John Isner – Nicolas Mahut Zombie Blog Insanity (Part Two)

Eleven hour and five minutes of pure tennis insanity. That’s how long the first round match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut lasted in the longest match in tennis history. Over that span, the pair played 183 games. By comparison, Roger Federer played 159 games in total en route to the Wimbledon title last year. In the end, it was John Isner who won 92 games to emerge victorious.

Yesterday, the match was suspended at 59-59 in the fifth set but the real highlight was Xan Brooks’ amazing live blog. Today, it was up to Paolo Bandini of The Guardian to follow-up the zombie-filled insanity of yesterday’s live blog. So here’s today’s zombified live blog of Isner vs. Mahut.

Afternoon Right then – John Isner v Nicolas Mahut – Act III. Word has it that Isner has located the rotten leg that fell off yesterday during the sixth hour of this never-ending battle, but sadly we have been unable to find the ditch in which Xan Brooks went for a lie-down after his heroic live blogging efforts. Instead you’ll have to put up with me. Sorry about that.

The players’ undead corpes are expected on Court 18 at 3.30pm, at which point we’ll find out if we’re still dealing with old-school shambling zombies or if a night’s rest has allowed either to undergo a mid-noughties George Romero make-over, and can now run and scream and batter down doors.

Either way, it should be interesting to see just how far they can take their record-shattering tilt. You can’t imagine that either will go much further in this tournament after giving so much of themselves for this match, so really they might as well just split another 30 games or so just for kicks. Then again, Isner is expected to play in the men’s doubles with Sam Querrey sometime after 6pm, so perhaps not.

The umpire is out, so hopefully not long now …

A tweet “What’s a bigger story today-the Queen or Isner-Mahut,” ponders Pat McEnroe on Twitter. The latter, clearly.

Fun with numbers “I’ve done some maths, which I feel I must share with the world,” announces Robert Brown. “If my sums are correct then this match so far has lasted longer than all of Serena Williams’s seven matches in winning the title last year – 9hrs 44 mins – any idea if that’s right?” Well this match has lasted 10 hours so far, so if you’re right about Serena then you’re right about the rest. In fact, this match only needs to run for another hour and 28 minutes to have lasted longer than alll six of the British women at this year’s Wimbledon combined.

And so it resumes … Isner, leg reattached, knocks the ball to Mahut, racket still clutched firmly in cold, greying, hand and they resume right where they left off. Well not right where they left off to be fair – this time they’re managing to return the ball back to each other. John McEnroe is up in the stands, wearing a baseball cap backwards, presumably to feign youthfulness. Children are always spared by the undead in the end.

Getting it right “Don’t you mean early noughties, Danny Boyle zombies that can run and shriek and etc,” demands Hugh Randall. “28 Days Later was out before the Dawn of the Dead re-make.” Correct Hugh, except that in 28 Days Later they weren’t zombies, but merely people infected with Rage. The players on Court 18 are undead, which is completely different.

Legitimate scandal “I’m courtside at Isner v Mahut,” reports Barney Ronay. “Two japanese tourists next to me were turfed out by security so John McEnroe and Tracy Austin can have their seats.” This is an outrage, surely?

Fifth set, Isner* 60-59 Mahut It takes a moment for Isner’s decaying muscles to rediscover the memory that carried him through so much of last night, and he opens with a double fault – but soon he is back to firing down the unreturnable serves we saw last night in the gloom. After the game goes to deuce he brings up his 100th ace with a simple flat serve straight down the middle, before Mahut thwacks a forehand long to give him the game.

Fifth set, Isner 60-60 Mahut* Mahut may just have the Rage after all, winding up and unleashing savage stroke after savage stroke towards his (im)mortal foe. Isner stands motionless, eyeballs twitching gently, as first a forehand, then a backhand, then a serve fizz past him, and Mahut holds to love.

