As John Isner endured the second-longest Grand Slam match in history — and his second-longest match in Grand Slam history — he asked chair umpire Marija Cicak to end the madness with a tiebreak.
“I was joking, of course,” Isner said.
Neither Isner nor South African Kevin Anderson wanted their Wimbledon semifinal to become an instant classic in this fashion — Anderson winning 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24 in 6 hours, 36 minutes.
That’s 99 games, 102 combined aces and 569 points.
“It’s really tough on both of us, and at the end I feel like this is a draw between the two of us,” Anderson said after stopping to sign autographs along with Isner after the match. “Somebody has to win. I apologize if I’m not more excited right now, so many mixed emotions.”
Isner was bidding to become the first U.S. man to make a Grand Slam singles final since Andy Roddick at 2009 Wimbledon, to end the nation’s longest drought in his 41st career Grand Slam.
“Right now I feel terrible,” the 33-year-old Isner said, noting he developed a foot blister at some point in the match. “It stinks to lose, but I gave it everything I had out there, and I just lost to someone who’s just a little bit better.”
The eighth seed Anderson made his second Grand Slam final after losing to Rafael Nadal at the 2017 U.S. Open. He’s the first South African to make a Wimbledon final since 1921 and the oldest first-time Wimbledon finalist in the Open Era at age 32.
On Sunday, he plays Nadal or Novak Djokovic, who have a combined 29 major titles.
Djokovic leads Nadal 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (9) in the other semifinal that started so late on Friday that it couldn’t finish before Wimbledon’s 11 p.m. curfew (despite the Centre Court roof). It resumes Saturday at 8 a.m. ET, before the women’s final between Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber.
Isner was (and maybe still is) best known for 2010 Wimbledon, when he beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 70-68 in the fifth set in the longest match in tennis history (11 hours, 5 minutes over three days). The U.S. Open is the only one of the four Grand Slams that has a fifth-set tiebreak. Isner and Anderson want the others to follow suit.
“It’s long overdue,” Isner said.
Anderson proposed going to a tiebreak if a fifth set gets to 12-all.
“I really hope this is a sign for Grand Slams to change,” he said. “It gets kind of ridiculous at some point. … I can feel the crowd. They’re pretty antsy for us to get off the court.”
Anderson must regroup after spending 10 hours, 50 minutes on court between his five-setters in the quarterfinals (upsetting Roger Federer 13-11 in the fifth set) and the semifinals. That’s 48 minutes more than any player’s total at the World Cup this past month.
In 2010, Isner was ousted in a speedy 74 minutes in the match following his marathon, saying afterward that he didn’t have a chance.
“I need to reset as much as possible,” Anderson said.
Isner labeled Wimbledon his “house of horrors” ever since that Mahut epic. An otherworldly serve and strong forehand could not get him past the third round at the All England Club until this year and had never played on Centre Court until Friday (aside from the London Olympics).
The University of Georgia product has been the most consistent of a U.S. men’s contingent that has shown flashes since Roddick’s retirement in 2012. But neither he nor the others of his generation — Sam Querrey (2017 Wimbledon semifinalist), Jack Sock (ranked No. 8 as recently as February) and others — have broken into the sport’s highest tier.
In nine years since Roddick’s last Grand Slam final, U.S. women have reached a combined 21 Grand Slam finals (16 via Serena Williams). In the near 15 years since Roddick’s 2003 U.S. Open title, U.S. women have won a combined 21 Grand Slam titles (17 via Williams).
This has been a career year for Isner. The 6-foot-10 tower bagged his biggest career title at the Miami Open, one of the most prestigious non-major tournaments. He also made the fourth round of the French Open and matched his career-best ranking of No. 9.
Isner had held serve 110 straight times since the start of the tournament before Anderson, a former NCAA tennis rival, broke him four times. At least Isner left with a record 214 aces for the tournament, breaking Goran Ivansevic‘s mark of 213 from his wild-card title run in 2001.
“It’s up to me to not let this match linger, going forward, when I get back in America playing on the hard courts, which is my favorite surface,” Isner said as he shifts focus to the U.S. Open starting in late August. “I have to hit the delete button on this. It will be tough.”
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