Marathon Man John Isner Feels Relief After Quick Defeat of Mahut

John Isner
John Isner of the United States reacts after winning his first round match against Nicolas Mahut of France in London. Photographer: Michael Regan/Getty Images

The sequel rarely matches the original, and John Isner’s not upset about that.

Isner took little more than two hours to beat Nicolas Mahut in straight sets yesterday to advance to the second round of Wimbledon. Last year, Isner beat the Frenchman in a record-breaking meeting that lasted three days and took 183 games.

“Nothing’s going to live up to that match,” Isner said yesterday. “It wasn’t going to go that long. The conditions were probably a little bit slower because of the weather. After the first set, I felt actually really comfortable.”

The American defeated Mahut, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 7-6 (8-6) on a windy Court No. 3 at the All England Club as dusk fell. The entire match lasted two hours, 3 minutes. That’s more than nine hours less than last year’s encounter.

“It’s a huge relief,” Isner said in a court-side interview after the match. “I’m happy to put this behind me.”

As happened last year, the two had embraced at the net after the 6-foot-9 Isner secured his second victory over Mahut in three meetings. That’s where the comparisons end.

“Everything was different,” Mahut said in a news conference. “The conditions were different. It’s another year, another match, another tournament.”

In action today, five-time champion Venus Williams plays Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm, while men’s defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain faces Ryan Sweeting of the U.S. Britain’s Andy Murray, the No. 4 seed, meets Germany’s Tobias Kamke.

138-Game Set

In last year’s opening round, Isner needed a record 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days in warm weather to overcome Mahut. Isner had collapsed on the grass of Court 18 when his backhand passing shot secured a record-packed 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68 win.

Isner and Mahut’s 138-game fifth set alone had lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes. That itself was longer than the previous record for a tennis match, a 6 hour, 33-minute first-round contest at the 2004 French Open between Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement. The All England Club has mounted an oval-shaped plaque on Court 18 to commemorate their effort.

“My career changed after losing that match,” Mahut said. “There was more attention, and more expectation.”

Isner and Mahut produced a total of 216 aces last year. Both broke Ivo Karlovic’s record of 78 in a Davis Cup match for Croatia against the Czech Republic in 2009.

Although the record encounter left both men drained, Isner had to play the following day. He lost in the second round to Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands because he could barely move.

Fewer Aces

This year, Isner and Mahut each hit eight aces. The American produced 41 winners, 10 more than his opponent.

Isner won the first set in a tiebreaker as Mahut hit a backhand long. The American quickly secured the second as Mahut struggled with his serve.

The momentum shifted early in the third set, as the Frenchman broke Isner to love for a 2-1 lead. The American broke back to even the score at 4-4. In the third-set tiebreaker, Isner squandered one match point as he netted a backhand volley. He won with his second match point as Mahut hit a ground stroke wide in front of a half-empty arena.

Even without the media buildup, the rerun would never meet the standards set last year, Mahut and Isner said.

“What we did last year was more than a tennis match, but this was last year,” Mahut said. “He just played better than me, that’s it.”


Although he’s now twice lost in the opening round of Wimbledon to Isner, the 94th-ranked Mahut is taking some positives out of their encounter.

“We became close friends, which is the most important thing for me,” he said.

Isner said he’s now looking forward to his playing second-round match, against No. 16 seed Nicolas Almagro of Spain, feeling well-prepared physically and mentally.

“I’m going to be fresh,” the 47th-ranked player said. “I was not that last year.”

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