Fifth set, Isner* 61-60 Mahut And now Isner holds to love. Oh God, it’s happening again isn’t it? Here’s some more maths from Duncan Innes. “Number of games won by Federer on his way to the title last year: 159 Number of games in this match so far: 165”

Fifth set, Isner 61-61 Mahut* Worryingly, this match is falling back into a certain pattern. It goes something like this: Ace. Ace. Ace. Ace. *groan* Ace. Ace. Ace. Ace. *sip of Robinsons, nibble on human brains* Ace. Ace. Ace. Ace. Mahut is now up to 99 aces, and these two have now managed 200 between them.

Fifth set, Isner* 62-61 Mahut Yes, but what if it does actually never end? Would Wimbledon eventually have to introduce a new ruling banning all undead and just nudge Thiemo De Bakker through to the third round? Isner holds to 15 with more aces. For all that is preposterous about this game, by far the most absurd statistic is the one that says these two have only had six fifth-set break points between them.

Fifth set, Isner 62-62 Mahut* Mahut has now also reached a century of aces (in fact he has 101) and didn’t drop a point in that game. “Enjoying the extended zombie metaphor immensely,” writes Maureen Kincaid Speller. “I hate tennis, and can’t believe I’m actually following this match, but it’s beginning to feel like one of those old dance marathons. Not so much seeing who wins as seeing who is last to drop. What can I say? Spectacle fascinates me horribly.”

Fifth set, Isner* 63-62 Mahut The thing is that neither of these two is even doing anything with that clever with their serves. A lot of the time from both of them it’s just flat straight down the middle, with a very occasional wide slice serve just to stop their opponent from cheating over. I just think at this stage they’re both too heavy legged to move even a little bit. Mahut managed to take a couple of points that time, but there was never a sense that he was about to really commit himself to trying to win the break.

Fifth set, Isner 63-63 Mahut* A surprisingly athletic little hop from Mahut as he whips a forehand straight back down the line to pass Isner at the baseline after the American had the insolence to knock one of his serves back. “Can the scoreboards cope with it if we reach 100-100,” asks Stuart Henderson. “Or will a small man scamper on to court and paint a little ‘1’ next to the scores? or, worse, do we reset back to 0-0? that could be demoralising.” Well the scoreboards gave in for a while yesterday when it reached 50-50, but no – there is no space for three figures so heaven only knows …

Fifth set, Isner* 64-63 Mahut Isner shambles hungrily (yup, we’re definitely dealing with shamblers, not shriekers) towards the ball boy at 40-15, but as we know, Wimbledon’s own undead have an awkward muscle memory condition that forces them to follow green balls and then them it at each other. The ball boy obliges with another, and Isner hits an ace with it. Next!

Fifth set, Isner 64-64 Mahut* We’ve not even come a little bit close to seeing a break point in this match yet today, but hey – they’ve only played 10 games so far since play resumed. “When, do you think, will the tennis club finally intervene and start charging Isner and Mahut for court time, just like us civilians,” ponders Duane Wise. It is apparent that the two are intent on declaring squatter’s rights to the court soon.”

Fifth set, Isner* 65-64 Mahut Just as last night, the crowd roar and applaud with gusto regardless of who is winning points. They have no desire to see a quick end to the suffering. “So, how does this stand up for the cries for equal pay between the women’s, men’s and zombie’s games,” wonders Neil Mackie. One day, Neil we will look back on this spectacle and realise what a cruel species we had become.

Fifth set, Isner 65-65 Mahut* So here’s a thought – perhaps instead of playing this game through to its conclusion, they could both go through, then for the rest of the tournament they have to alternate shots – like with doubles games of table tennis? There was a bit of a stir just there when Isner got to – wait for it – 0-15, but that was the only point he managed all game.

Fifth set, Isner* 66-65 Mahut It’s hard to tell you anything about what’s happening in this match without going over old ground. On Isner’s service games, he swats down a few serves, and the vast majority of the time Mahut doesn’t return them. On Mahut’s service games … the exact same thing happens. So far today there has been nothing to suggest this pattern will end. Ever.

