Drawing Inspiration from Isner-Mahut
by Ben Pronin | June 24th, 2010, 3:49 am

The numbers speak for themselves. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have shattered every record ever recorded in a single tennis match. And I’m sure everyone’s already read about all the aces, hours, winners, etc., that’s been topped. With 118 games in the final set already played, they’ve more than doubled the previous record of 48 (for a singles match). ADHEREL

There are some people who are blaming the awful return games of each guy for the length of this match. I have to agree. Yes they’re awesome servers, but neither one is returning nearly as well as they should be. But they’ve always been bad returners. Yet they’ve broken hundreds, if not, thousands of players over the course of their careers/lives. And here we are, each one has held over 70 straight times.

If nothing else, this is a testament to impalpable determination. We’re always talking about how tough and gritty someone like Rafael Nadal is. But here is Mahut, ranked outside the top 100, had to qualify for the event, nearing the end of his career at age 28, fighting like a dog for a place in only the SECOND round.

And his much taller but four years younger opponent is fighting JUST as hard for only his second CAREER win on grass. This has never been witnessed before in any sport or game or anything. It’s just incredible. For once I wish tennis was more like soccer and players could draw because this match is just that – a draw.

I’ve played plenty of tennis matches in my life. I’ve played plenty of other sports and games, too. I’ve had to study some of the most difficult subjects, taken some of the most difficult exams. And to witness these guys concentrate and not give in at all is unreal. For 7 hours today, both Mahut and Isner have kept their eyes on the prize without blinking for even a second.

We’ve all seen some incredible feats over the last 100 years since professional sports have become an intricate part of society, but we’ve never seen something this extraordinary. And like Isner said, “Nothing like this will ever happen again. Ever.”

This isn’t the greatest match of all time in terms of quality. It’s not the most significant match in tennis, even for the two playing it. And it’s for a place in just the second round of the tournament. And, again, in terms of numbers and statistics, it is maybe the most historic match in history. But if nothing else, at least for me, this is the most inspirational spectacle I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

Congratulations and good luck to both players tomorrow. I hope they both have a successful recovery for tomorrow and for the future.

My new motto is, “If Isner can hit 98 aces, then I can…”

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90 Comments for Drawing Inspiration from Isner-Mahut

Eskay Says:

I feel sorry to say this, but the best inspiration to draw from this would be to frame some rules to ensure that this does not happen again. If tie breaks were introduced to get over some problem, no harm in formulating some mechanism to overcome this problem too.

Joshua Says:

Eskay — such a mechanism is highly unlikely to be terribly useful. Certainly, extending the US Open’s fifth set tie-break rule might be worthwhile for lots of reasons, but in that debate Isner-Mahut is made irrelevant by its extremity. Most long fifth sets end in the mid-teens. So, assuming the other majors wish to keep some kind of long fifth set, they’d have to establish the tiebreak limit at a point high enough (15 all? 20 all?) that it would almost never be used. Crafting rules to avoid completely freakish events from taking place again is mostly a waste of energy tennis might spend elsewhere.

I’m very interested to see what transpires tomorrow. By 20 all, both of these men seemed content, on most points, to allow the server to hold despite the plummeting strength of those serves. How they respond in those first couple of games tomorrow, sore beyond belief, will be quite interesting. Just a shame that someone in this match will have won at least 81 games and still have to lose in the first round. And poor Mahut had to win another superlong (though relatively kindergartenish) set 24-22 in the qualies!

One last point: it’s often said that the male players deserve more money because they play longer than the women. If that’s true, than doesn’t the LOSER of this match deserve the champions million pounds?

