Smoking Aces: Isner vs Mahut

Over the past few days John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played an epic first round Wimbledon match. Records fell like confetti. Longest match, longest set, most aces in a match, most aces in a set, most winners in a match, most winners in a set, and likely others that I missed. In the end Isner was victorious, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.

I did not see the first two days of the match live because I was working. Last night I reviewed most of it on ESPN3 to get a feel for it before watching the conclusion this morning. For some reason my internet connection failed right as Isner hit his serve for what would be the winning point, so I did not see the final rally live (when my service was restored a few moments later the match was over, talk about anti-climactic).

The match was most definitely historic. Nothing like that has happened before, and I doubt anything like it will happen again in my lifetime. After the match ended I was left wondering what I had just seen. Was it a great match? Was it an example of good tennis?

The match took  11 hours and 5 minutes to play (that’s court time, it actually stretched over three days). In that amount of time you could watch The Godfather trilogy, Zoolander, and an episode of The Office and still have a few minutes left over.

The final set alone was 8 hours and 11 minutes long. If you had begun watching The English Patient at the start of the 5th set you could have seen the movie three times and then watched the final game of the set.

So does longer mean better? No. I found this match interesting because of the perfect storm that occurred, but it was not tennis at its best. Isner has a massive serve and mediocre court movement. Mahut has a lesser serve but better court movement. Isner caused the high ace count. On his own serve he hit the ball very hard with precision and on Mahut’s serve his court movement became very poor late in the match, which resulted in aces.

The previous Wimbledon record for aces in a match was held by Ivo Karlovic, with 51 in 2005. Federer had 50 aces against Andy Roddick in his classic Wimbledon final last year. Ivo Karlovic also held the record for most aces in a match at any venue, he registered 78 at the 2009 Davis Cup.

Isner and Mahut now sit atop the list when it comes to aces.

During the 5th set Mahut looked to be in much better physical shape than Isner. He was able to move quickly, kept his head up, and seemed very determined to win the match. Isner looked extremely fatigued, slow, and unable to make adjustments.

If you do not have time to watch the entire match but you want to get a feel for how it transpired just watch this:

Isner had the big serve, which was a huge advantage, equivalent to the gun. Isner would win his service game every time, making Mahut serve to stay in the match. At times Mahut seemd finished, but he bounced back again and again. In a final choke-hold-with-fingers-in-the-nose moment Isner secured victory.

That match likely effectively knocked both players out of the tournament, for the physical toll was extraordinary. Isner will get to play a second round opponent in De Bakker who went a long five sets in the first round too, though his match ended at a mere 16-14 in the 5th.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Smoking Aces: Isner vs Mahut

  1. Adam

    What do you think the equivalent of this would be in terms of baseball extra innings? If you figure 138 games is like 11.5 full sets, and tacking on the other 4 sets to make it 15.5, are we talking something like a 30-inning baseball game? Somehow that doesn’t seem to quite compare. This has to rank up there with the greatest tiebreakers of all time, maybe second only to the epic Fancy Monkeys-Raging Chlorophyll tilt of 2008.

    • As soon as Isner hit the winning shot he assured the match would not live up to The Eternal Tie of 2008. I was hoping they would play a few more days then both retire from the match and resume it again in the first round of the US Open.

      It was an all-time great tiebreaker, but a rather mediocre tennis match.

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