Rematch: Isner needs 2 hours, 3 sets to beat Mahut
WIMBLEDON, England – The rematch of the longest match in tennis history certainly was a lot shorter.
A year after needing 11 hours, 5 minutes spread over three days to finish a match that ended 70-68 in the fifth set, John Isner required only about two hours and a mere three sets to beat Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Wimbledon this time.
Isner won 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (6) Tuesday.
"It wasn't easy," he said, "but obviously it was considerably quicker than the last time we played."
Isner, of Tampa, Fla., also won their first-round marathon at the All England Club in 2010, when play twice was suspended by darkness and the match shattered all sorts of records, including for most time on court, most total games, longest set and most aces.
"Nothing's going to live up to that match," Isner said.
Last year, they played 183 games. This year, 34.
Last year, the fifth set alone lasted more than eight hours. This year, the total match time was 2:03.
Last year, Isner hit 113 aces, and Mahut 103. This year, each man finished with eight.
Last year, the match featured twists and turns and required all manner of physical and emotional stamina. Not so Tuesday.
Asked about the original, Isner said: "I don't know if those are good memories. Long, long memories."
Understandably, that match sapped Isner of all his energy and left him barely able to move. He lost his 2010 second-round match in straight sets.
"It's a huge relief. I'm happy to put this one behind me," Isner said Tuesday. "Obviously I'm a lot fresher for my next match."
Isner-Mahut II was played on Court 3, instead of last year's site, Court 18, which now has a plaque commemorating the occasion.
"I'm actually glad they put us out here on this court. I don't know if they want to tarnish the legacy of Court 18 by playing a second time," said Isner, who is ranked 47th. "Chances are our match today wasn't going to live up to last year's match."
Indeed, there were dozens of empty green seats in the stands at the start, despite all the buzz in the tennis world about the rematch. Almost from the moment Isner and Mahut randomly were paired off in Friday's draw at the All England Club, everyone has been talking about the odd coincidence.
Said Isner: "Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, I heard a lot about this match (and) what we did last year. It was tough. I'm assuming I won't get asked a lot of questions about last year's match from now on."
Earlier Tuesday, 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer was asked whether he was looking forward to the second version of Isner-Mahut.
"In some ways, it's a crazy idea that they're playing again. But it's wonderful. I think it's great for the fans who missed it last year to just at least go show respect to those guys who hung in there," Federer said. "I'll try to watch them. I hope it finishes today."
Isner and Mahut were scheduled as the fourth match on Court 3, so they didn't walk out until 6:15 p.m. After the coin toss, they paused to pose for photographers while standing at the net, and Isner tapped Mahut on the shoulder before heading to the baseline to begin warming up. After the match, they hugged.
They've become friends since last year's shared ordeal, speaking to each other or exchanging text messages two or three times a week — although never discussing a certain match.
After last year's loss, France's Mahut said Tuesday, "At first, I was really disappointed. ... I'm still disappointed. But what we did last year, it's much more than a tennis match. ... I'm very proud of it."
Part of the reason their record-breaking match went as long as it did was because neither could manage to break the other's serve, and Tuesday's first set followed that pattern. But in the tiebreaker, Isner raced to a 6-1 lead and eventually took the set when Mahut sailed a backhand passing shot long.
The first break of serve came when Mahut pushed a forehand long to give Isner a 3-1 lead in the second set. And Isner broke again to end that set. During the rest period before the third, the 6-foot-9 Isner put a towel down on the sideline and got on his back, turning to both sides to stretch his back.
He was broken for the only time all day to fall behind 2-1 in the third set, and by then it was past 8 p.m.
There are no artificial lights anywhere other than Centre Court at Wimbledon, and even on a clear evening, it's rare for play to stretch much beyond 9 p.m.
That amounted to the closest thing to drama.
"I was down a break, and I was telling myself that if I lose the third set, chances are we're not going to finish this match," Isner said. "Everybody's going to start talking about how it's going into a second day, maybe into another third day."
No such problems.
Isner broke back to 4-all, and again came through in a tiebreaker. He finished with 41 winners and only 10 unforced errors.
"He just played better than me, and that's it," Mahut said.
Isner was asked to compare how it felt to win his two very different matches against Mahut.
"I would say I was more relieved last year to finally get it over with, because what we did was remarkable, and you can't ever think something like that could happen. But I also knew, to be honest, after last year's match that I had no shot in the second round. That was kind of tough to swallow," Isner said.
"This year, I'm happy to get through this one. The goal is the second week," he added. "If you can get to that, anything's possible."