NearlySane Says:

Disagree – no real point in changing the rules for a situation that has happened once – and if we had tie breaks in the 5th at Wimbledon it would have affected the last two finals

guy Says:

yes they’ve broken other players, but this is grass and a case where they’re both huge servers. if you see matches of isner, mahut versus other huge servers, breaks are very unlikely even on hardcourt let alone grass.

it’s basically a glitch in the system, this matchup and the fact they found themselves in a fifth set on grass.

isner says this couldn’t happen again, but i disagree.

if karlovic, guccione, ever met one of these guys or eachother and got to a fifth, it could be even worse. because karlovic and guccione are some of the worst returners of all time. they make mahut look like davydenko.

meanwhile, wimbledon is being insane putting them on in the late afternoon for the 3rd day. you HAVE to put this match on first, and possibly earlier in the morning than the scheduled start. you don’t want them rested, you want a result. and their potential opponent needs to be considered.

joe Says:

Im going to have to agree that you dont know what the hell youre talking about.

Two of the best servers in the game, on grass, and you think they should be rifling returns at each other. Each has an average return of serve, but anyone looks bad in the face of a great sevrer.

Gordo Says:

What’s REALLY scary is that if the rules had not been changed years ago where ONLY the 5th set is a “win by 2” scenario, then there is a chance that Isner and Mahut would still be in their 3rd set!

Tell me there wouldn’t be a rule change then!

Huh Says:

Isner-Mahut match isn’t like a dessert, it’s like a hearty meal. It’s not tastier, but it’s quite filled the tennis hungry stomachs so very much!!!

Polo Says:

The Wimbledon committee should just put Mahut-Isner in a different category because they may still be playing until the date scheduled for the Championship match.

Ben Pronin Says:

Haha, Polo that’s exactly what I was thinking. Just skip over the match and let them do their own thing.

guy Says:


each has an average return of serve?
not if you follow the ATP tour
after 11 hours of play mahut has had 3 break point chances.

no they shouldn’t be ‘rifling’ returns, but they should be getting more balls in play, esp on second serves.
it doesn’t matter how deadly these guys first serves are, second serves are almost always returnable for top players

Andrew Miller Says:

In my opinion – two words: tie break. Wimbledon clearly must change the rules to permit a fifth set shoot out for 2011.

Anyone have a sense as to whether any of them have tried something drastic in return games to break and end (and possibly win) the match?

Andrew Miller Says:

Seriously, just being critical here, has either player changed tactics, like guy is saying, to return a few more balls?

After 136 games in the fifth set, I’d think either one or the other player has become an expert on the other person’s serve. Again, being critical, they’ve had enough time to “crack the code” on one another’s serve.

Andrew Miller Says:

(example: Nadal vs. Gulbis. Nadal steps back a little bit in the 2nd set at Wimbledon and suddenly magically he is returning it after losing the first set. Yes, Nadal is one of the best returners of all time, but he did something ANY PLAYER could do [yet usually, do not])

been there Says:

Congratulations to ISNER!! for a game (war/battle) well fought.
John Isner is the Wimbledon 2010 Champion.

On a side note: Did Mahut choke? (humour!!)…the things we read in tennis. lol

Andrew Miller Says:

OK Isner won. Finally. 70-68 in the fifth set.

No mas!

jane Says:

Wow, congrats to Isner, but to Mahut as well. What an unprecedented battle on the tennis court. But so sporting as well. Kudos.

Polo Says:

I don’t know Andrew Miller. I cannot presume to know what a player thinks especially in the middle of a match like one which we have just witnessed.

xmike Says:

It was really sad that someone had to loose; I hope they Mahut wild cards for Wimbledon for the rest of his career.

zola Says:

Really bad that there had to be a loser in this epic match. They are both gentlemen and champions.
Nice of Wimbledon to have a ceremony and so nice of Mahut to have a picture next to the scoreboard…..Just amazing.

Hats off to both guys who made history.

btw, Italy is out of the World cup! Slovakia played really well.

I used to like watching soccer but in this world cup the matches are so physical, it is hard to watch.

madmax Says:

Well, they just finished a special ceremony for Isner and Mahut. the longest match ever in the history of tennis. 11 hours 5 minutes over 3 days. They each served over 100 ACES and Mahut served 65 times to save the match – that is incredible. They just asked him what was he thinking of at those critical points – he said he tried not to think about it, but just to play the point in the game at that time, and not look further ahead.

