Friday, June 25, 2010

The Greatest Tennis Match Ever.....

certainly did not take place at Wimbledon this week.  Many, including one of the combatants, have mistakenly labeled the first round tilt between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut as The Greatest Match Ever Played.  It wasn't.

The Isner-Mahut match was many things.  It was the longest match in history.  It started on Tuesday and ended on Thursday.  The fifth set alone lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes about 90 minutes longer than any other match just by itself.  It had the most aces of any match ever played and each player broke the previous record for aces in a match--by more than 20.  It ended with the ridiculously crazy fifth set score of 70-68.  But, it wasn't The Greatest Match Ever Played.

The Title might belong to the 1980 Wimbledon Final in which  a 24 year-old Bjorn Borg, seeking his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title, defeated John McEnroe 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6.  That match certainly had The Greatest Tiebreaker Ever Played, an 18-16 marathon won by the 21 year-old McEnroe, after saving five match points.

The other contestant is the 2008 Wimbledon Final in which Rafael Nadal defeated the then five-time champion Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 for his first Wimbledon title.  The 4 hours and 48 minute final, made longer by two rain delays, featured all the drama, tension, and pressure that comes with a Wimbledon Final and showcased sustained brillance by the two best players in the game playing at their very best.

Isner and Mahut deserve great applause for the stamina and their ability to serve brilliantly.  But there it is.  It wasn't great tennis.  In fact it was a bit boring.  It was only interesting because it was long.  Really long.  And with the length came tension, not only for the players but also for the spectators.  The fact that it took place for a third day gave everyone a chance to step back and take notice, and they did.  

But, this was a first round match.  It wasn't a grand stage.  In fact the Queen of England visited Wimbledon for the first time since 1977 on Thursday and she chose to attend a different match.  Isner, spent from his endeavor, was sent packing in the second round.  In three months few but the hardcore tennis fans will remember much other than maybe the score of the fifth set.  Nothing particular about the match will be emblazoned in anyone's mind.  It will probably remain in the record books forever.  But soon, people will just ask, "How did that happen?" and "Who were those guys?"  In reality it was a match like any first round match.  Just really long.

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