You should’ve known we were in for a marathon match when you saw American John Isner’s name opposite South African Kevin Anderson in a Wimbledon men’s semifinal between top-10 players.
Isner won the longest match in tennis history, defeating Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set of the first round at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. That match lasted 11 hours and five minutes.
Isner added a few more endurance records to his resume on Friday, playing the longest semifinal in Wimbledon history and longest match ever on Centre Court at the All England Club against Anderson. The match marked the second-longest in tournament’s history, behind only his meeting with Mahut.
Anderson defeated Isner, 7-6,-6-7,-6-7, 6-4, 26-24, after six hours and 36 minutes. He broke Isner with the match tied 24-24 in the fifth set, and then held Isner off in the 50th game. The Isner-Mahut match was played over three days, making Isner-Anderson the longest single-day match ever at Wimbledon.
“I don’t even really know what to say right now,” an exhausted Anderson told ESPN in the immediate aftermath of the victory. “Just playing like that in those sort of conditions is really tough on both of us. At the end, you feel like this is a draw between the two of us, but somebody has to win. John is such a great guy. I really feel for him, because if I had been on the opposite end of this, I don’t know how you can take that playing for so long and coming up short. I apologize if I’m not fully excited right now. There’s just so many mixed emotions. Getting through something like that is quite difficult.”
There are no tiebreakers in the fifth set of matches at Wimbledon. After Friday’s match, Anderson called for officials to revisit the rules in the best interest of players. In less than 48 hours, he will play the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in Sunday’s final.
Friday’s match was the third-longest in men’s tennis history, less than 10 minutes shorter than the six-hour, 43-minute single-day match between Leonardo Mayer and João Souza at the 2015 Davis Cup.
The previous semifinal record at Wimbledon was a four-hour, 43-minute match between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic won that meeting in five sets, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3.
Two years after his epic match with Mahut, Isner played another marathon match against Paul-Henry Mathieu in the second round of the 2012 French Open. Mathieu won 18-16 in the fifth set of a match that last five hours and 41 minutes. That one ranks 13th in men’s tennis history. So, all in all, Isner has played in three of the sport’s 15-longest matches ever, joining John McEnroe in that regard.
Anderson defeated Roger Federer in this year’s quarterfinals 13-11 in the fifth set of a four-hour, 14-minute match.
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