They were then asked to stand by the scoreboard 2 68, 2 70. Amazing. You cannot help but feel for Mahut. He said though it was painful, he felt honoured to be part of such an historic place in Tennis. Good luck to him.

Andrew Miller Says:

kind of feel they should re-evaluate the tie break option for the fifth set. seriously…138 games in the fifth set.

US Open max is 65 games for a MATCH. Both players exceeded that for the fifth set, making the final games score a multiple (for the match) of the maximum number of games for a US Open match.

dari Says:

It really is sad there was a loser at all, but I suppose I am glad john isner got his second grass win ever! hard way to get it! unprecedented moment in sports history, kudos to both. ESPN, Can I see the nadal match now?

Gregoire Gentil Says:

This match doesn’t raise the issue of tie-break or not. This match just shows the stupidity of this surface.

And BTW, they should have moved the match to the centre court yesterday night, put the lights on, and lock the doors. 11 hours is amazing but it’s over three days.

dari Says:

This is the wildest Wimbledon.#151 takes a set off of bad ass nadal! These young guns are coming to play! We’ve got a long way to go yet

dari Says:

A couple BIG winners from nadal and that first set loss might mean nothing. I love this game

Huh Says:


Huh Says:



Huh Says:

Hey Rafa, come on, give me an epic five setter! ;)

Huh Says:


skeezerweezer Says:

Congrats to Isner and Mahut. They both already are winners of Wimbledon 2010 to me. Historic!

@ GG

I’d rather play on Grass than Dirt ANYDAY :)

Huh Says:


Huh Says:

“I’d rather play on Grass than Dirt ANYDAY :)”


Gordo Says:

Yep Andrew, let’s do the math – number of mens and womens singles matches in the three grand slams that have the potential to go beyond 6-6 –

762 (based on 128 competitors x 2 (M/F) x 3 [AO, RG,Wimby]).

The tiebreaker rule was introduced to Wimbledon in 1971, slightly different than it is now. In sets 1,2,3 and 4 the tiebreak was employed only if the score in each of those sets reached 8-8. In 1979 the current scoring was adopted.

So for 39 years we have had the “win by 2” rule in the 5th set.

Thats 39 years x 762 matches = 29,718 matches before one reached the marathon lengths that the Mahut/Isner match achieved.

My God yes, change the rules, or else this might happen again sometime in the next 39 years.

That being said, Djokovic made a crack that if it reaches 50-50 maybe they should play a tiebreaker to decide the match.

Maybe not at 50-50, but perhaps at 20-20?

Let’s see how Isner fares in his next round.

dari Says:

I am recalling federer’s comment about anyone being able to win on clay, you just have to be able to run, no complete game necessary. You could make the case on grass that you just have to serve big and hit big. We are seeing a lot of minor players having more than minor success against players ranked much higher.

dari Says:

No way that return from rafa just went in!

Polo Says:

2010 Wimbledon will be remembered for the Isner-Mahut match. Congratulations to those two guys. It will not happen again because I think they will change the rules after this match. Great as this match was for all the records it has broken and achieved, it was too much of a punishment for the players physically and mentally. Both players come out as winners but such punishment could easily turn the winner into a loser in his next match.

Andrew Miller Says:

Why punish players in the fifth set, it ruins either player’s chances for the rest of the tournament.

Andrew Miller Says:

For example: Wouldnt Roddick last year have fared better against Federer in a fifth set tiebreak vs. a 16-14 (30 game) set?

Huh Says:

So glad that Italy crashed out of the World Cup. Karma got it. Broke my heart last time by baiting Zidane through cheap tactics for the sake of winning. France lost, Zidane was denied glory and triumphant farewell. But thank God, this time nothing saved Italy and they deserved this ignominy. Still can’t forget how tough it was to see Zidane walking out in the 2006 WC final on being shown the red card, my dream was to see Zidane holding the WC for the last time in his final appearance in 2006. I was completely devastated! Italy has always been a magnificent team, they sure could have avoided cheating for the sake of the cup, but they didn’t! And just see what happened this time, FIRST ROUND EXIT!!! Beautiful and just is this law of Karma!

