Longest Recorded Tennis Rally Remembered

Twenty-five year ago, tennis player Vicki Nelson-Dunbar played Jean Hepner in a 29-minute, 643-shot rally. The rally remains the longest point played in a professional tennis match. Nelson-Dunbar says the two-set match lasted 61/2 hours. She says other points in the game could have been longer.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

We are indebted to the New York Times sports section for news of a 25th anniversary that we mark today. Something happened during a women's tennis match in Richmond, Virginia on September 24, 1984 or, to be more evocative, something happened and happened some more and kept happening and happening.

Vicki Nelson-Dunbar and Jean Hepner were playing tennis. It was set point for Hepner, deep into a tiebreaker, and then it began. The next point took 29 minutes, a rally that entailed 643 shots, the longest rally in the history of professional tennis and probably in the history of any kind of competitive tennis.

Vicki Nelson-Dunbar joins us from Medina, Ohio. Welcome to the program.

Ms. VICKI NELSON-DUNBAR (Former Professional Tennis Player): Hello.

SIEGEL: And how could the two of you go on for so long hitting the tennis ball?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Well, my coach had told me at the time, because I had played her previously, that I just had to be steadier and more patient than her because I knew she lobbed a lot. So I thought I was going to stay out there forever, and I figured I'd be more patient than her.

SIEGEL: It sounds like she was pretty patient, too.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yeah, yes, obviously. Yes, she's very patient.

SIEGEL: Well, once you'd, you know, once you were a couple of hundred shots into this, what were you thinking?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: I really wasn't thinking anything. I was just, you know, trying to get the ball back again, kept thinking, you know, she can't keep hitting it back. But obviously, I just didn't want to give in. I guess I was too stubborn. I don't know.

SIEGEL: I read that there were - obviously there were a lot of lobs. So, you weren't running back and forth around the court for…

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Oh no, there were tons of lobs.

SIEGEL: Lots of lobs.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yes.

SIEGEL: The New York Times story also said that a local Virginia sportswriter, for some reason, started keeping count. That's how we know how many strokes there were in this point. But normally, is there somebody who's counting the shots in every rally in a tennis match?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Oh, no, normally I don't think that happens. I think he just was sitting there and probably was curious that I think most points were going very long. There might have been others that were longer, but…

SIEGEL: Really?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: There were a lot of them. It was six and a half hours for two sets.

SIEGEL: The whole match took six and a half hours.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yeah, and it was only two sets. So there had to have been a lot of points that were pretty long, and I have no idea if they were longer or not.

SIEGEL: So for all you know, you might have played the longest rally in the history of tennis and also the second or the third longest rally, you know.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Right.

SIEGEL: It could be a clean sweep for all we know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Right.

SIEGEL: Now, I read in the Times, the New York Times story about this, that you called up your then-boyfriend, now-husband and told him this was the worst day of your life.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yes, I did.

SIEGEL: Why? You'd won the match.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Well, because I was out there forever, and it seemed ridiculous afterwards. I didn't realize it was that long, six and a half hours. But it just seemed ridiculous that I had to go through all that to win a tennis match.

SIEGEL: And you were exhausted.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yes, I was. I was very tired.

SIEGEL: Did people at the tournament, did they remain in their seats and watch it?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Oh no, they basically left.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: They could have gone for lunch and come back.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yeah. There weren't very many people left.

SIEGEL: And after all of this, what did you tell your coach who had urged you to show great patience in playing this match?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Oh, that I'd never do that again. It wasn't worth it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: I've read that you have three kids, and they play tennis. Have you told them the story of your incredibly long point back in 1984?

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yes, because they have the Guinness Book, and they always take it in for show and tell, like when they were in kindergarten. And so, they've always taken it different times for school to show the teacher or something. So they know it's there because we have the Guinness book here.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: And you've verified it to them that indeed it's true.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Yes, I wasn't making it up.

SIEGEL: Well, Vicki Nelson-Dunbar, thank you very much for remembering that match, I gather not the most pleasant memory of your tennis career some 25 years ago today.

Ms. NELSON-DUNBAR: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Twenty-five years ago today, Vicki Nelson-Dunbar played Jean Hepner in a tennis rally that lasted 29 minute and took 643 shots.

(Soundbite of music)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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