WIMBLEDON, England — The final shot came off the racket of John Isner, a backhand hit with a single purpose late Thursday afternoon on Court 18 of Wimbledon.
It was meant to be a winner, with Isner playing the 491st minute and 138th game of the final set in a first-round Wimbledon match that had carried on across three days.
This backhand found its spot, barely out of the reach of Nicolas Mahut, who lunged for the ball anyway.
When the winning shot landed — the 980th point of a match that lasted a record 11 hours and 5 minutes — neither Isner nor Mahut could do much more than drop to their knees.
Isner was the winner, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (9-7), 7-6 (7-3), 70-68.
It took them 1 hour and 5 minutes Thursday to finish what they started on Tuesday. Making history can be tedious.
"Not often do I steal the show from a guy like (Roger) Federer, but I think I did," said Isner, a Wesley Chapel resident.
Federer, a six-time Wimbledon champ, was among the fellow pros gushing about the enormity of this match.
"I knew it was probably a big deal around the tennis world, because this is Wimbledon, so anybody that follows tennis, all eyes are on this tournament," Isner said. "It was when I got back to the locker room that I realized, you know, how big of a story it was, really, worldwide."
After Wednesday's marathon, Isner and Mahut tried to recover as best they could, with ice baths and massages, by drinking and eating plenty. Fellow American Andy Roddick went out and got an assortment of takeout food for Isner and his coach, including pizzas, chicken and mashed potatoes.
Thursday's tennis was no different than the previous days: big serves, returns into the net, little in between except an occasional two- or three-stroke rally, sometimes an attempt at a net rush or a lob.
The crack in Mahut's final service game came on the second point, when he made a forehand error after leading 15-0. At 15-15 Mahut tried a delicate drop shot but he put the ball into the net. Mahut won the next point with a volley for 30-30 but then, once again, Isner got a swing at a second serve and it paid off.
The 6-foot-9 Isner hit a forehand winner to give himself a fifth match point in the longest-ever set. As the crowd on Court 18 roared, Isner converted his fifth match point.
When Mahut finally met with the media, at 9:39 p.m., the day was done: "This was just a match I will never forget. But at this moment it's really painful."
The Frenchman said he hoped that everybody who watched had one particular recollection. "I just want them to remember that we were just two big fighters and one of them just won."
Isner must be back at noon today for his second-round match against Thiemo de Bakker. He's also scheduled to team with Sam Querrey in doubles.
"This one's obviously going to stick with me probably the rest of my life, really. But I hope it doesn't define my career. I think I have what it takes, you know, to do some really big things in this game," he said. "The four biggest tournaments of the year are the Grand Slams. I have probably a good seven, eight years left to try to make a good run at them. So hopefully this won't be the thing that I'm most remembered about."
1st serve pct. 67 74
Aces 103 112
Double faults 21 10
Unforced errors 39 52
1st serve win pct. 87 81
2nd serve win pct. 63 63
Winners 244 246
Break points 1-3 2-14
Net points 111-155 97-144
Total points won 502 478
Time of match 11:05
1st serve pct. 67 74
Aces 77 84
Double faults 12 4
Unforced errors 25 33
1st serve win pct. 90 82
2nd serve win pct. 65 64
Break points 0-2 1-5
Net points 82-108 74-105
Total points won 365 346
Time of match 8:11