Isner and Mahut played the longest match in tennis history.
© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
WIMBLEDON - John Isner and Nicolas Mahut never saw it coming. In fact who would have foreseen a rematch of the longest match in history at the same locale in the same round? Roland Garros tournament director Gilbert Ysern, a mathematician is his former incarnation, put the odds at it happening at 0.0109%.
But it will occur on Tuesday when the American and the Frenchman reprise their epic match at 2011 Wimbledon. Last year's version had Isner winning 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 in 11 hours, 5 minutes over three days.
"My first thought was the draw is rigged, but it's obviously not it's a complete coincidence and we both didn't think that it was ever going to happen," Isner said on Sunday. "It did and now we have to duke it out again."
The two men have traveled dissimilar paths since their instant classic ended in 2010, but have become good friends and may end up playing doubles together when the U.S. Open Series opens in Atlanta in a month's time. When they saw each other in the locker room on Friday after the draw came out, the gave each other high-fives
"I was happy that I avoided Rafa [Nadal] and [Andy Murray and [Novak] Djokovic, but I just couldn't avoid Nic," said Isner.
The North Carolina native shared his bit of good or back luck -depending on how you look at it- with his fans on Twitter, posting, "Anyone seen the Wimby draw? Who do I play?"
Tennis fans from all over the world weighed in, some positive, some negative.
"I got like, are you going to keep it under 11 hours this time, or is it going to be 80-78? It's getting pretty old," Isner said. "I couldn't read all responses I got so many."
Isner's year since the Mahut match did not measure to what he had accomplished before then as he badly sprained his ankle in Cincinnati right before the US Open and it was near miracle that he even managed to play in new York. He left Wimbledon ranked a career No. 18 and enters the Big W this year at No. 46. In 2010, he won Auckland, and reached three other finals in the first seven months of the year. This season, the 6-feet-9 big server has only won two consecutive matches twice.
"I've regressed a little as far as ranking concerned, but I still feel like a better player than I was last year," Isner said. "It's just tennis is a tricky sport and momentum and confidence are not on my side this year, but with the way I play, if I execute the right way my ranking is going to go up. If it doesn't happen now or the next year or the year after, I'm still going to keep the faith."
Isner did experience a bit of an upsurge in Paris, when he took now six-times champion Rafael Nadal to five sets in a first round loss, the first man to do so. There, Isner played a super-aggressive, heady match against a guy who has worn down a series of greats on clay. The Isner who was charging hard at the top 10 last summer had showed up again.
"If I lost on court 24 at the French and didn't take him to the limit -- I could have had a shot to win if a few more things went my way," Isner said. "I'd like to think I can play with anybody. It's about my going out and playing the right way and not playing passively. When I play passively and defensively is when things start to go a little awry."
After being a hit on the talk show circuit post Wimbledon, including reading his own top 10 list on the Davis Letterman show, Isner tried to put the historic contest behind him and focus on his future. But he realized that once he set foot in London that media attention would turn to he and Mahut's never-say-pass-out 2010 contest. What he didn't realize was that he have to discuss a unprecedented revival.
"Now that I have him again it's almost impossible to put last year's match behind me," Isner said. "I don't know if the tennis gods had it out for us, but they want us to meet again."
There are dozens of memories that fans have from the match, yet Isner's are more specific. But he doesn't immediately turn to one of his record 113 aces, or finally be able to get enough returns back in court to break Mahut and win the match. He recalls the utter satisfaction of surviving and being appreciated.
"We got a couple of standing ovations at 40-40, 55-55 all and at 58-all he had that ridiculous dive, but he just didn't want to give up," Isner said. "That he had that much energy that deep in match was remarkable. And our embrace at the net and end of the match was pretty special because he was going through a lot of pain at that moment. It wasn't about me winning he match it was about us competing in that match as simple as that."
Last year after besting the Frenchman, Isner was totally spent in the next round in his quick loss to Thiemo de Bakker. This year, he doesn't not want to experience the same fate, While and he and Mahut would certainly be lauded if they fought each other tooth and nail deep into the night, it's the American's intention to drive himself into then second week. He shook his head when considering another endless five-setter.
"In the early rounds of Slams everyone wants to get off court quickly and that was the exact opposite last year," he said. "At the Slams you have to try and conserve energy, but last year in a certain point of that match we knew we were doomed for second round. We just wanted to get out alive. A three or four set match would be ideal ,but if it does goes to a fifth set who knows, we'll hear some laughs and chuckles. And if it gets to 6-6 -- I don't even want to think about it."