“This is the song that never ends, and it goes on and on, my friends.” — Shari Lewis’ immortal children’s character, Lamb Chop
It’s been a Wimbledon that has made less than no sense. This was Alice free-falling down the Rabbit Hole — logic imploding. The John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7) 7-6(3) 70-68 war of attrition was a match that wouldn’t end — but it did. It was a match that took 11:05, but vanished in the flash of a miserably flubbed Mahut drop shot and an Isner forehand winner and a brave backhand pass.
It was a first round match that had more drama and pathos than all but a handful of finals.
It was an outer court match that you would imagine being relegated to the agate, but ended up on the front page of the New York Times — a happening that rivaled the World Cup and shoved into the shadows royal names like Federer, Nadal, Serena and Queen Elizabeth.
It was a so inexplicable, it not only broke records, it destroyed them with a (“this ain’t never happen again”) ferocity.
This was a sports happening that should have been a feel good triumph, but opened the door for short-sighted critics to scream that “God created tie-breaks. Where are they now that we need one?”
This was a Herculean effort by two athletes who inspired wonder and should have been rewarded with glory and consideration. But Frenchman Mahut, after holding serve 67 straight times, had to go out once again to the now famed Court 18 where to play doubles and then, incredibly for the THIRD consecutive dusk, was forced off the court due to darkness.
As for Isner, the American brought world-wide attention to Wimbledon. But then the (“we control this thing, not you”) scheduling committee again flashed its sadistic side, assigning Isner the very first match of the day Friday out on a truly measly side court. Red-blooded Americans thought, where’s the appreciation? What about a hint of compassion for the spent warrior? No wonder we were driven to revolt in 1776.
Considering the match featured one of the great power servers in tennis history, it should have been a brief affair. But historians told us that Serena won some of her Wimbledon titles in less than the 11:05 it took for Isner to win.
This was a three-day match which was all about numbers and records and stats mavens. Not only were there 168 straight service holds, but records for longest match (11:05); most aces (112) by Isner and most combined aces by two players (215) which is more than twice the old record; longest singles match (112 games); longest fifth set (8 hours, 11 minutes and 138 games). The previous record was only 48 games. Perhaps, most astonishing of all, over half the points — 515 — were unreturnable serves.
Yet in the end this battle which touched so many hearts, had its moments of greed. Before the third day of play, good-humored fans chanted “we want more.” But, there was generosity too. Andy Roddick went out and got Isner and his team huge quantities of to go food late after play was stopped Wednesday night.
But in the end the battle was about passion, endurance, desire, execution and the will to win.
It was about a Frenchman, desperate for victory, franticly diving for a shot at 47-47 all in the fifth set. And it was about the will of a near-woozy, punch drunk Isner confiding “Honestly, when I left the match, I really thought it was a dream. I didn’t think that type of match was possible. So I was really expecting to wake up, in all seriousness…It really is better than a dream because you can’t even dream of something like this. I mean, you can dream of winning a match 22-20, maybe 34-32, but not 70-68.”
Here are some highlights from the post-match press conference, where Isner weighed in on…
HOW WELL HE SLEPT ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT
“Honestly, when I left the match, I really thought it was a dream. I didn’t think that type of match was possible. So I was really expecting to wake up — in all seriousness…I didn’t sleep great. I only slept for four hours. I talked to Nic. He said he only slept for about three. So we’re both kind of running on fumes right now.”
WHAT HE WAS FEELING ON THE COURT ON WEDNESDAY
“I didn’t know what I was thinking out there, especially once the match got past 25-all. I wasn’t really thinking. Just hitting a serve and trying to hit a forehand winner is the only thing I was doing. Fortunately, that was going in on my service games. He was serving great and hopping around eight hours into the match, which was remarkable. But going out there today, I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be anything like it was yesterday, although it did take 10 or so service games to finally get a break. I had a feeling it was going to be like that. It wasn’t going to last any more than 20, one way or the other. ”
WHY THE MATCH WAS SO LONG
“I can’t explain that. Obviously, we both served really well. That’s the main thing. But even in that case, you can’t even imagine it going past 20-all. I don’t know. I guess it was just meant to be…In a way I’m kind of glad it happened, although I am pretty tired. It’s pretty nice to be a part of that match.”
WHETHER OR NOT HE WAS WISHING FOR A FIFTH-SET TIEBREAKER
“Yeah, without a doubt. At 20-all yesterday I was thinking that.”
WHETHER WIMBLEDON SHOULD ADOPT THE FIFTH-SET TIEBREAKER
“I don’t think so…It won’t happen again. I think just keep it the same.”
HOW IT FEELS TO BE PART OF TENNIS HISTORY?
“It’s great. I guess something Nic and I will share forever really. I don’t think I’ve ever said five words to the guy prior to our match. Not that he’s a bad guy. It is what it is. Now when I do see him in the locker room at other tournaments, we’ll always be able to share that.”
HIS PHYSICAL CONDITIONING
“My coach actually, believe it or not, said jokingly before the tournament started that I’ll be able to play 10 hours. That’s the truth. After practicing at Saddlebrook in Tampa in that heat, he was right.”
