This super-sized fifth set at Wimbledon finished 19-17, not 70-68, and it did not end well for John Isner.
The 6-foot-10 American, who won the longest match in tennis history at the All England Club in 2010, found himself locked in another marathon against another Frenchman at the same site. This time, Isner came up short.
No. 12 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga saved a match point and eventually edged the 18th-seeded Isner 6-7 (3), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, 19-17 over nearly 4½ hours in a third-rounder that ended Sunday. The final set alone lasted 2 hours, 8 minutes.
Play was suspended because of darkness after three sets Saturday at Court No. 2 (only Centre Court has artificial lights).
“To be honest, I was a little tired, for some reason,” said Isner, who leaned over with hands on knees at one point. “I didn’t think I would be.”
Inevitably, a reporter brought up the match Isner is best-known for, his first-round victory against Nicolas Mahut in 2010 that stretched for more than 11 hours over three days and concluded with a fifth set that lasted 102 more games than Sunday’s.
“I know the match could go a long way,” Isner said, then rolled his eyes while continuing, “but I wasn’t thinking about what happened six years ago.”
At his news conference, Tsonga was asked whether Isner-Mahut popped into his mind at all. That drew a hearty chuckle from Tsonga, a two-time semifinalist at Wimbledon and the runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open.
“A little bit,” Tsonga replied.
“Once,” he added, “I said, ‘Maybe it’s going to be long, like (for) Nicolas.’“
Isner and Tsonga are equipped with difficult-to-deal-with serves — both regularly reached 130 mph (210 kph) on Sunday — and they combined for 59 aces, 38 by the American. But here was the key: Tsonga converted 3 of 6 break points, all over the closing two sets, while Isner was only 1 for 4 in the match.
One of his break points came while ahead 16-15, and so it was also a match point. But Tsonga cast that aside with a big serve-forehand combination. On the first point of that game, Isner’s left foot slid out from under him and he fell at the baseline. He winced and stepped gingerly between points, but afterward insisted it was not a big deal, saying: “Oh, I was fine. Hurt for like five seconds. No, it feels fine. It’s not an issue at all.”
Perhaps. But not much later, Tsonga earned the only break of the last set to go ahead 18-17, then served it out.
That made him 15-7 in five-setters for his career, including 6-0 at Wimbledon. This was also the fourth time he’s come back to win after dropping the opening two sets of a match.
Tsonga will need to head right back out on court Monday to face No. 7 Richard Gasquet for a quarterfinal berth. They join the unseeded Mahut, who plays Sam Querrey of the U.S. on Monday, and No. 32 Lucas Pouille, who faces Bernard Tomic of Australia, to give France four men in the round of 16 at Wimbledon for the first time since 1929.
Isner, meanwhile, dropped to 6-15 in contests that go the full five sets, and he reiterated his stance that all Grand Slam tournaments should use a tiebreaker to settle a fifth set.
Currently, only the U.S. Open does that, while Wimbledon, the French Open and Australian Open make players continue until one winds up with two more games than the other.
“But I can’t do anything about it,” he said. “It’s fine.”