John Isner was once again a part of a Grand Slam history, playing in the longest-ever fifth set at the French Open. This time, the marathon man fell short.
Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu broke Isner in the 34th game of the fifth set late Thursday evening to win their epic second-round match 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 18-16. Theirs was the longest fifth set in French Open history. A fatigued Isner saved six match points during the extended session but pushed a forehand wide on the seventh to give the 30-year-old Mathieu the biggest victory of his career.
The match lasted 5 hours, 41 minutes, setting a record for the longest one-day match in the history of the French Open. It was second-longest ever in the tournament. Not since 1957 had there been a match at Roland Garros with more games played.
Though the extended fifth set earned derision from Tennis Channel analyst and fifth-set tiebreaker advocate John McEnroe, the match was still 12 minutes shorter than the Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Isner was uncharacteristically shaky on his serve early in the match, leading to 17 break-point opportunities for Mathieu in the first four sets. The break opportunities didn't extend his way. All evening, Isner got behind early on Mathieu's serve and, by the end, he seemed to be playing to get to his serve.
Unlike in his famed match against another Frenchman, Nicholas Mahut, Isner served second on Thursday, an inherent disadvantage that puts additional pressure on the server late in extended matches. He bravely saved off three match points in a game early in the set, two more at 13-12 and one before the missed forehand at 30-40.
The 27-year-old has now gone the distance at every Grand Slam. He defeated David Nalbandian 10-8 in a fifth set at this year's Australian Open and played a final-set tiebreak against Andy Roddick at the 2009 U.S. Open.
Mathieu missed much of the past 18 months while recovering from injuries. "If I worked so hard to come back," he said after his win, "it was to experience moments like this."