Waking up this morning, I pulled out my mobile and did a quick scan of the Wimbledon draw. Reading the live text commentary, I came across this:
“Isner and Mahut will face each other again! Can you believe it – the record-breakers have another chance!”
And then I laughed.
I’m sure John Isner and Nicolas Mahut didn’t. Or maybe they did. Like someone who’s just woken up from a horrible nightmare only to realize that it was real.
And they have to live it again.
Last year’s three day marathon not only became one of this biggest stories in tennis, but in all of sports when Isner finally won the longest tennis match in history 70-68 in the fifth set, forever becoming the answer to what will become a standard question on TV trivia shows now and forever. Isner/Mahut ended up being one of those events that not only tennis fans got caught up in, but just sports fans period. I know so many people who tuned in to some part of that match, even making sure that they set their DVR’s on the third day before they went to work just so they wouldn’t miss the expected finale.
In a way, Isner/Mahut became the perfect match for this reality TV obsessed era we live in. Two strangers battling each other in what appears to be a cruel test of physical and mental endurance to make it to the next round. (Sounds familiar right?) Except the prize wasn’t “immunity” or a bonus prize of a free makeover or lifetime supply of rice, but just £11,250 and a trip to the second round of the biggest tennis tournament in the world. When the news broke today that Isner and Mahut were basically “renewed” for a second season through the random process (or was it fate) of the draw selection, astonishment gave way to feelings of macabre delight at the prospect of watching these two “poor lads” play each other. It wouldn’t surprise me that those same folks who haven’t watched another tennis match since last year’s encounter will prime their DVR’s once again, hoping for an even more bizarre and extended spectacle. And with rain forecast for most of the first week, they just might get their wish as rain delays could potentially spread out the match for several days again.
Plenty of articles have come out reminiscing about last year’s marathon and catching up with all those involved included Mohamed Lahyani, the chair umpire, along with friends and family members of both players. Again, another very reality TV-like aspect i.e. the wrap-up or “look back” show where all the show’s cast gets back together to dish it out before the winner is announced. I’m not sure what the networks have planned for “Isner/Mahut Part Two”, but you can bet they are hard at work making sure the match gets a good primetime spot on the schedule.
The reality in all of this is that last year’s saga did have a real impact, for better and for worse on both players. Mahut, who had to qualify in 2010 to make it into the main draw at Wimbledon, is now ranked in the top 100 and has been able to parlay his unexpected chapter into the sport’s history books into his own book deal and other opportunities. But for Isner, even though he won the epic battle and earned instant fame, he really hasn’t been the same player since. Some picked Isner as a dangerous foe at Wimbledon last year when he was seeded No. 23. Since “the match”, Isner struggled physically for the rest of 2010, spilling over into this year when Isner lost multiple matches in a row, citing a lack of confidence. Now ranked just inside the top 50, Isner redeemed himself a bit by pushing Rafael Nadal to five sets at the French Open, but Isner’s hopes for becoming a top 10 player appear to be fading.
Today when asked about drawing Mahut again in the first round, Isner said “it’s going to be crazy”, then said that he was scheduled to practice with the Frenchman, but not anymore. Anything could happen when these two friends meet again in what will probably feel like deja vu for both, but that’s what plenty who follow tennis are hoping for as the strangest “reality show” the sport has will premiere for a second season this summer.