Kimo Says:

Polo, they won’t change the rules because the Isner-Mahut match was an anomaly. Fifth sets rarely go to 20 all. They usually end 8-6, 9-7 or 10-8. Even the Roddick-Federer final last year was a big anomaly.

Andrew, the idea behind an advantage fifth set is that the TB would be to cruel to the losing player. Also, the player who wins has to prove he can break his opponents serve under extreme pressure. Imagine if last year’s Wimby final had a TB. Roddick would have lost the match without being broken even once. That’s much crueler than losing because you were broken at 14-15. I’m not saying it isn’t cruel at all, but it’s the lesser of two evils.


Andrew Miller Says:
For example: Wouldnt Roddick last year have fared better against Federer in a fifth set tiebreak vs. a 16-14 (30 game) set?

In hindsight it appears so, but at the time Roddick hadn’t been broken all match and Fed had been broken twice I think. If Roddick had a choice at playing 4 sets I think he would have chosen not to have a tiebreak in the final set.

Kimo Says:

Andrew Miller said:

“For example: Wouldnt Roddick last year have fared better against Federer in a fifth set tiebreak vs. a 16-14 (30 game) set?”

How can you tell? The 2nd and third set TBs both went Fed’s way (even though Roddick should have won the 1st TB, but he didn’t).

JCZ Says:

So what’s up with WImbledon and the top guys this year? Nadal down 2 sets to 1 to a 151 ranked player.


My last sentence should read:

If Roddick had a choice AFTER 4 sets…

andrea Says:

well, if nadal wants out of this second round, it will have to be a five setter.

andrea Says:

and congrats to isner and mahut. their match was front page news everywhere yesterday which is great for tennis…especially in a world cup year!

aleish17 Says:

hey Huh!

I think Im going to die watching Rafa’s match right now. It’s killing me. I dont like this thrill. Can’t stand it but really wanted to see Nadal play.

You wished for 5 sets right? Nadal and Hasse is giving you right now. But this is killing me. Im gonna have a nervous breakdown.

Vamos Rafa!

Huh Says:

Thanks for giving me the 5 setter Rafa, now c’mon, take this match!!

aleish17 Says:

Im sooooooooooo glad that Nadal looks to be in control of the 4th set.

tennisfansince76 Says:

Nadal should win this match in 5. clear sailing for Soderling to the Q’s. I like his chances against rafa there.

tennisfansince76 Says:

haase is the kind of guy who can give Nadal trouble on grass. if he was only a better mover I’d like his chances better.

aleish17 Says:

Yeah, c’mon Rafa take this match! C’moooooonnnn!!!!!

Huh Says:

Aleish, no!!!!!!!

Please, be patient my dear friend!
So sorry, if I hurt you, I have altogether forgotten that such close shaves involving Rafa’d be so uncomfortable for you. But I don’t want you to be sad. :(

I’m also rooting for Rafa to win this match, sincerely and right from the beginning, no kidding here! But I just wanted a thriller! Dunno why, but I just wanted it and got it. So now I certainly want ONLY Rafa to take the 4t and 5th sets and win this match. It’d personally be a shame for me if Rafa or Fed lost to someone like a 50/100/150 + ranked guy, a bit exciting matches I can live with though, it makes win even sweeter!



Polo Says:

This reminds me so match of Federer’s first match. Nadal will take this in five. Maybe it will break the record just set by Isner and Mahut.

Huh Says:

ALEISH, I’M CHEERING ALSO FOR RAFA ALONG WITH YOU, looking at the scores as live telecast not here.

Indeed C’mon Rafa and take his match!

Huh Says:

Please Polo, I don’t want another 150+ game match!

Huh Says:

Wow Rafa, you’re the ‘King of Bagel’! :D

Huh Says:

Rafa breaks, good!

Huh Says:

C’mon Sam, just take it!

aleish17 Says:

Yooohhhoooo! This 5th set is looking good for Rafa. Hope he takes this one. At least now, I feel more relieved.

Dont worry Huh, I still have a strong belief that Rafa will pull this through. Im just very nervous though.

