The look on John Isner’s face said it all: “Not again.” The American, whose name will forever be etched in Wimbledon history after his 11-hour, five-minute epic with Nicolas Mahut in 2010, a match in which he won the fifth set 70-68, on Sunday found himself embroiled in yet another marathon match here.
But this time he lost.
His 6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 19-17 defeat by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, also of France, took four hours and 24 minutes, spread over two days, with the final set alone lasting more than two hours. Isner had a match point at 16-15 but could not convert and Tsonga, the No12 seed, finally broke for 18-17 before serving out for what will have been a hugely satisfying win until he remembered he would have to come out and do it all again on Monday.
Tsonga will take on another Frenchman, Richard Gasquet, for a place in the quarter-finals and the outcome may depend on how much he has left in the tank. But for Isner, deja vu does not quite cut it and he would surely be the first to sign up for a rule change to make Wimbledon, the Australian Open and French Open follow the US Open by playing a tiebreak in the final set. This was the ninth time in grand slam events he has gone beyond 6-6 and he has now lost five of them. As the three-times former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said: “To me it’s insane that they don’t have a tiebreaker at every major – at 6-all,” and Isner agreed. “I would [like one] but I have said that a bunch,” he said. “But I can’t do anything about it. It’s fine.”
Tsonga was 50-50 on the idea. “For us it’s good to finish it because the winner will play another match,” he said. “Sometimes it’s better for the body. But at the same time it is good for the crowd and good for the story. What is difficult for us is to play the day after. It’s a little bit sad because a few days ago I won my first match and I waited two days to play my second match. Now I have to play three days in a row so that’s a little bit unfair but I’m prepared for it. Tomorrow is going to be another day.”
The match resumed with Tsonga two sets to one down and he quickly ripped through the fourth to take it into a decider. Of Isner’s 38 aces 21 came in the final set as he stepped up a level again and he had match point at 16-15. But a good serve from Tsonga set up an easy forehand winner to save it and then at 17-17 Isner sent an inside out forehand wide to give away the vital break. Serving for the match, Tsonga began with two aces, double-faulted on his first match point but finally got the job done with a backhand volley into the open court.
Isner said Mahut did not enter his mind but Tsonga admitted he had thought about it. “A little bit, a little bit,” he said, with a big smile. “The most important thing today was to win and continue. But to be honest, yeah, once I said to myself: ‘Maybe it’s going to be long like Nicolas.’”
The heartwarming run of Juan Martín del Potro came to an end as he was beaten 6-7, 7-6, 7-5, 6-1 by France’s Lucas Pouille but for the former US Open champion said he would leave Wimbledon convinced he is on the right track. The Argentinian, who has had three left wrist operations since he last played at Wimbledon three years ago, said his level is improving all the time.
“I’m very confident, very positive,” said Del Potro, who does at least one hour of rehabilitation work on his wrist every day. “I already played three matches in this tournament against big players. I did a great match today against the 30th player in the world and I was there, very, very close, to win that match. I need to work hard physically and on my wrist, my backhands. Then I will be competitive on all surfaces and against all the players.”
The 10th seed Tomas Berdych, the runner-up here in 2010, defeated the rising German Alexander Zverev and will now play the unseeded Czech Jiri Vesely
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