How Isner and Mahut changed the game of tennis

A single match played at Wimbledon smashed all records for a set of tennis. It will lead to rule changes in the game to accomodate the changes brought about by stronger, larger fitter players, and the technological changes introduced into the sport. Tennis, like cricket, will change to prevent the occurance of timeless tests

The first round match of men’s singles between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut began on the Tuesday afternoon [22nd June 2010] and stopped as it was entering the last set at two sets all. The game resumed the next afternoon. Tennis has already restricted the number of games played in the first four sets of any official match with the tie-break if play reaches six games to each player in a set.

Wimbledon’s timeless fifth set

The tie-break innovation is a result of demands for more manageable time schedules for television audiences. Wimbledon, that bastion of tradition, persists with a timeless fifth set for its annual gram-slam tournament in June for male competitors. In this event , play continues until one player (or team) achieves a two game lead, 8-6, of 9-7, or more rarely 10-8 and so on.

The arrangement sometimes resulted in scheduling overruns, with the match resuming the next day. Which is how Eisner and Mahut returned to their outside count for what might have been a few more games to settle the match. Eisner, one of the tallest tennis players of all time, is noted for a near unbreakable serve unless his own concentration slips, or fatigue or illness creeps in to his game. This happens enough to permit opponents with more all-round game skills to win, and the most talented players have mostly survived his greater physical attributes. Mahut is also noted as a powerful player with a strong serve.

The longest match ever

The match-up meant that the players were each to hold serve comfortably. With Eisner serving to edge ahead each time, the game passed through the 20 game barrier. Various records were threatened and broken. The longest match at Wimbledon. The longest match ever. Then, incredibly, the single set lasting longer than any completed match before. Mahut staved off defeat at 11-10, 12-11 and so on through the twenties to 30-29. Eisner appeared increasingly fatigued but managed to find yet another unstoppable serve to win his own service game once again, and prolong the match.

Crowds began to gather an vantage points ouside the court. Players watched in the dressing room, and even commented on it in their own post-match interviews. The duration of the match seemed it impossible for the players to retain concentration or fitness to keep going. But keep going they did. Officials and ball boys and girls were replaced, but players and their superb Umpire kept on, far beyond the presumed limits of athletic concentration or physical capabilities.

History in the making

Extended sets are other rather boring, but in this one ,the tennis was remarkable error-free, with some highest quality rallies and winning shots. With each game completed, and the announcement of an even more incredible score, there was a renewed burst of applause. The spectators were watching history in the making, and appeared to know it.

At an incredible 59-59 games, and ten hours of play, the match was suspended, to be continued the following day. The entire set had been captured by the BBC’s cameras and commentary.

To be continued

As will this post. Whatever happens, history has been made. But not just in the statistics. The possibility of such drama and titanic personal struggle has also revealed the possibility of the inconvenience to schedules in future tournaments. Pressures from commercial interests will prevail. Even at Wimbledon.

They think it’s all over: It is now

On the third day, after still more astonishing play, Isner gambled, struck out for the sidelines and broke Mahut’s serve. The final score was 70-68 in the fifth set, and the overall contest the longest match in tennis history, at 11 hours and five minutes of play over three days.

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