© Ella Ling

John Isner

John Isner takes an age to win - and an age to lose


Five thoughts on John Isner’s drawn-out defeat. 

There will be people out there – casual tennis fans who dip into the sport at grand slams – who think that John Isner has never played a straight-sets match in his life. If they have only watched two Isner matches, no prizes for guessing which two they have seen. They will be thinking: ‘Isner takes an age to win, and he takes an age to lose’. Isner, best known for taking 11 hours to beat France’s Nicolas Mahut in the opening round of the 2010 Wimbledon Championships, when the fifth set finished 70-68, was part of another ridiculously long match when he lost a 18-16 fifth set to Paul-Henri Mathieu. This took the best part of six hours. In years to come, Isner is going to be remembered for what he did in the first week of grand slams (that’s unless he ever wins one).

While Isner-Mahut was dull for long periods, this wasn’t. When Isner and Mahut played their fifth set, it felt as though many of the games were almost uncontested by the receiver, as they were more concerned with keeping some energy back for their own service games than with breaking. In Paris, every game of the fifth set was competitive, every game was compelling.

Surely this was a match that showed that the fifth set at Roland Garros should remain tiebreak-free? Martina Navratilova suggested on Twitter that the tiebreak should be used in Paris in fifth sets – as it is in New York at the US Open – as whoever won this match was going to be “cooked” for the next round. Perhaps. But why deny yourself – the spectator – matches likes these?

The French have been duffing up the Americans at this slam. Virginie Razzano beat Serena Williams. Andy Roddick, Ryan Harrison and Brian Baker also lost to French opponents. As James La Rosa wrote on Twitter: “France, you can have your Statue of Liberty back.” There are no American men in the third round at Roland Garros for the first time in five years.

This is quite the comeback for Mathieu – little wonder there were tears. Because of a knee injury, he started this tournament on the wrong side of 250 in the rankings.