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Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Ten times unbelievable


WIMBLEDON, England -- At 41-41, the net broke down. At 47-47, the scoreboard broke down. John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, however, were still standing at 59-59 in the fifth set as the match was suspended for darkness a second day.

All of tennis' longest match records lay in tatters. And all over the grounds, all over the world, people got up knowing they had witnessed something truly historic in the annals of tennis. The longest match ever. By far.

At the end, both players were able to walk off the court without losing and everyone else was left to consider the statistical enormity of what they had just witnessed.

"What I can tell you? It's just unbelievable. I can tell you 10 times in a row, unbelievable," said Arnaud Clement, whose 6-hour, 33-minute match against Fabrice Santoro at the French Open in 2004 had been the previous record for the longest-ever match.

Isner and Mahut have gone longer than that in the fifth set alone, playing for 7 hours, 6 minutes.

"Everybody is watching in all the TVs here," Clement reported of the locker room. "Players ... all the staff."

Walking off the court shaking his head in incredulity, Isner's coach Craig Boynton said, "It's all uncharted territory right now. The match is going to be over three days, they've played over seven hours. It's nuts. What do you do? There's no playbook.

"Physically, we'll get him ready [for Thursday]. We'll make a few adjustments tactically. What do you say -- 'It's 59-59. Go have fun?'

"I'm going to put my arm around the kid and tell him how proud I am, win or lose here."

The marathon will resume Thursday. Could it carry on for yet another day?

"I guarantee there'll be a winner by tomorrow," Boynton said. "That's my prediction."

Meanwhile, here's a survey of his and the players' reactions to the match:

Roger Federer: "I love this. I know they're maybe not loving this, but I guess this is unheard of in our game. I mean, normally there are breaks in tennis matches.

"John is barely moving anymore, but he's still able to produce good serves when he has to. It's so impressive to see. I mean, I was watching this. I don't know if I was crying or laughing. It was too much.

"In a way, I wish I was them. In some ways I wish I wasn't them. So this is a very special match. I hope somehow this is going to end. I don't know. They'll be fresh again tomorrow, I guess. If they have to come back, it's unbelievable.

"It's unfortunate these guys are going to be a little bit tired tomorrow and the next day and the next week and the next month. I've been following this as closely as I could. I walked on court at about 11-11 in the fifth. They're still going. This is absolutely amazing.

"I guess once you get to the point of 10-10, 20-20, you don't doubt anymore. You just go point by point. You hope not to be down 0-30. If it happens, you concentrate a bit extra.

"I can relate to this in some little degree [because of last year's 16-14 fifth set in the Wimbledon final]. This is beyond anything."

Venus Williams: "I don't know what to think of that. It's amazing. Wow. I hope [Isner] wins, obviously. It's a marathon. It's longer than a marathon.

"I don't think I'd move. I think if you moved, you lose your seat. Of course, around the grounds, there has to be a buzz around that this match is going so far."

Clement: "First of all I hope he's [Mahut] going to win this match because when you lost this kind of match, it can be very difficult mentally, physically.

"If you have a tiebreak, you don't have this kind of match, so I think it's fantastic for the game, it's fantastic for the people. It's historic. If you have a tiebreak, it's like everyday match, fifth-set match.

"I cannot tell you [what it's like]. I never played a match like this. [The 6:33 match against Santoro] was very different match -- we just played four hours, we stopped and played two hours and a half. The difference is they play four more hours, like one full five[-set] match."

Novak Djokovic: "Everybody's watching it in the locker rooms, everywhere. That's the longest match by far any tournament, any Grand Slam.

"f course, two big servers, but I'm amazed that they can both hold their serves this comfortably for the whole day. I mean, it's unbelievable.

"You have to give them credit, both of them. Whoever wins today, I think both of them are winners. Obviously, the loser will be disappointed.

"I don't know, maybe they should agree on playing tiebreak if it's 50-50. That's maybe one of the solutions!"

Boynton: "We're going to look back in 25 years and realize, 'Hey, we were all here.' The bigger the occasion, the better he plays, the more he digs. And that's just him as a person. That's just the kid he is.

"I left at 43-42. I had to go to the bathroom. I stopped drinking water like the second hour, because I knew this could be crazy.

"Hats off to both guys."