Huh Says:

Indeed Aleish! :)

aleish17 Says:

C’mon Rafa, hold your serve! Oooooooooohhhhhhh pleeeaaasssssee!!!!!

Maso Says:

Rafa hasn’t dropped a point on serve in the 5th! Amazing. Haase’s been shaky since the 4th set, but to his credit, it’s incredible that he’s taken 2 sets from Rafa.

aleish17 Says:

Serving for the match. Hold your serve Rafa!

andrea Says:

i smell a soderling/nadal show down coming soon.

aleish17 Says:

And that’s it!!! wheeewwww! Way to go Rafa!
Full credit to Hasse for pushing Rafa to 5 sets.

Congrats fellow Rafa fans!!!
Thanks for other fans who rooted for Rafa in this match! Thanks Huh!

He made it to the next round. Yooohhhoooo!!!

Fot Says:

Just goes to show on this surface anything can happen. Congrats to Rafa’s fans but also to Hasse’s fans (if he has any here). You never want to underestimate these low ranked players because – they can play too!


Crazy Wimbledon. Who would have thought that Cilic, Baghdatis, and Fish would all exit before Montanes, Ferrer and Fognini.

Huh Says:


And hey, did you see that Aleish?! Seems like Rafa likes me, may be that’s why he gave me what I wanted from him!! :D
So my kisses to Rafa, Xisca, Isabella and Shakeera, hehe! ;)

If Rafa often keeps listening to me this way, then I may consider becoming a fan of his as well, I have to! ;)

Huh Says:

Why? Ferrer’s certainly a very good and competent player, what’s so surprising if he does well.\


Fantastic post about Haase! Kudos to Haase indeed for stretching Nadal to 5 sets.

dari Says:

I’ll be a hAase fan! I don’t like to root against anybody, but I’ve always liked the guys who give rafa a little resistance. it means they’re mad shot makers! fine I will say it. I sincerely hope rafa does not win the tournament. maybe the other robin will take him out.
in other news, glad to see Mr Murray play more aggressive tennis!

Fot Says:

Another ‘small’ upset alert. Kuzzy is out!

Fot Says:

Oooh.. Kuzzy refused to shake hands with her opponent at the net. What’s between these 2? Rodionova and Kuzzy?

Huh Says:

Fed and Rafa both have played at least one 5 setter by the second round. So all is well in Fedal kingdom. :)

aleish17 Says:

Crazy indeed Nelta. I never ever thought that this guy Hasse would pushed Nadal to 5 in this match. I watched the beginning of the match and Hasse is really a huge server. He looked kinda fatigue though when the match reached the 4th set. And he just kinda lost it. Even his 1st serves were screwed during the 4th and 5th.

Good job for Hasse for giving Nadal a difficult test. But Nadal didn’t give in to the pressure and kept fighting. Im not sure about this but I think Nadal studied Hasse’s serve in the 1st set. In the 2nd, he somehow read Hasse’s serve that’s why he was able to return the serve and won the 2nd set.

zola Says:

what a dangerous player Haase is. Great serve and great shots. I think he spent all his energy in the first three games and was very tired in the 5th. His serve percentage dropped from 88% or 85% to 25%.

Great practice for Rafa . he is going to meet huys like Haase all the way. My only complaint is with ESPN. They have really slayed this Wimbledon in favor of the world cup!Even after the soccer games end, they broadcast the commentary ( the same one) on both channels and we miss a lot of good tennis!

interesting about Kuzzy. Why didn’t she shake hands?

Fot Says:

aleish, not to take anything away from Nadal, but Hasse’s ‘form’ when way down in the 2nd and 4th and 5th sets while Nadal came up. The first game Nadal broke Hasse in that 2nd set, Hasse donated 2 UFE’s for the first 2 points. But all credit to nadal for taking advantage of it.

I said earlier that a lot of folks were ready to dish out the championship after ROUND 1 but some players who had straight sets in round one might struggle in other rounds so it was too early to say who would take the championship.

