Tennis match makes history

Published 2:49 pm Saturday, June 26, 2010

After 11 hours and 5 minutes of tennis, American John Isner defeated Frenchman Nicolas Mahut on Thursday at Wimbledon, ending the longest match in the history of the sport.

The marathon match — which spanned the course of three days — was something tennis fans like Tommy Tauchnitz, who coaches the Austin High School boys and girls tennis teams, will likely never see the likes of again.

“It was unbelievable,” Tauchnitz said. “It was something that will never, ever happen again.”

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Tauchnitz has been playing for years, including stops at AHS and later at St. Cloud State University, and he said he’s never seen anything even remotely close to the historic match.

That’s largely because of different rules — in Minnesota college and high school competition, deadlocked sets are resolved with 12-point tiebreakers, with the first person to get ahead by two deemed the winner. At Wimbledon, there is no fifth-set tiebreaker, meaning players play full games until someone is ahead by two.

The Austin coach also said he couldn’t see a match like that occurring on any type of surface other than grass, which is what Wimbledon is played on. Grass courts play very fast, meaning players with hard serves are at an advantage. Tauchnitz said as Isner and Mahut wore down during the grueling match, their abilities to return each other’s blazing serves dwindled.

“They’re basically kind of waiting for the other guy to screw up,” Tauchnitz said.

Of course, there are significant health concerns associated with a sporting event like the Isner-Mahut match.

Mark Bjorlie, the executive director of the Austin YMCA, said a good rule of thumb is to take a break of at least 30 minutes to an hour for every four hours of athletic activity. Bjorlie is not a medical expert, but he said it is pretty well established that the body begins to slow down after four hours if energy — in the form of food — isn’t taken in.

He added that athletes should get water even more frequently — once every 30 minutes is recommended.

Going without food or water for too long makes the body more susceptible to injuries, Bjorlie said.

The 11-hour match was split over three days, so the players did get time to eat and sleep. And water breaks are always taken in-between games. But even then, the two were faced with long, tough days, including a seven-hour, 118-game session on Wednesday alone.

Bjorlie said that type of exertion is worrisome, and he added that now might be the time for Wimbledon to look at implementing a fifth-set tiebreaker.

If Wimbledon changes its rules — or even if it doesn’t — don’t expect many matches to ever come close to 11 hours and five minutes.

“We played the greatest match ever, in the greatest place to play tennis,” Mahut told the Associated Press.

Added the winner, Isner: “You know, it stinks someone had to lose.”