Mahut and Isner ready for second round of epic battle

It takes just 10 seconds to read the 33 words printed on a new, oval plaque mounted outside Wimbledon's Court 18 to commemorate the longest ever tennis match, which took place at the All England Club a year ago.

It is a typically understated acknowledgement by Wimbledon organisers of the feat achieved by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut – but then no amount of words could sum up an act of extraordinary endurance that spanned three days and lasted 11 hours and five minutes over five gruelling sets.

Those two same gladiators will return today to the All England Club for a rematch after they were shocked to be drawn together for a first-round meeting.

"I'm very happy to come back to the UK and play in front of the English fans, and at the same time I'm a little bit worried about being able to meet the expectations. It's a question of not letting people down," said Frenchman Mahut, who lost last year's epic match.

"Freakish", "astonishing", "unbelievable", "mind-boggling" and "bizarre" are just some of the words competitors used when Isner and Mahut were drawn together again for this year's championships – the same words, in fact, that were used to describe their first-round encounter last June, which kept a global audience of millions glued to their seats.

Going into today's encounter, American Isner summed up the sentiments of the two players best by saying: "It's weird and it's cruel."

At the time of the draw last Friday, Wimbledon referee Andrew Jarrett twisted the knife further by suggesting that "there is every possibility we could schedule it for Court 18 again".

That, though, would be the worst-case scenario for Mahut, who plunged into depression for three months after losing the 183-game match 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68.

"I hope that the organisers will try and avoid that situation [of playing again on Court 18]. But if I have to go back out there, then I don't know. It will be a strange feeling because it will be impossible for me not to think about [last year's] match," said Mahut.

The chances are that with so much buzz and expectation surrounding the rematch, a court holding just 782 spectators will not do, and this time they will play out Act II of their rivalry on either Centre Court or Court One.

"This time there's obviously a lot of attention, and all this is a bit new," said Mahut, who has been struggling to come to terms with the hype.

A year ago, Mahut served the first ball of the match at 6.13pm on Tuesday 22 June. The "never-ending match" finally reached its conclusion at 4.48pm on Thursday 24 June.

The fifth set alone lasted eight hours 11 minutes and was 98 minutes longer than the previous longest grand slam match ever played, when Fabrice Santoro finally celebrated victory over Arnaud Clement at the French Open in 2004.

The Isner-Mahut match was not only the longest ever played but broke the records for the longest set, the most games in a set (138), most games in a match (183), most aces in a match by one player (Isner 113) and total aces (216). In the fifth set, Mahut successfully served to stay in the match for 64 games in a row – a display of extraordinary staying power.

Statistics, however, tell only one story – that the match went on and on and on. The numbers reveal nothing about how Isner and Mahut stayed out there for so long, the mental and physical battles they had to endure during the contest, or what happened next.

"We have become really good friends through this experience. That's one of the things that I have become most happy about," said Mahut. "We write to each other and send messages. We follow each other's results and, maybe if my English was a bit better, we'd have more chance to know each other better.

"We've been trying to play doubles for a while but it's difficult. We wanted to play Wimbledon but it's tough as it's best-of-five-sets doubles and also in singles. But we'll definitely play Wimbledon together one year," he added

Following last year's match, Mahut said he suffered "a blackout and a kind of breakdown and almost lost my memory for a bit". It was , indeed, a feeling that came back to haunt him last Friday.

"I was following the draw on my computer when my name came out, then the screen went blank," Mahut explained. "I was sitting in the locker room when this great yell of 'Noooooooo' went up. Nobody could believe it.

"I didn't believe it when they said I had drawn John. I had to go to the television screen just to check it was actually true. Then I got a text from John on my phone. It was of a sad face. We both agree it's just crazy.

"For both of us it is going to be tough mentally and it's weird how it has happened again."

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week