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It was more than the historic tennis played

June 25, 2010

I used to spend a lot of time on the tennis court back in my teenager days, although you sure couldn't tell that now.

It's a great sport.

Like golf, it's all about honor early on - you make the calls.

If the ball hits the back half of the line and it's for match point and you're on the wrong end of that match point, you call the ball in because it is the right thing to do.

If you call it out, that's a reputation you don't want to have.

The match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut is one that can be taught for more than tennis.

It can be taught to any young athlete about perseverance, about not giving up, about finding another level of yourself.

Isner defeated Mahut at Wimbledon in a match that covered three days, 11 hours and five minutes and set a load of tennis records.

The 6-foot-9 Isner, who could barely stand up Wednesday evening, finally defeated Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set Thursday afternoon.

The match began on Tuesday and four sets were played - 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3) - before darkness halted the match.

The two got back at it Wednesday on Court 18 at 2 p.m. and it went seven hours and was tied 59-59 when the referee determined there was not enough sunlight available for both players.

So, the pair resumed Thursday.

I had my children watch as much of it as they could for a few reasons - sports history and the fact I didn't want to hear them whine about being tired when these two guys played tennis for seven hours straight with one bathroom break.


I know kids who get hall passes every two class periods.

Oh, by the way, this was a first-round match.

The fifth set alone took 8 hours, 11 minutes, surpassing the previous longest match, which took 6 hours, 33 minutes at the 2004 French Open.

The match lasted forever because neither player could break serve. They combined to hold for 168 straight games.

Isner finished with 112 aces and Mahut had 103, with both totals eclipsing the sport's previous high of 78.

Isner said he felt "completely delirious" by the end of play Wednesday and guessed he ate a dozen energy bars and drank 30 to 40 bottles of water during the match.

The tall drink of water also said he was glad that he trains hard in the heat of Tampa, Fla.

"My coach actually, believe it or not, said jokingly before the tournament started that I'll be able to play 10 hours," Isner said.

Mahut was trying to make Isner hit as many backhands as possible due to Isner's wicked forehand. But, it was a backhand at 30-40 that won him the match.

"This crowd was fantastic," Isner told BBC Sport's John Inverdale on court at the end. "What more can you say? The guy's an absolute warrior. It stinks someone had to lose.

"To share this with him was an absolute honor. Maybe we'll meet again somewhere down the road and it won't be 70-68."

"At this moment I'm just really thankful," said Mahut. "It was amazing today. John deserved to win. He served unbelievable, he's a champion.

"It was really an honor to play the greatest match ever at the greatest place for tennis. It was very long but I think we both enjoyed it."

Mahut had three break-point chances in the match.

Mahut had 1,104 strokes and Isner 1,094.

They totaled 980 points.

But, this match was more than all those facts and figures.

This was Ali-Foreman with both guys getting off the ropes.

This was Ryan-Seaver with both guys throwing strikes.

This about tennis at the highest level, but, more important, sportsmanship at an even higher level.

This was about two guys trying to beat the daylights out of each other and do it the right way.

This was about two guys being great representatives of sports, let alone tennis.

This was about two guys finding a deeper level of fitness they thought they had.

This was about two guys finding a newer level of game.

No one whined about a missed call here or there.

Mahut did not whine about being on the wrong end of the final.

The guys showed that you can surpass what you think your best is and find a new level of best.

There are no excuses why people of any age cannot give their best.

We do not expect perfection.

We expect your best effort.

That's what these guys did, they gave us their best effort over three days for 11 hours and five minutes.

Mahut did not lose this match.

Isner won it.

"It stinks someone had to lose," Isner said. "But to be able to share this day with him was an absolute honor. I wish him nothing but the best, and maybe I'll see him somewhere down the road, and it won't go 70-68."

(Mathison, a Weirton resident, is the sports editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times and can be contacted at

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