In 1984, Vicki Nelson took 6 hours, 31 minutes to defeat Jean Hepner 6–4, 7–6(11). The match featured a 29-minute, 643-shot rally, the longest in professional tennis history
The sun is sinking and the court is a blur. It is at this stage that Zombie Isner starts to look like Zombie Mahut and the Zombie Umpire stops croaking and starts to chirrup like a grasshopper. In other words, we're here but we're gone. Is anyone still alive up in the stands or have they now all been eaten? It's 40-40. And that's games, not points
Still no sign of that angel either, the one that swore blind that she would come down and spirit the players off to Disneyland Paris where they could ride the Thunder Mountain rollercoaster forever and ever amen. I'm now starting to wonder if she really exists.
The umpire climbs down from his chair and starts mildly slapping the net cord with his right hand. No one knows why.
John Isner winds up for a backhand and misses the ball entirely. No one knows why. What's going on here? Once, long ago, I think that this was a tennis match. I believe it was part of a wider tennis tournament, somewhere in south-west London, and the winner of this match would then go on to face the winner of another match and, if he won that, the winner of another match. And so on until he reached the final and, fingers crossed, he won the title.
That, at least, is what this spectacle on Court 18 used to be; what it started out as. It's not that anymore and hasn't been for a few hours now. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it is long and it's horrifying and it's very long to boot. Is it death? I think it might be death.
42 games all.
6.25pm: The scoreboard is barely visible through the grass and weeds and trails of Spanish moss. It shows that John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are locked at 37 games each in the final set.
I'm wondering if maybe an angel will come and set them free. Is this too much to ask? Just one slender angel, with white wings and a wise smile, to tell them that's it's all right, they have suffered enough and that they are now being recalled. The angel could hug them and kiss their brows and invite them to lay their rackets gently on the grass. And then they could all ascend to heaven together. John Isner, Nicolas Mahut and the kind angel that saved them.
7.30pm: Let it end, let it end, it's 46-all. It was funny when it was 16-all and it was creepy when it was 26-all. But this is pure purgatory and there is still no end in sight. John Isner has just struck his 90th ace. Nicolas Mahut, poor, enfeebled Nicolas Mahut, has only hit 72. Maybe we should just decide it on the number of aces struck? Give the game to Isner and then we can all crawl into our graves.
6pm: The score stands at 34-34. In order to stay upright and keep their strength, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have now started eating members of the audience. They trudge back to the baseline, gnawing on thigh-bones and sucking intestines. They have decided that they will stay on Court 18 until every spectator is eaten. Only then, they say, will they consider ending their contest.
Cool Papa Bell: At some point, they'll swap in a fresh crew of ball-boys.
Because they're wimps.
ellieBOA: I'm in London (sadly reading about this on my phone rather than watching!) and I would say there is under an hour of sunlight left, did they play for long with floodlights last night?
8.40pm: It's 56 games all and darkness is falling. This, needless to say, is not a good development, because everybody knows that zombies like the dark. So far in this match they've been comparatively puny and manageable, only eating a few of the spectators in between bashing their serves.
But come night-fall the world is their oyster. They will play on, play on, right through until dawn. Perhaps they will even leave the court during the change-overs to munch on other people. Has Roger Federer left the grounds? Perhaps they will munch on him, hounding him down as he runs for his car, disembowelling him in the parking lot and leaving Wimbledon without its reigning champion. Maybe they will even eat the trophy too.
Growing darker, darker all the while.
9.10pm: Is it over? It is not over. For a brief moment back then, I thought it was over. Isner clambers to match point on Mahut's serve. Mahut steps forward and saves it with his 92nd ace. It's 59-59.
Mahut wants to come off now; the light is almost gone. But the official orders the pair to play two more games. "We want more! We want more!" chant the survivors on Court 18. I'm taking this as proof that they have gone insane.
9.12pm: Mahut prevails! Mahut wins! This is not to say he wins the match, of course. Nobody is winning this match; not now and not ever. But he prevails in his complaint and his wish is granted. Play is suspended. They will come back tomorrow and duke it out all over again. The scoreboard will be re-set at 0-0 first set and Isner and Mahut will take it from there.
OK, so they won't do that, exactly. Instead, they will pick it up where they left off, at 59-59 in the final set. Apparently the last set of this match has now lasted longer than any match in tennis history. Can this really be true? Nothing would surprise me anymore.
In with a left hook is the Bethnal Green Butcher,
But he's countered on the right by Mick's chain gang fight.
And Liquid Len with his smashed bottle men
Is lobbing Bob the Nob across the gob.
With his kisser in a mess, Bob seems under stress,
But Jones the Jug hits Len right in the mug.
And Harold Demure, who's still not quite sure,
Fires acorns from out of his sling.
The courtside scoreboard stood still at 47–47 and later went dark. IBM programmers said it was only programmed to go to 47–47 but would be fixed by the next day. The on-line scoreboard at the official website lasted slightly longer: At 50–50 it was reset to 0–0. Users were asked to "please add 50 to the Isner/Mahut game score"
The players' undead corpes are expected on Court 18 at 3.30pm, at which point we'll find out if we're still dealing with old-school shambling zombies or if a night's rest has allowed either has undergone a mid-noughties George Romero make-over, and can now run and scream and batter down doors.
"Number of games won by Federer on his way to the title last year: 159 Number of games in this match so far: 165"
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