It took 11 hours, 5 minutes and 183 games ~ spread over three days ~ before the longest match in tennis history finally ended at 4:48 p.m. local time on Thursday afternoon with American John Isner prevailing 70-68 in the fifth set over Nicolas Mahut of France in a first-round gentlemen's singles match at Wimbledon.
If the final tally looked impossible or, worse, a misprint in your morning newspaper, make no mistake. The final result on the Court No. 18 scoreboard, which had to be reprogrammed after Wednesday evening's suspension of play, was full of a lot of crooked numbers ~ and most of them were in Isner's favor: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.
The headline in Friday's New York Times hailed the epic match:
Game, Set, and 3 Days Later, Match.
It drew a hardy mention from a World Cup announcer during the broadcast of the Italy-Slovakia match on ESPN when the score of the last set was 67-all.
By Day 3, the Isner-Mahut marathon match had become the talk of the tournament, if not the world, and nearly upstaged the royal visit by Her Majesty The Queen. It's too bad Queen Elizabeth II didn't make time to stay late and venture over to the quaint Court No. 18 during her first visit to the All England Club in 33 years. If she had, she could have rubbed shoulders with a few hundred enthusiastic spectators, including John McEnroe and Woody Allen. Imagine, a tea time threesome with the queen, McEnroe and Allen. Instead, the queen, 84, preferred to call it a day after spending a couple of hours in the Royal Box at Centre Court watching Andy Murray, Britain's best and only hope for winning a singles title this year, who put on a pretty good show for everyone in defeating Jarkko Nieminen of Finland in conventional straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.
In fairness, the queen's itinerary was scripted to the minute, which earlier included a brief walk about the hallowed grounds, lunch with tennis royalty, including Roger Federer and Martina Navratilova (the main course: orange and honey marinated chicken on fruity couscous with roasted vegetables), and an appearance in the front row of the Royal Box surrounded by her cousin, the Duke of Kent, and Virginia Wade, the last Englishwoman to win Wimbledon in 1977 ~ coincidentally, the last time the queen paid a visit to Wimbledon, during her Silver Jubilee year.
For the record, Queen Elizabeth II arrived on schedule at Centre Court at 1 p.m. sharp, attired in a light blue dress and matching hat and sunglasses. The crowd gave the queen a standing ovation and she acknowledged the crowd with a polite, royal wave with her white-gloved left hand. At least, that's how I remember seeing it on TV, although I admit I was still half-asleep at 5 a.m. Pacific Time. The British newspaper, The Guardian, described Her Majesty's arrival in a slightly more colorful manner: "The crowd whooped and cheered as she materialised, resplendent in a turquoise gown with matching inverted flower-pot hat."
No worries, the important matter is this: By all accounts, it appeared that Queen Elizabeth II enjoyed a pretty good time during her visit to SW19 on Thursday, and in return, the All England Club put on a jolly good show for the royals ~ and, the tradition of bowing on Centre Court, albeit for one match, made a nice comeback.
A postscript: OK, I'll admit it. Like many tennis fans who collectively held their breath, I became hooked by the Isner-Mahut marathon of all matches, starting from twentysomething-all on Wednesday. I invested about four hours of my time on Wednesday, watching and tracking the tennis match on TV, which followed the euphoria of the Landon Donovan goal that gave the U.S. a stunning 1-0 victory over Algeria in the World Cup. So, coming back to watch the conclusion of the tennis match on Thursday morning was a given.
Even though I didn't favor one player over the other, I hoped the match would have a happy ending. Finally, it did after Isner held serve to go ahead 69-68 and, then, for the first time in the decisive fifth set, broke Mahut. In the end, both Isner and Mahut were winners, and they will be forever linked by this match. Even, if only one player would emerge as the victor and earn the right to play on in the second round.
After being embraced at the net by Isner, his opponent for three days, Mahut put things in proper perspective. "We played the greatest match ever in the greatest place to play tennis."