How long has this been going on?

Enjoyed seeing the final hours of the tennis match that even people who aren’t interested in tennis were interested in, yesterday. Backward baseball-capped American giant John Isner beat nervy-looking Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the deciding set of the Longest Ever Tennis Match In The World Ever. It began on Tuesday and ended on Thursday. For the record – and it was a record – the boyish looking beanpole Isner outlasted Mahut to win 6-4 3-6 6-7 (7-9) 7-6 (7-3) 70-68 at the 11 hour and five minute mark. I like the fact that footballers seem to get tired after about 50 minutes and have to be substituted, but these seemingly unremarkable minor tennis players managed to throw themselves at each other for hours at a time, with only “bathroom breaks” and a few swigs of Robinson’s Barley Water.

Isner is only seeded 23rd. It’s like New Zealand playing Ivory Coast for 11 hours and five minutes. Or probably nothing like that at all. It was certainly entertaining to be a part of it. It’s strange that it hasn’t yet rained a single drop on Wimbledon, now that they’ve got a roof and everything. If the rain had come at any point during those 11 hours and interrupted play, maybe it wouldn’t have lasted so long. There was something noble, relentless and yet ludicrous about the match. I can’t say I saw the whole thing, as I have been trying to do my VAT, and watch the World Cup, and couldn’t give it my full attention, but even watching it for an hour or so at a time was hypnotic. Isner would go one game down, and then equalise, and go one game up, and Mahut would knock him back, and then he would go one game up. You wondered if it might actually go on forever, in some surreal and cruel parody of tennis.

I’m not a huge watcher of tennis, although I was lucky enough to go to Wimbledon in 2006, thanks to somebody with Radio 2 freebies dropping out at the last minute. You can read about my adventure here. I happened to see Tim Henman play on Centre Court, and I must admit, my antipathy towards tennis dissipated in that instant, despite the stuffiness of the place itself. I almost shouted, “Come on, Tim.” Anyway, I drift in and out of it on telly now. I appreciate it, but I don’t feel that much of a pull to watch it, other than to turn into my Nan and point at the telly, shouting, “I’ve been there! I walked down that bit there! Look!”

When the match finally ended, and Isner threw all six foot nine of himself on the grass (Stephen Merchant, for comparison, is six foot seven), I commented that it seemed a shame that the Duchess of Kent wouldn’t be coming on to award the winner a big tray. But this almost happened. Having made history, and, as John McEnroe kept saying, showed the world how amazing – and yet boring – tennis could be, it seems that the Lawn Tennis Association had been down the engravers, or at least to Thornton’s, and rustled up some kind of presents for the exhausted players and the slightly less exhausted umpire, who had at least only had to sit on a chair for 11 hours and 5 minutes. Tim Henman and Anne Jones came on – tennis royalty, I guess, although I love the way that Tim Henman never actually won anything and has to be described as “former British number one” – and poor old Isner and especially Mahut were made to jump through hoops for the world’s media, holding their stupidly large boxes, and then wondering what to do with them, having to describe their indescribable feelings as all knackered sportspeople are obliged to do, and then pose for photos next to the scoreboard, as if being photographed by a local newspaper. (They were spared the indignity of having to actually point at the score and stick their thumbs up.)

“This crowd was fantastic,” Isner told BBC Sport’s John Inverdale. “Now, can I go and have an ice bath and be put on another nutrient drip please, you bastards?”

Mahut, dazed and foreign, said, “It was really an honour to play the greatest match ever at the greatest place for tennis.” I’m not sure anybody was saying it was the greatest match ever, mate, just the longest, and the one with the most games in it, and the most aces (Isner got 112, Mahut 103). That’s a few records that will never be broken. Be proud. They’re bound to change the rules so it can’t happen again. Oh, and be proud that you’re not a French footballer, Monsieur Mahut. (Inverdale was dying to say that, without causing a diplomatic incident.)

Oh, and apparently the Queen went. But she was at the wrong match. The idiot.

6 thoughts on “How long has this been going on?

  1. I went on Monday. Wimbeldon is as English as cream tea, the white cliffs of Dover or the BNP.

    Loads of snooty types wandering around in their button down shirts and linnen jackets and lots of pretty Sloanes with big hair. Plus a few “normals” like me who congregate on Henman Hill/Murray Mound as they don’t know anyone with dbenture tickets.

    For one day a year “normal people” get a taste of the “high life” then can go back to the rat-infested council houses.

  2. A first round loser in the Wimbledon mens & ladies singles gets £11,250. Mahut certainly earned his.
    By contrast Anna Chakvetadze spent 49 minutes being knocked out by Serena Williams for the same amount.

  3. ‘boyish looking freak’?

    I fear you may have been hanging around Mr Herring for far too long, you used to be such a lovely boy Andrew. There must be nice children to play with at the BBC, we’re not paying your fees for you to associate with rotters.


  4. An unromantic way of seeing it is as a vision of the inevitable future of tennis – taller stronger players + better rackets = unbreakable serves. You could say it was all Isner’s fault – a giant with an unbreakable serve who lacked the agility to break back. I wasn’t really following it though, thought they were just being stupid or doing it deliberately, but the joy of it eventually seeped in, especially after listening to Danny Baker.

  5. “Oh, and apparently the Queen went. But she was at the wrong match. The idiot.”

    This made me laugh out loud. From such a mild-mannered man this feels so irreverent! Of course, I’d have preferred “fucking idiot”, but we’ll leave that sort of thing to Richard.

  6. Henman got as high as number four in the world. He won rather more tennis matches (not to mention tournaments) than any of the many people who dismiss him as a failure simply because – like most players – he never won a Grand Slam.
    And he *is* the former British number one. Is it such a terrible thing to only be able to be described thus?

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