Stars upstaged by 10-hour match

Published 8:50 am Thursday, June 24, 2010

The top players took care of business on the big courts at Wimbledon, then found themselves immersed in the drama unfolding on little Court 18.

“Unreal,” Andy Roddick tweeted.

“Absolutely amazing,” Roger Federer said.

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“It’s longer than a marathon,” Venus Williams said.

The match between John Isner of Tampa, Fla., and Nicolas Mahut of France lasted so long it was suspended because of darkness — for the second night in a row. After 10 hours of play, 881 points and 193 aces over two days, the fifth set was at 59-all.

It kept going because neither player could break the other.

“He’s serving fantastic. I’m serving fantastic,” Isner said. “That’s really all there is to it.”

The electronic scoreboard froze and then went blank, perhaps from the fatigue of trying keeping up with the longest match in the sport’s history. The Wimbledon website also lost track of the score.

Following an overnight suspension, the match resumed Wednesday at the start the fifth set. More than seven hours later, there was still no winner.

“Nothing like this will ever happen again,” Isner said. “Ever.”

They will to resume today, still tucked away on Court 18, while Queen Elizabeth II was expected in the Royal Box on Centre Court for her first visit to Wimbledon since 1977.

Aside from the astounding marathon match, there were no big surprises on day 3 of the tournament. Federer endured some tense moments before beating qualifier Ilija Bozoljac, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (5), and three-time Wimbledon runner-up Roddick rallied past Michael Llodra 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6 (2).

But the showdown of the fortnight has already been determined. It involves an American seeded 23rd and a Frenchman ranked 148th who made the field through qualifying.

Four times in the fifth set, Isner was one point from victory, but Mahut saved each match point. Still undecided, the match was by far the longest in terms of games or time. The fifth set alone took more than 7 hours, making it longer than the previous longest match of 6 hours, 33 minutes at the 2004 French Open.