Fifth set, Isner 66-66 Mahut* Mahut holds to love. “As a casual tennis observer, I’m loving this match, but does it ultimately mean anything,” asks James Tyler. “Good tennis players can force a break somewhere along the way, and as you point out, neither of them are doing anything tricky with their serves to consider this anything more than a fluke. You’d never see Murray/Federer do this, would you? Always two relative unknowns. Am I being too harsh in this assessment?” Of course there’s a huge element of fluke involved here, but obviously it’s also a scenario that’s more likely to occur when you have two players who are big servers and slightly limited in the rest of their games. It’s also something that becomes self-perpetuating, because when you’re tired it’s hard to move, but a lot less taxing to fire down a decent serve.

Fifth set, Isner* 67-66 Mahut More aces for Isner, more gentle groans from Mahut as the ball fizzes by him, detaching a small chunk of rotting flesh as it goes by.

Fifth set, Isner 67-67 Mahut* “Do you think if we just send someone’s mum out to say ‘That’s enough now boys, finish up and come in for your tea,’ it would have any effect,” inquires Karen Stewart. “Maybe if it was the Queen?” I think you, I and anyone else who ever saw Shaun of the Dead knows the only way this is ending is “by removing the head or destroying the brain” of both competitors. Winchester anyone?

Fifth set, Isner* 68-67 Mahut Things that would make me really, really cross vol.1: if this match ends with Rio Ferdinand bursting out of a nearby car and telling us that we’ve just been “merked”. I reckon I’ll be able to handle it if it’s a zombie Jeremy Beadle.

Fifth set, Isner 68-68 Mahut* Isner hopes for a moment he might have forced 30-30 (for that would be a significant triumph right now) after winging a forehand into the net cord, but it hops up kindly for Mahut, who pings it straight back into the same cord, whereupon the ball plops over the net and Isner can’t reach it. From 40-15, we are just a point away from game, once again, to Mahut.

Fifth set, Isner* 69-68 Mahut For a beautiful, blissful moment it is 0-30 on Isner’s serve and there is hope – for a break, for a conclusion, for a merciful redemption of these two lost souls. Then it happens again – big serve, big serve, great big enormous sodding serve. Isner doesn’t give up another point.

John Isner wins!

John Isner wins 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 And that’s it! It all felt so unreal as Isner wound up his arm like a professional softball player and fired an unstoppable forehand straight down the line to make it 30-40 and bring up match point. On the next point Mahut came rushing down the court after his serve, the Rage in full evidence as he bore down on his opponent, but in a moment of clarity Isner simply drove his backhand straight back past him down the line. Just like that, the curse is lifted. Our protagonists are human once more. After 11 hours, five minutes and 115 aces, the match has ended.

They’re having a ceremony … to congratulate both players on taking part in such a ludicrous match. They’ve been handed boxes with something in them – presumably some sort of zombieism-curing elixir. “You know when you come out and you play a match like this, with an atmosphere like this, you don’t feel tired really. It was fantastic,” declares Isner, apparently oblivious to the pain, trauma and human brain consumption he and Mahut have just put everyone through. “It stinks that someone has to lose.”

And here’s Mahut: “At this moment it is just really painful. But it was amazing to play today. The crowd was absolutely fantastic. John just served unbelievable. He is a champion. We played the greatest match ever in the greatest place to play tennis. Wimbledon is the greatest tournament.”

Doubles time Inevitably, the question was put to Isner of how he felt about the fact he was supposed to be playing doubles with Sam Querrey (against Michal Przysiezny and Dudi Sela) at 6pm. “I don’t even want to think about that right about now,” he says. “We’ll go back to the locker room and see what happens.”

Well, that’s it Mahut, having very politely waited through all the faff despite the fact he’s just suffered what was presumably a quite painful defeat, declines to pose for pictures with Isner by the scoreboard and makes his exit. Isner hangs around for his photo op, and as soon as he vacates the spot the ball boys and girls move in for theirs. I guess that’s it for us here – thanks for the huge number of emails that I haven’t had the time to read, much less publish, and apologies for not opening comments sooner but they should be there now, so you can get stuck in.


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