A tennis match for the ages
by Johnathan Bentley
Jun 25, 2010 | 988 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
I had to be the heavy favorite.

At the time it was the biggest tennis match of my high school career.

Senior year. Sectional tournament. The intensity could have been cut with a weed-whacker.

Actually, it was no big deal, but I’m trying to infuse some drama here.

I was a slightly above-average player trying to help my tennis team pick up some points and the squad was counting on me to make a run in the tournament.

Things appeared to be setting up nicely for me from the start. I got matched against a seventh grader in the first round. I was no giant by any means, but the kid was half my size.

I figured on making quick work of him before getting to the tougher opponents.

Instead, it didn’t work out that way.

The second you think you are going to roll over an opponent, you are in trouble.

I found that out quickly as the kid matched my play from the start.

Right away we were locked in a battle. He had an answer for every shot I made. We sweat and toiled through the first two sets. Eventually, other members of my team showed up to cheer me on, but that did little to help. At the end it came down to a third-set tie-breaker, the tennis version of sudden death.

That’s when the wily veteran — that would be me — pulled out some last-minute stops and earned the victory.

It was a great win.

A celebration was in order.

Then I saw my tennis coach. I had 30 minutes before my next match.

About an hour later my career was over. Had I been rested, I may have had a chance, but coming off a two-and-a-half hour marathon, I was no match for a guy that was just as mediocre as I was.

It was a disappointing finish.

I have never been one for endurance.

I was reminded of that match on Wednesday and Thursday, when I saw that two Wimbledon players were involved in the longest match in tennis history.

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut played the same match for three consecutive days. It began on Tuesday with both players winning two sets. The fifth, and final, set was moved to Wednesday due to darkness.

That wasn’t that big of a surprise, but what happened on Wednesday was. The two players got locked in one of the biggest duels of all time. A close tennis set consists of scores like 6-4 or 7-6. Unlike most tournaments, however, at Wimbledon, the fifth set has no tiebreaker, meaning a player has to win by two. A few years ago, I remember a match going to 20-18 and I thought that was crazy.

On Wednesday, Isner, who played collegiate at Georgia, and Mahut played to a 59-59 draw before play was again stopped due to darkness.

Wednesday’s portion of the fifth set lasted more than seven hours.

To put that in perspective, you could watch the entire Star Wars Trilogy — I refuse to recognize the three newest ones — and still have time to go out for a bite to eat in the amount of time they were on the tennis court for the final set.

You could actually make the flight from Isner’s home country (U.S.) to Mahut’s home country (France) in the time it took to play the last set.

Had I played seven hours of tennis in one day I would be relegated to throwing the racquet at the ball and under-handing serves over the net.

The legs would have been the first thing to go, followed shortly by the arms and the mind.

Overall, the three-day match went on for more than 11 hours. It was the longest match in history by nearly four hours.

By contrast, Serena Williams’ match on Thursday lasted a total of 48 minutes.

In the end, Isner won by a score of 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68.

While the first four sets had baseball scores, the last was that of a college basketball game with Isner winning on a tip-in at the buzzer.

The bad thing for Isner is that was his first match at Wimbledon.

Hopefully he will have better luck than me in that next match. Maybe he’ll get more than a 30-minute break.

•Johnathan Bentley is the sports editor for the Daily Mountain Eagle. He can be reached at sports@mountaineagle.com.