And just like that, it was over as quickly as it started.
OK, that's a lie. The "greatest match ever," as Frenchman Nicolas Mahut called it, broke every possible record a tennis match could hold, but the Wimbledon marathon finally ended on a John Isner backhand that flew tauntingly past Mahut, ending the 11-hour, 5-minute match in the American's favor at — deep breath — 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68.
[PHOTOS: Isner and Mahut's exhausting battle]
The records have been beaten into the ground over the last day, but maybe the most telling part of the match was that when it ended, awards were presented to both players and chair umpire Mo Layani by English tennis legends Tim Henman and Ann Jones. The award ceremony was unusual but deserving for both players as they battled game and game again, holding serve for so long that many wondered if this match would ever end.
As the realization of what happened hit him, Isner summed up everyone's thoughts in a televised post-match interview. "It stinks someone had to lose," he said, "but to share this day with [Mahut] was an absolute honor." Isner added, to a smattering of laughs from the assembled on Court 18, that he hopes to meet Mahut in the future, and hopefully that match won't go 70-68.
Thursday started like Wednesday ended, with both players holding serve after serve, hammering ace after ace. Isner broke Mahut after he held serve in the 137th game of the fifth set, hitting the famed grass with his hands raised as his winner flew past the Frenchman.
What does the award say for this first-round match? Basically everything you need to know about the grit and determination from both players. Being matched up against each other on a court most fans never venture to, Isner and Mahut made it the most memorable moment of tennis so far in 2010, eclipsing anything that will happen the rest of the week at Wimbledon.
While Isner was all smiles, you could see the agony in the face of Mahut, a qualifier into this event, as he accepted his award. Mahut's take for more than 11 hours on grass? $16,783.60.
It's a good chunk of money for most, but his name is etched in tennis history forever. Not a bad way to go out for the man that just wouldn't go away.
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