This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
On the afternoon of June 23, 2010, something odd happened in offices, bars, and homes all across the United States: People began watching a tennis match. It wasn’t, when it started, an important tennis match: John Isner, the 23rd seed, was facing Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Wimbledon on side court No. 18. Few people in the U.S. believed Isner was a threat to win the tournament, and fewer still could pronounce his opponent’s last name.
There were long stretches when the match wasn’t especially interesting to watch, either; it offered little drama from one point to the next. By the time the world began tuning in, Isner and Mahut were deep into a fifth set, and had been trading service holds for hours. Play had been suspended once for darkness the previous day. Now, as the sun set over the All England Club again, and the score reached 20-all, 30-all (!), 40-all (!!), 50-all (!!!), it looked as if this match would be suspended for a second day, for the same reason. Had that ever happened before? Had anything that was going on out on Court 18 ever happened before? Even the scoreboard found itself in uncharted waters. Designed to go only to 47-47, it malfunctioned and had to be fixed that evening.
People had tuned in at their offices, bars, and homes for one reason: Isner and Mahut were in the process of playing the longest match in tennis history. It also, almost certainly, qualifies as the most incredible match ever played. The last decade in men’s tennis has been about outsized, record-breaking achievements: Roger Federer’s Grand Slam total, Rafael Nadal’s nine French Open titles, Novak Djokovic’s streak of dominance in 2011. You can add Isner-Mahut to that Olympian list. While it was brutal for the two men to play, and a chore at times to watch, the statistics are mind-blowing to recite now.
Score: 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68
11 hours, 5 minutes: Total match time. That’s four hours and three minutes more than the second-longest match, a Davis Cup doubles rubber between the Czech Republic and Switzerland in 2013.
8 hours, 11 minutes: Time taken to play the fifth set. You have to go to a different sport entirely for a comparison here. The longest baseball game ever played was eight hours and six minutes.
138: Games in the fifth set. That’s 26 more than have been played in any other match
215: Aces. Isner hit 112, Mahut 103. The previous record had been 78 by Ivo Karlovic
183: Total games played. That’s 71 more than the second-highest total at Wimbledon, in Pancho Gonzalez’s five set win over Charlie Pasarell in 1969
63: Times that Mahut served to stay in the match
3: Service breaks