Will Wimbledon's Marathon Match Ever End?

The longest tennis match in history resumes at Wimbledon Thursday. John Isner of the U.S. and Nicolas Mahut of France played Wednesday until they ran out of daylight. Officials suspended the match for the evening with the two players tied at 59-all in the fifth set.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Tennis players John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are playing a match for the ages at Wimbledon. To the players it may seem like it's lasting for ages. Tuesday they played four sets and then had to quit because it got dark.

Yesterday, they continued figuring, naturally, they would play and fifth and final set and finish the match. They didn't. After playing more than seven hours, the match again was suspended because of darkness. The score, if you're checking, is 59 games all in that fifth set. It is a record shattering match that is still not over. And NPR's Tom Goldman is covering it.

Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: Just a little basic of tennis here. How is it that you play 118 games in total and you still don't have a winner in a set?

GOLDMAN: Well, at Wimbledon you don't play a tiebreaker in a fifth set. You just go on and on and on until someone wins by two. The problem here is no one is winning by two. One guy gets up, the other guy ties it, the next guy gets up, the next guy ties it. And now we're at 59 games all. It's absolutely astounding.

INSKEEP: Was there any sense that this match would make tennis history when it began?

GOLDMAN: No way. You've got a 19th ranked player in the world - John Isner -versus 148th ranked player in Mahut. They're playing out on court 18. The seating capacity is 782. A forgettable first round match. No one expected this, but now it's a match no one will ever forget.

INSKEEP: Well, when they were called off the court for darkness, did Isner and Mahut have anything to say or were they too tired?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, after seven hours and six minutes, they were able to stand up a few minutes more and answer some questions from a BBC interviewer. Here's Mahut, first.

Mr. NICOLAS MAHUT: We're just fighting like we never did before. Everyone wants to see the end, but they have to come back tomorrow.

GOLDMAN: And then there's Isner.

Mr. JOHN ISNER: I mean, nothing like this will ever happen again - ever. I don't know what to say. I mean, he's serving fantastic. I'm serving fantastic. That's really all there is to it. I'd like to see the stats. See what the ace count looks like for both of us.

INSKEEP: And what did John Isner see when he saw those stats?

GOLDMAN: Mindboggling numbers. The old record for service aces - an ace, of course, is when the player hits a serve and the opponent can't tough it - the old record in a singles match was 78. By the end of yesterday, Isner had 98 for the match, Mahut had 94.

Other stats: seven hours and six minutes for a fifth set. And that time will grow today, obviously. That, alone, beats the record time for an entire match. The old record was six hours, 33 minutes at the French Open in 2004. The total match time for Isner versus Mahut, since it started Tuesday, is nine hours and 58 minutes. That's just crazy.

INSKEEP: You know, just listening to you after you watched this seven hour and several minutes of tennis, you don't sound bored at all.

GOLDMAN: I'm not bored. It's absolutely amazing. And what was really great about it was the quality of play. It was superb. And there were lots of comments about their sportsmanship. They were very gentlemanly in their demeanor, maybe because they were exhausted.

(Soundbite of laughter)

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask about that. Do you get a break when you play 118 games?

GOLDMAN: Well, you get normal breaks when you change ends of the court. I know Isner at least took the opportunity to eat a little bit, eat a banana, eat a sandwich. Very late in the day, they both took a break to go to the bathroom. But, you know, they drew on some pretty deep reserves.

Isner, at 6'9", the latter half of the fifth set, he often looked like this enormous zombie dragging himself around. And his coach said later, that when he'd make eye contact with Isner, Isner simply looked right through him. Now, in contrast, Mahut was like the energizer bunny. He was diving for shots. He full out dove for a couple of balls - I mean, horizontal to the ground - which brought the crows to his feet. Even Isner, on one of those, looked at him and smiled.

INSKEEP: NPR's Tom Goldman finished another sports report with the score once again in his favor six-love.

Tom, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You bet.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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