin Anderson described the game as a draw.
People face many challenges on and off the sporting field. We rarely choose the difficulties we encounter but we can choose how we respond. There are many opportunities to quit and take the easy road. Likewise, each day is an opportunity to choose to continue fighting and to keep trying. We’re not in control of the outcome but we can choose to have an indomitable spirit like that of John Isner.
Travis Barnes lives in central Victoria with his wife and two daughters. He is a contributor for Christian Today and a sportswriter.