In 2010, Rafael Nadal of Spain won the 124th tennis championship at Wimbledon in straight sets over Tomas Berdvch of the Czech Republic. Nadal is a worthy champion and deserves to be honored for his win, but the real accolades go to 23rd seed John Isner of the United States and the 148th world ranked, Nicolas Mahut of France. Ranked low, they were assigned court 18, which is off to the side, far from the lighted center court, where the top seeded players competed.
Their match began on Tuesday, June 22nd. Tied at two sets, the game was called because of darkness. Isner won the first set 6-3. Mahut took control and won the next two 3-6 and 6-7. Isner tied it up with a 7-6 win, before the game was called.
On Wednesday, the two men faced each other for the final set. The day wore on; the scores climbed; and people took notice. At 3:03 p.m., after three hours and forty minutes of play, the score was tied 50-50.
The scoreboard quit.
The day before, they completed the four sets in about three hours. On day two, they staggered as they surpassed the six-hour mark. Line judges were refreshed. Teams of ball boys and girls where changed five times.
Word spread. History was being made. Before long, everyone inside the All-England Club was entranced. On Henman Hill, crowds swarmed around the big screen to watch. From the rooftop garden, overlooking court 18, tennis’ elite (John McEnroe, Tim Henman and Gael Monfils) looked on with disbelief.
Tied at 59-59, the line judge called the game because of darkness for the second day in a row, but not before the two men shattered just about every record imaginable: points, aces, match points, and games. Isner no longer had skin on his small toes. The crowd began to chant, “Keep playing!” or “Center Court” where there were lights, but the game was stopped anyway.
On day three, Isner and Mahut, sore and tired, limped to the court and faced each other. The top players were at the center courts, but the attention was on court 18. Even the Queen of England was in attendance for this historic match. This was Isner and Mahut’s day. They fought for this moment and deserved it. They didn’t disappoint the throngs of people watching.
For several more hours the two men continued battle. The score climbed and the fans watched with disbelief. After more than eleven hours of play, Isner put the match away, winning the final set 70-68 and made history.
The next day, Isner lost his match in straight sets. There is no shame. He and Mahut are champions. Their names will be in record books for many years as the gladiators of tennis. They proved to the world, the old saying, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game that counts.” is true.