WHAT THE MATCH WILL BE REMBERED FOR — THE QUALITY OF THE TENNIS OR HOW LONG IT LASTED
“I think the quality was pretty good. We both, obviously, just didn’t want to lose our serves. If you do, that’s the match. Toward the end…we were both just hitting winners at will. I was so tired out there. Couldn’t focus. Didn’t know what I was going through. But I was slapping my forehand as hard as I could, and it kept on going in. The same goes for him. But I think it will probably be remembered for the distance.”
HIS POST-MATCH ROUTINE ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT
I drank a recovery shake just to get some carbs in me right away. My coach came to the locker room with a plate of pasta…But I couldn’t eat that right away. A lot of times after a tennis match, you’re not hungry right away. Takes like 30, 45 minutes. Yeah, then I took an ice bath, iced my arm down. Then I ate as much as possible. Then actually Andy Roddick left the site and came back with takeout food for myself and my coach, believe it or not.
WHETHER HE CAN WIN ANOTHER MATCH AT AWIMBLEDON
WHETHER IT WAS THE WILL TO WIN OR FEAR OF FAILURE THAT CARRIED HIM TO THE FINISH LINE?
“I think it was more so the will to win. Obviously in the back of my mind is, as I’m sure it was with him, I don’t want to be on the losing side of this. It’s going to be a little bit better to be on the winning side. But I think it was the will to win. Not that I outwilled him. I mean, obviously he gave it his all. I just kind of was a little bit more fortunate than he was.”
THE THOUGHT OF LOSING
“I don’t even want to think about that.”
HOW MANY BANANAS AND HOW MANY BOTTLES OF WATER HE CONSUMED OVER THREE DAYS
“I think I only had about three bananas. But I had about 12 bars. Probably 30 to 40 things of water…I think I only changed my shirt like two or three times yesterday, believe it or not. And the one today was the same one I started the match with.”
HIS BATHROOM BREAK
“I really had to go. I didn’t want to stop because none of us were taking any breaks. I’m sure both of us could have used a trainer at some point in that fifth set. Neither one of my pinky toes has any skin on them. I could have used some sort of taping there. I’m sure he could have used something as well. I didn’t want to disrupt the flow, but I couldn’t hold it anymore.”
ANY ‘MANNY-ISMS’ THAT CAME TO HIS MIND FROM HIS COLLEGE DAYS AT THE UNIVERSITY OF GEORGIA UNDER COACH MANNY DIAZ
“Just the way that he was able to get to me when I was on court. You know, having him on the court with me. I mean, he said so much great stuff to me. It wasn’t anything in particular that stuck out.”
HIS MOM, WHO WAS CRYING AFTER THE MATCH
“She’s a mom.”
HOW THW WIN WILL SHAPE HIS FUTURE
“This one’s obviously going to stick with me probably the rest of my life really. But I hope it doesn’t define my career. I think I have what it takes to do some really big things in this game…The four biggest tournaments of the year are the Grand Slams. I have probably a good seven, eight years left to try to make a good run at them. So hopefully this won’t be the thing that I’m most remembered about.”
WHETHER HE WEIGHED HIMSELF AFTER THE WEDNESDAY MARATHON TO SEE IF HE LOST MUCH WEIGHT
“I actually haven’t weighed. I told myself I wanted to do that. When I go back to the locker room, I will. But I’m one of the heaviest guys actually, I am the heaviest guy on the tour. I have a little bit of excess in the stomach area. I knew that was going to come in handy one day. It was kind of the reserve tank. It’s not that I eat unhealthy. I work hard. I just can’t get rid of it.”
WHAT HIS PAL ANDY RODDICK BROUGHT HIM FOR TAKEOUT
“All sorts of stuff. It was for my coach and my trainer. There was three boxes of pizza, all sorts of chicken and mashed potatoes, anything. I would have eaten 12 Big Macs.”
WHETHER, AFTER SHEDDING SO MUCH WEIGHT IN THE LAST 24 HOURS, HE THINKS HE COULD BE THE FACE OF WEIGHT WATCHERS
“I guess. It’s not like I’m a heifer or anything. Maybe.”
WHETHER HE EVER LOST TRACK OF THE SCORE
“Yesterday, after a certain point, maybe 25-all, I lost track of it. I was just going out there, holding serve, walking to the bench deliriously, getting up and not breaking, holding. Did that for seven hours really. Yeah, I forgot about the score.”
WHAT IT FELT LIKE TO BE ONE OF THE TWO MOST FAMOUS TENNIS PLAYERS IN THE WORLD ON WEDNESDAY
“Not often do I steal the show from a guy like Federer, but I think I did yesterday. I knew it was probably a big deal around the tennis world, because this is Wimbledon. So anybody that follows tennis, all eyes are on this tournament. It was when I got back to the locker room that I realized how big of a story it was really worldwide.”
HOW MANY RACKETS HE WENT THROUGH
“I usually get about seven rackets strung a match. Sometimes I’ll switch every ball change. Sometimes I’ll switch every two ball changes. At one point yesterday, I didn’t have that luxury. All my rackets were used…When it felt a little loose, I’d pick up another one. I did that about four or five times.”