I still think it’s too early. Like the saying goes – you can’t win the championship in week one, but you sure can lose it. I prefer to wait to see who’s ‘standing’ in the 2nd week – then go from there.

aleish17 Says:

@ Huh

I bet he heard your wish and decided to give you a show so you’ll be delighted. You got what you wanted Huh. But please stop asking for a 5 setter from Rafa. Maybe I’ll also wish for a difficult test for Fed. Maybe a match for Fed which is longer than that of Isner and Mahut. hehe juz kiddin’!

Seriously, I wanted Rafa to have easy matches during the early rounds. For me, I would be greatful to see a 5 setter for Rafa only in the finals. But this just goes to show how physically and mentally strong Rafa is even when he is stretched to 5 sets. I just hope he is well prepared for Sod. I wanted another Wimby title for Rafa. This year would really be great if he takes another slam, to add to his French open glory.

aleish17 Says:

@ Fot

Point taken. Hasse was not consistent in his game. During the 1st, he really served well. But he just lost it in the 1st game of the 2nd set and Nadal just took advantage and bag the 2nd. I also noticed that Nadal was able to return Hasse’s serve during the 2nd and the remainder sets of the match, unlike the 1st set where Hasse’s just aced everything.

Fot Says:

Yes, the best thing for the top players is to get by even when they are not playing their best, or if their opponent is playing out of his mind! That’s what they do more consistently!

Oh my girl Serena looks fantastic right now. Wonder if her opponent will get a GAME?

Fot Says:

I feel for Mahut who just started his double’s match! The guys has been playing for 3 straight days and the schedulers scheduled his double’s match today while they cancelled Isner’s match! Mahut must think everyone is against him! lol!

Huh Says:

Exactly Aleish!

May be from now onwards I’d be asking a 5 setter from Fed too, or may be not, or may be both from Rafa and Fed so that Rod/Muzza/Hewitt can win WIMBY, hehe! ;)


Huh Says:


I’m still delighted about the 5 set match from Rafa! :D

I bet if Rod and Fed get to semi to meet each other, then I’d sure as hell wish a tough 5 setter or even defeat for Fed in the quarters, coz don’t get me wrong, but I want nothing more than Roddick to win this WIMBLEDON!
Whoever comes in Rod’s path, must be decimated!

aleish17 Says:


Let’s just wait and see who will go triumphant this time. Last year, I didn’t get to enjoy Wimby coz Rafa was not there. This time though, I want to see him bite another Wimby trophy.

This is really getting exciting everyday and Im lovin’ every bit of it.

Good luck to your 2 fav tomorrow. Good luck to Rog and good luck to Andy R.!!!

tennisfansince76 Says:

Zola they have been having the tennis on ESPNU. don’t know if you have it. we have it way down the dial ( 420 ).

tennisfansince76 Says:

the Rafa match was one of those non dramatic 5 setters. once rafa broke the 1st game in the 4th set I knew the match was all but over.

Kimmi Says:

Love murray perfomance today. love it..love it. imo, he played like last year. attack, changing pace and great defence. need to keep it up coz its going to get tougher.

Go Muzza

grendel Says:

“once rafa broke the 1st game in the 4th set I knew the match was all but over.” – Ah, a disciple of Zola, I see…..

grendel Says:

The little bit I saw of Murray, he looked good, Kimmi. Nieminen, however, is not the player he was, following injury. If Murray can beat the consistently aggressive Tsonga (assuming Tsonga is not tripped up by Benneteau), then we’ll know he’s back – and ready to offer serious opposition in the semis.

Kimmi Says:

grendel – i see what you mean. even though nieminen is not a dangerous opponent, i was concentrating more on andy’s movement. the way he was hitting the ball. his backhand down the line shot, which was almost none existent when he was going thru a slump. that shot to me is a confidence shot. He hit it so well today. his FH was big too, he hit a lot of winners off that.

We will see when he plays a big hitter. yes, big hitters troubles murray. I don’t think querrey can trouble murray much..I could be wrong though…but i agree about tsonga. can’t seem to forget that murray loss to tsonga at the AO.

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