WIMBLEDON — John Isner went into Friday’s Wimbledon semifinal against Kevin Anderson hoping to be known for more than just playing in the longest match in Grand Slam history. And he will be, because now he’s played in the two longest matches in Grand Slam history.
He would much rather have won the match.
“I’m not going to hang my hat on [a record], for sure,” Isner said. “It’s more just disappointed to lose. I was, you know, pretty close to making a Grand Slam final, and it didn’t happen, so . . . That’s that.”
The two big servers registered aces in bunches (102), and there weren’t many breaks in serve (six). The match spanned 6 hours and 36 minutes and endured through a bathroom break, visits from the trainer and even a flock of birds that circled ominously overhead midway through the fifth set.
Finally, the righthanded Anderson used a desperation lefthanded forehand to help bring the match to its conclusion, a 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 win.
The match went so long that No. 2 Rafael Nadal and No. 12 Novak Djokovic didn’t get on the court until 8 p.m. for their semifinal, and it was suspended at 11 p.m. with Djokovic up 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9). Play will resume on Saturday.
Isner played the longest match in history at Wimbledon in 2010, defeating Nicolas Mahut, 70-68, in the fifth set. The match lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes over three days. The fifth set lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes.
On Friday, Isner staved off two break points at 17-17 in the fifth set. He has a solid get-out-of-jail-free card with his serve, and he sent two aces past Anderson for deuce, then sealed the game with a backhand passing shot. He served 53 aces to Anderson’s 49, with the ninth-seeded Isner’s fastest serve clocked at 142 mph to the eighth-seeded Anderson’s 137.
Anderson played an amazing point with Isner serving at 24-all. Anderson fell returning the ball but was able to get back up as it came back to him. Anderson was out of position for his two-handed lefty backhand, so instead he hit a lefthanded forehand. He ended up winning the point, and three points later, he broke Isner for the 25-24 lead. The South African held serve in the next game to win.
“Obviously, that was a pretty good point from my standpoint,” Anderson said. “I just said when I was younger, I had elbow surgery at a pretty young age. Actually played four or five months just with my left hand. A lot of guys with two hands can’t hit the ball lefthanded . . . I was reflecting that I wouldn’t have thought back then that I was going to use a lefthanded shot at the semifinals of Wimbledon.”
The 6-10 Isner, 33, is one of the best servers in tennis. But aside from his serve, he is merely above average relative to the other players in the ATP. He had 59 unforced errors to 24 for Anderson, and a big serve can get you out of only so much trouble. By the end, Isner said his left heel was in pain and a blister on his right foot was hampering his movement.
The match became monotonous at times. Even the crowd began to root for an ending, and at one point a fan asked if they could flip a coin. Isner joked with the chair umpire that they should go to a tiebreak.
But seriously, they should go to a tiebreak, Anderson and Isner said in their postmatch news conferences. Isner posited a tiebreak at 12-12. Anderson said it was only fair to the other players and fans.
“It’s also tough being out there, listening to some of the crowd,” Anderson said. “ . . . If you ask most of them, I’m sure they would have preferred to see a fifth-set tiebreaker, too.”
49 Aces 53
4 Double Faults 6
137 mph Fastest Serve 142 mph
71 First-Serve Pct. 75
118 Winners 129
24 Unforced Errors 59
298 Total Points Won 271
14576.3 feet Distance Covered 15701.7 feet