Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Match

Apologies to all the others out there playing today, but there's only one story today in tennis.

I had put the finishing touches on my interview with University of Southern California's Peter Smith, which will appear Thursday at the Tennis Recruiting Network, so I was planning to watch some of perhaps Roddick's match today, catch the USA's World Cup match, and then run some errands. I was interested in the end of the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut first round match, so I checked on that at wimbledon.org and it was at 2-2. I went to espn3 and sure enough, it was available, even though it was court 18, so I began to watch it on my computer.

Nearly seven hours later, with a few hours of play viewed on ESPN 2 rather that my laptop, I was still watching, and the first round match, which was called due to darkness on Tuesday, was again suspended with the score 59-59 in the final set Wednesday.

Isner had held 59 straight times and faced only two break points in that stretch; Mahut was serving from behind the entire time and yet he only faced four match points. A couple of double faults seemed to suggest that he might crack, but his serve always came through when he needed it. Mahut, who had won a second qualifying match 24-22 in the third this year and came back to play the next day, looked incredibly energetic even toward the end, with the occasional dive for balls. Neither player took a bathroom break until 58-all, and the chair umpire never did. You couldn't help but laugh when he would say the score-"game Isner, he leads 53-52."

I saw Denis Kudla and his coach Frank Salazar seated near the baseline right to the end, and I'm sure it's an afternoon/evening at Wimbledon that neither will ever forget.

The question that occurred to me as the games improbably piled up, one after another, was this more impressive for physical or mental reasons? I think it was Vince Lombardi who once said fatigue makes cowards of us all, and yet, though no one could ever expect a player to be fit enough to play 118 games in a day, neither Mahut nor Isner seemed to shrink from the big moments in the match. It's really hard to comprehend maintaining focus, technique, desire for that length of time.

I wasn't there, and it's a match I'll never forget. How will it end? Will the winner be in any condition to continue playing the tournament? It hardly seems to matter right now. I can just marvel at what two men were able to find within themselves today. I hope every junior in the world was watching them.

For a recap of all the tennis records broken in this match, see this story from the BBC.