The 2010 Wimbledon men’s singles saw Rafael Nadal claim his second title at SW19, but the tournament that year was memorable for a match that took place in the first round.
Indeed, the meeting between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut on Court 18 will live long in the memory. “Long” being the operative word.
Isner and Mahut’s unlikely epic lasted 11 hours and five minutes, making it the longest match in tennis history. This is a record that still stands and will likely never be beaten considering how the rules were changed in the aftermath to prevent final set deciders from lasting so long.
The match started at 6:13 pm historic on June 22, 2010, but was suspended at 9:07 pm due to fading light with the fifth set about to begin. The score was tied at 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3).
Play resumed at 2:05 pm the following day, with the record for the longest match broken at 5.45pm that night. Isner and Mahut were just getting started.
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Fading light defeated them once again at 9:09 pm and they resumed at 3:40 pm on June 24 to slog their way towards a conclusion.
Isner ultimately won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68 at 4:47pm on the third day of the match, stopping the clock at 11 hours and five minutes.
What rule changes were inspired by Isner vs. Mahut?
The All England Club announced in October 2018 that Wimbledon would change its rules to prevent such a long match from ever occurring again. From 2019, a final set tie break was introduced with the decider to be played at 12-12.
Players and officials were consulted about the rule change, which came into effect for the first time in the 2019 Wimbledon final between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, which Djokovic won 13-12 in the deciding set.
It was announced in 2022 that all four grand slam tournaments would trial a new 10-point tie break when scores reach 6-6 in the deciding set. At that point, the French Open was the only major event to exclude tie breaks from the final set.
Did Isner and Mahut play at Wimbledon again?
Remarkably, the Wimbledon draw for 2011 threw up a first-round rematch between the pair — their first meeting since their career-defining encounter a year earlier.
Again there were a couple of tie-breaks and Isner won the match, although the big-serving American did so via the far more regulating scoreline of 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (2).
They met once more in their careers, with Isner again winning in straight sets at the Tennis Hall of Fame Open at Newport, Rhode Island in 2012, giving him an overall head-to-head advantage of 3-1 over Mahut, who won their initial 2008 match at Queen’s — making it an entirely grass-court rivalry.
What is the longest women’s tennis match?
The longest women’s tennis match took place at the 1984 Central Fidelity Banks International in Richmond, Virginia when Vicki Nelson-Dunbar won a match against Jean Hepner that lasted six hours and 31 minutes — the longest match completed on a single day.
Their first-round match featured a 643-shot rally that lasted a scarcely credible 29 minutes, making it the longest point in professional tennis history. Nelson-Dunbar won the point and went on to take the second-set tie-break and the match 6-4 7-6 (11). That’s right… she won in straight sets.
“There was tons of lobbing,” Nelson-Dunbar told the New York Times in 2009. “I would try to come in and she’d lob me again.”
“Even now, just thinking about it, my stomach is starting to hurt,” Hepner recalled. “I had a lot going on in my personal life at that time and I was trying to turn my career around and it was getting tougher to do. But I didn’t stay out there for six hours to get attention; I just wanted to win that match badly.”
Had Hepner won their mind-bending point, she’d have forced a third set to prolong the torment.
At grand slam level, the longest women’s singles match took place at the 2011 Australian Open between Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Seven months on from Isner and Mahut’s exploits they played a four-hour and 44 minutes fourth-round match.
Schiavone got over the line to reach the quarter-finals, winning 6-4, 1-6, 16-14 after a remarkable third set where she saved six match points.