The longest match in tennis history was suspended because of darkness at 59-59 in the fifth set at Wimbledon on Wednesday night. The first-round match between 23rd-seeded John Isner of Tampa, Fla., and qualifier Nicolas Mahut of France had already been suspended because of fading light Tuesday night after the fourth set.
They have been playing each other for a total of exactly 10 hours — 7 hours, 6 minutes in the fifth set alone, enough to break the full-match record of 6:33, set at the 2004 French Open. Never before in the history of Wimbledon, which was first contested in 1877, had any match — singles or doubles, men or women — lasted more than 112 games, a mark set in 1969. Isner and Mahut played more games than that in their fifth set and still did not determine a victor, although the American came close: He had four match points — four chances to end things with one more point — but Mahut saved each one.
Even a courtside electronic scoreboard couldn’t keep up, getting stuck at 47-47 when the score had really risen to 48-48 and then eventually going dark entirely. Yet the pair played on. All the numbers were truly astounding: They played 881 points, 612 in the fifth set. Isner hit 98 aces, Mahut 95 — both eclipsing the previous high for a match at any tournament, 78. And this cannot be emphasized enough: They are not finished. No one won. The match will continue, stretching into a third day.
The drama drew an overflow crowd on cozy Court 18, and others players watched the telecast in fascination.”I have almost no words anymore watching this,” defending champion Roger Federer said. “It’s beyond anything I’ve ever seen and could imagine. I don’t know how their bodies must feel the next day, the next week, the next month. This is incredible tennis. For them to serve the aces they served and stay there mentally is a heroic effort. “As we know, we have no draws in tennis, so there will be a loser. But I guess in this match, both will be winners because this is just absolutely amazing,” he said.
Shortly after 9 p.m., Mahut and Isner approached the net to discuss with a tournament official whether to keep going Wednesday.
“I want to play,” Mahut said, “but I can’t see.” Fans began chanting “We want more! We want more!” and then rose to salute the players with a standing ovation. In a courtside TV interview, Isner said: “Nothing like this will ever happen again. Ever.”