LONDON // Extraordinary tennis history was made at Wimbledon last night when John Isner, of the United States and France's Nicolas Mahut were locked in an unresolved battle for 10 hours merely to claim a place in the second round of the men's singles. The remarkable final set which was halted in fading light at 9.10pm last night after 118 successive service games had been safely held has already lasted longer than any other grand slam encounter.
The two exhausted warriors will return for a third day this afternoon to resume their amazing engagement at 59 games all after sharing the opening four sets which contained only a single break apiece. Mahut was the instigator of the second stoppage. "Nothing like this will ever happen again... ever," Isner said. "He's serving fantastic, I'm serving fantastic. That's really all there is to it. I'd like to see stats, the ace count. We both couldn't agree to play so they cancelled."
There only previous meeting was in 2008 in the last 32 at Queen's. Mahut won 7-5, 6-4 in a 72 minute encounter. Mahut said last night: "He's just a champ, we had to fight like we never did before. Someone has to win, we'll come back tomorrow and see. I mean, it's amazing, the crowd is just fantastic. Everyone wants to see the end, but we'll have to come back. We play for too long, I don't know how many hours."
Whether he and his shattered rival will be able to reach the same level today after giving their all for so long is open to question. It would be sad if this historic encounter was determined by a default. The two men had returned to Court 18 at 2pm yesterday after being told to stop playing at the end of the fourth set on Tueday evening and traded big serve after big serve in their vain attempt to bring about a verdict.
Isner came closest to bringing the fight to a close, having held five match points in that gripping decider, the firs of them in the 32nd game and the last of them in what proved to be the last game of the day. Mahut's near miss came at 50-50 when he held two break points -the only two he had carved out in the 59 service games he faced. The amazing encounter which drew spectators from the two main courts to look for vantage points around a packed Court 18 will surely have the powers that-be-reviewing their regulations about what stage in an unresolved match a final-set tie-break ought to be imposed. In time taken, it shattered the previous record for a five-set match at a grand slam --an all-French tussle between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement at Roland Garros six years ago. That civil war of attrition which eventually went the way of Santoro took six hours and 33 minutes.
After a radio message from the court supervisor to the referee that request was granted with the match clock showing exactly 10 hours. Two games earlier the two protagonists had agreed on a bathroom break, much to the relief of Mohamed Lahyani, who had stoically sat perched over the net since walking on to the court at 2pm. It was a totally unexpected scenario considering the only previous meeting in the second round at Queen's Club two years ago was resolved in only 72 minutes in favour of Mahut.
The Frenchman proved on the way into this tournament, however that he is not frightened to push himself to the limit of his physical powers to take the spoils. He prevailed 24-22 against Britain's Alex Bogdanovic in the final set of a second round match in the qualifying competition and then needed another five sets and 230 minutes of playing time to dispose of Austria's Stefan Koubek to claim his place in the main draw.
Roger Federer was forced to dig deep yesterday, the Swiss reaching the third round with a hard-fought 6-3 6-7 6-4 7-6 victory over Serbian Ilija Bozoljac. The six-times champion, who came back from the brink to defeat Colombian Alejandro Falla in his opening match, had an uncomfortable time against the big-serving qualifier. The number one seed, in unfamiliar territory on Court One, the first time he has been away from Centre Court at the All England Club since 2007, finally prevailed in two hours and 46 minutes. Federer now takes on either Frenchman Arnaud Clement or Australian Peter Luczak.
Andy Roddick recovered from a slow start to reach with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (2) victory over France's Michael Llodra. Playing the first match on a sun-drenched Centre Court, Roddick hit 25 aces, lost serve just once, and committed only 11 unforced errors. Justine Henin was also made to sweat during her second-round match. The seven-time Grand Slam champion twice was broken serving for the victory, then regrouped and beat Kristina Barrois 6-3, 7-5.
Fellow Belgian Kim Clijsters also advanced, beating Karolina Sprem 6-3, 6-2. Clijsters and Henin are both back at Wimbledon after coming out of retirement, and they could meet in the fourth round. Novak Djokovic withstood some rocket-fuelled Taylor Dent serving to move impressively into the third round at Wimbledon. The Serbian third seed, who toiled for five sets against Olivier Rochus in Monday's first round, was too good for the American as he claimed a 7-6 6-1 6-4 victory.
Dent walloped down a serve at 148mph in the opening set, a delivery that beat the previous Wimbledon speed record of 146mph by Andy Roddick last year, but he ran out of steam. "It's incredible. He had so many first serves over 140mph. That's gonna be my dream to serve like that." @Email:email@example.com