Rather than take you through the records set by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, bar two, as Ciaran did that yesterday or try to describe what this match means to Tennis I’m going to look through a few of the talking points surrounding this match.
How this happened
It’s important to address this as the easy answer is lazy and wrong. Jumping to the old cliché about there being too many powerful servers in the men’s game but that’s unfair in this instance. Serving came into it but only because a lot of other elements worked out first. For starters even crazy long sets usually don’t reach a 30 game total because one player will give way to fatigue first. The fitness level of the two had to be remarkably tightly balanced to go this long, especially by professional standards. The same goes on mental strength as if either had a noticeable psychological edge this would not have gone 183 games. Isner and Mahut’s overall ability on the surface also had to be phenomenally close and there is some evidence of this. While Isner has a greater game over all surfaces, both lack substantial experience or success on grass. Finally all of this has to affect the way the duo played. As neither player showed a sufficient difference in fatigue, the difference in energy being expended on service games as opposed to return games increased. Normally this is a negligible difference but over the course of 183 games that gap becomes substantial.
Will they change the rules?
Thankfully the people that run Grand Slam Tennis tournaments are old fogeys who won’t rush to make changes. I don’t praise such intransigence most of the time but I’m going to do it twice in this piece. The reasoning for making last set tie-breaks mandatory misses the point of what happened over the last three days. Yes 183 games is exceptionally long but we wouldn’t be talking about it happening in the first round of a slam if there was anything comparable. Marathons are extremely rare in Tennis, this was not a marathon. A marathon lasts 60 games, like the 62 game epic Nadal-Federer Wimbledon final of 2008, at nearly treble that length Isner-Mahut was a once is a lifetime event. The scoreline of 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 6-7, 70-68 will likely never be repeated.This match is not a problem, it’s something to be celebrated and to tell generations of the future about. Changing the rules so future generations can’t even dream of matching it is pointless.
Court 18 was the right call
Yet again I’m on the same side as the fogeys. Tradition dictates that a match finishes on the same court on which it started and frankly it made sense for the purpose of history. This was the Coliseum where Isner and Mahut did battle for two days straight. It had been their home and their hell. Removing them from it just so they could play in front of a bigger crowd and the Queen may have seemed exciting in the moment but it would take away from the history. Court 18 was part of this story. It was an unexceptional court featuring two unexceptional players in a match where the BBC decided to let a rookie commentator make his debut. The bosses thought giving Ronald McIntosh a minor match would ease him in. Talk about a baptism of fire. This was a story where the players were the lead actors but it’s supporting cast and environment played their parts.
We got the right ending too, I don’t mean in terms of the winner but in terms of the story. The big fear was this match would end in two games this morning but luckily we got another war as it took 20 more games to finish the match. It was right they made the presentations at Court 18 and today as well, this is where the story was told and it was right to do it when the game ended rather than on Championship Sunday.
Some quick housekeeping
I mentioned records and there are two that merit a mention. Isner’s 112 aces is the most in a match ever, he had already broken that record yesterday, but it’s worth giving his final total. Unsurprisingly when you add Mahut’s 103 to that the final tally of 215 aces is a combined record.