After the first announcement a month or so ago that Queen Elizabeth II would be making her first appearance at Wimbledon in over 30 years, rumors swirled over what would happen, who who play in front of her on Centre Court and what it could mean for the sport. And although today’s pomp and circumstance didn’t go off without a hitch as tennis royalty met with HRH briefly before she sat down to watch Andy Murray dismiss Jarkko Nieminen in straight sets, the real drama took place on Court 18 as John Isner and Nicolas Mahut resumed their marathon match in hopes of finding a winner. It’s hard to upstage the Queen of England but a lanky kid from Greensboro, North Carolina may have just done that after winning a match that will engrave his name in the tennis history books forever.
After taking in the Murray match, the Queen left the grounds as if she sensed she wasn’t the real story taking place today. In fact not long after HRH left, Isner and Mahut returned to Court 18 and the focus of not only those fans lucky enough to have a seat but everyone else tuning in from around the globe. As both men resumed play, for awhile it seemed the familiar pattern of aces and short rallies would continue for several more hours. Mahut, though looking the fresher of the two, found himself distracted several times by the army of photographers covering the match.
But after Isner served to get to 69-69, Mahut’s attempt at being more aggressive during his next service game may have backfired. After seeing Isner slip in the backcourt, Mahut dumped an easy volley into the net for 15-15. He leveled things at 30-30, but Mahut charged the net again and this time it was Isner who hit a forehand pass off his shoetops to give himself a sixth match point. Mahut served and volleyed again but Isner’s return forced Mahut to pop up the volley and allowed the American to hit a down the line backhand pass that finally won him the longest match ever recorded.
In a final twist of bitter irony for the Frenchman, although Isner’s doubles match with friend Sam Querrey was canceled, Mahut decided to go ahead and play his own doubles match with Arnaud Clement against British hopes Colin Fleming and Kenneth Skupski later in the day. As this match was also scheduled on Court 18 and that it was postponed due to darkness after Mahut/Clement lost the first set means Mahut will now have to go back to the site of his worst loss for a fifth straight day. But perhaps Mahut’s loss won’t be in total vain. American Andy Roddick on his Twitter account said that Mahut should be granted wildcards for future Wimbledon fortnights starting next year. Let’s hope that campaign takes root.
So what does the longest ever match in tennis history mean both for the sport and John Isner? Well, even if Isner loses tomorrow, he is sure to gain not only more recognition in the United States but probably a few more endorsement deals as well. As for the sport, if interest grows because of it, then the physical and mental toll both men endured will have been worth it. I’m sure Bud Collins, the noted tennis writer, is already thinking of writing his next book about this enthralling if not always scintillating encounter. After all, anything that can upstage 33 years of history in the making is worth recording for posterity.