Isner, Mahut will play again. Was marathon year's best match?

Nicolas Mahut and John Isner will face each other in January's Hopman Cup for the first time since their historic 11-hour marathon in the first round of Wimbledon. Mahut was added to the French roster for the mixed-team championship after Gael Monfils withdrew due to injury. The two will play in a singles match on Jan. 3 in Perth, Australia.

Now that it's December and tennis is in its all-too-short offseason, the lists of best matches and greatest matches and the best greatest matches are popping up all over and there seems to be a lot of disagreement on where the Isner-Mahut match fits in amongst the others.

The ATP ranked it third. Forty Deuce doesn't put the match in its top five. Where does it belong?

It all depends on what the meaning of "best" is. If we're talking quality, then no, Isner-Mahut wasn't the best-played match of 2010, not by a longshot. It wasn't even the best-played match on any of the three days during which it was played. Watching ace after ace and 183 games that have a minimum of realistic break opportunities make not for great tennis.

In that respect, the best match of the year was the Andy Murray-Rafael Nadal semifinal match at the ATP World Tour Finals. It didn't have as much on the line as any Grand Slam match, but it featured the best tennis of the year.

But if we're taking "best" to mean "best atmosphere" or "most memorable," then Isner-Mahut is a runaway No. 1. The only other match on the men's side that people will be able to instantly recall 10 years from now was the U.S. Open semifinal between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic (the one in which Fed held two match points before succumbing to Djokovic). But even that's not certain, since Nole didn't end up winning the tournament. It was a huge match, but it didn't end up having enormous implications.

Isner-Mahut will never be forgotten. It's fashionable now to sniff at it and undervalue its greatness, but go back and read some of the stats. Sit back and think about it -- 70 to 68. Seventy. Sixty-eight. They're mind-boggling numbers. It redefined what a marathon match was. It makes Federer's 16-14 final-set victory over Andy Roddick in 2009 seem like a sprint.

The match will live on, far longer than any other one played this year. We'll always remember the unprecedented marathon and the exhaustion it brought and the worldwide attention it gained. It will be brought up ad naseum every time a match hits 6-6 at a Grand Slam and you'll think of it every time you read the name Isner or Mahut. It was instant history. No other match this year can say that.

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