PARIS – After letting 12 match points — 12! — slip away in the fourth set, 35-year-old Tommy Haas came back from a break down in the fifth and beat John Isner 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7 (10), 10-8 at the French Open on Saturday.
The match lasted 4 hours, 37 minutes. That's nothing, of course, compared to the 11-plus hours Isner played across three days during a record-breaking victory that went to 70-68 in the fifth set at Wimbledon in 2010.
Haas was one point away from winning 12 times late in the fourth set Saturday, but couldn't close it out.
He was only 2 for 22 on break-point chances until converting his 23rd of the match when Isner put a volley into the net. Haas then served out the victory.
The 12th-seeded Haas is the first man to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros at 35 since Jonas Bjorkman was that age in 2007. Yet by the end, he looked to be the fresher man against the 19th-seeded Isner, who is 28.
At the changeover before the very last game, the 6-foot-9 Isner chose not to even sit in his sideline chair, leaning over with his hands on his knees and his chest heaving.
Isner never had come back to win after dropping the first two sets of a match until he did it Friday in Paris against Ryan Harrison in an all-U.S. matchup. Isner couldn't quite pull off that trick twice in a span of about 30 hours, coming so close to another big comeback against Haas.
He had his chance to win, too. Leading 5-4 in the fifth set as Haas served, Isner earned his first — and only — match point. With the roles now reversed — Isner so close to a victory, Haas so close to a loss — the American failed to take advantage, flubbing a backhand on a 12-stroke exchange.
Before that Harrison victory, Isner also had dropped six consecutive five-setters, including one at each Grand Slam tournament in 2012.
In Paris a year ago, Isner lost 18-16 in the second round to Paul-Henri Mathieu, a Frenchman ranked outside the top 250 at the time. That one lasted 5 hours, 41 minutes, making it the second-longest match, by time, in French Open history.
Against Haas, Isner already had saved nine match points before they even got around to playing the fourth-set tiebreaker.
That's where Haas, a four-time Grand Slam semifinalist, got three more chances to end things. Down 7-6 in the tiebreaker, though, Isner hit an ace. Then, with Haas getting a chance to serve while ahead 8-7, the German double-faulted. And at 9-8, making it an even dozen opportunities to win, Haas pushed a backhand into the net.
Isner eventually converted his third set point, at 11-10, with a service winner, and a wide smile creased his face.
The match was more than 3½ hours old, but it finally was even, at two sets apiece. That fourth set lasted more than an hour, and the fifth would, too, even though Isner broke in the opening game en route to grabbing a 3-0 lead.
But he couldn't hold on, despite 27 aces over the course of the late afternoon and early evening on Court 1, which is known as the "bullring" because of its oval shape. A large segment of the crowd, pulling for Haas, broke into clap-accompanied chants of "Tom-my! Tom-my!"
The most effective part of Isner's game is his serve, which comes from such a height that it is difficult for nearly any opponent to deal with, no matter the surface. That's why it's such a challenge to break Isner — or win tiebreakers against him.
His collection of five-set epics — he is now 5-12 in such lengthy matches — includes a loss to Rafael Nadal in the first round of the 2011 French Open, which remains the only time the tournament's seven-time champion has been pushed the distance in Paris.
While Isner again will head home after a five-set setback — leaving zero American men in the tournament — Haas plays on. He'll face No. 29 Mikhail Youzhny of Russia for a berth in the quarterfinals.
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