This, then, is who John Isner is for now: The Marathon Man of Tennis, the guy who plays and plays and plays, for hours on end, until the last set seems interminable.At Wimbledon two years ago, he won 70-68 in the fifth, the longest set and match in tennis history. At Roland Garros on Thursday, as afternoon gave way to evening, the 10th-seeded American lost, 7-6 (2), 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 18-16 to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the second round, a 5-hour, 41-minute test of stamina and attention span.
This one goes in the books as the second-longest match, by time, in French Open history.
“I just didn’t get it done. I felt like I got caught in patterns that weren’t ideal for me,” said a somber Isner, whose exit means there are no US men in the third round. “I wasn’t going for my shots at certain points in the match, and that comes from a little bit of a lack of confidence.”
If the 6-foot-9 Isner, is going to become more than a novelty act, he needs to win encounters like Thursday’s, and not because of the duration but because it was a first-week Grand Slam match against a player ranked 261st who got into the field thanks to a wild-card invitation from the tournament.
After finally converting his seventh match point — Isner never had one — an emotional Mathieu thanked the partisan crowd in the main stadium for willing him to victory. Their sing-song choruses of “Po-lo! Po-lo!” — the French equivalent of “Paulie” — and roars of approval rang out after pretty much every point he won down the stretch. “I dug deep,” said the 30-year-old Mathieu, who hadn’t played in a major tournament since the 2010 US Open.