So different, yet so alike – two matches for the ages mirror each other. One was in England in June. The other was in Australia in January. One was men’s, the other women’s. No lights, on grass and over three days with precious few (this is Wimbledon) rallies vs. an Aussie Open match under lights on hard courts in one very long day with an abundance of cat ‘n mouse scramble rallies.
The differences between the two great marathons of the Open Era were clear. Isner–Mahut went for 11:08. Schiavone–Kuznetsova was “only” 4:44 – which nonetheless was Open Era record for a women’s major.
Isner-Mahut’s numbers were astounding: 183 games, 112 aces by Isner, 215 combined aces, 515 unreturnable serves, 168 straight service holds and a fifth set that stretched for 138 games and lasted for eight hours and 11 minutes.
The women’s match which had a meager 47 games and 207 fewer aces than Isner-Mahut. But it also ballooned in an absolutely riveting final set . It lasted three hours. And, while packed with scintillating chase and charge exchanges, the woman’s match suffered 135 unforced errors. And BTW, the Russian had 10 more winners than the Italian and the loser Kuznetsova actually won four more points (181 to 177) than Schiavone.
In two consecutive games deep into the third set, Kuznetsova who has won two Slams but suffered too many stunning big stage defeats in her nine-year career, squandered three match points. Then Schiavone — with all her nasty slices and inventive twists, for all her steely will and fat-free conditioning which defies her 30 years – failed to serve out the match in back-to-back service games. Eventually, on her third match point, the Italian artist delicately stroked a forehand volley to score a unforgettable 4-6, 6-1, 16-14 win for the ages.
Soon the similarities of tennis’ two historic marathons which by chance emerged in just the past seven months, rushed to the fore. Despite the differences in gender and style and length and site – both the Isner-Mahut and Schiavone-Kuznetsova classics were astounding displays of grit, will, endurance and belief. A testament to athleticism and professionalism, the drive for victory and that cruel unchanging reality that each and every singles match yields but one winner.