Picture by 2010 Getty Images

The longest tennis match in history: When even the scoreboard stopped working!

The longest tennis match lasted for 11 hours and 5 minutes and was contested over three days between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at 2010 Wimbledon.
By Rahul Venkat

Described as one of the most physically intensive sports, tennis is quite often an engaging watch.

The length and breadth of a tennis court means that the players cover a lot of ground even in shorter, straight-forward matches.

With an average three-set tennis match lasting 90 minutes, tennis players are some of the fittest athletes in the world, and American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut put on an exhibition of fitness, grit, and endurance at the 2010 Wimbledon.

John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut, 2010 Wimbledon

The longest tennis match of all time was famously played between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut in the first round of the men’s singles at the 2010 Wimbledon.

John Isner eventually won 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68 in a match that lasted for 665 minutes (11 hours and 5 minutes), spread out over three days at the All England Club in London.

Playing on court 18 on June 22, 2010, Isner and Mahut played four sets on the day when play was halted due to a lack of natural light.

The players returned on the following day and began their long vigil in the fifth set, relentlessly holding their serves before play had to be suspended again due to no natural light, stretching the match to an unprecedented third day.

It was such an unexpected occurrence that the electronic scoreboard stopped working at 47-47 in the fifth set, as it had not been programmed to keep scores beyond that point.

Isner and Mahut kept playing on June 24, serving over 100 aces each and holding serve for an incredible 168 consecutive games through the match.

The American eventually prevailed, holding serve in the 137th game of the fifth set, and then broke Mahut in the 138th to prevail in the marathon match and progress to the second round. The fifth set alone lasted eight hours and 11 minutes.

A plaque hangs outside court 18 in honour of the match played by John Isner and Nicolas Mahut during Wimbledon 2010.
Picture by 2011 Getty Images

John Isner bowed out in the second round to Dutchman Thiemo De Bakker in straight sets, clearly feeling the after-effects.

Incidentally, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut met again in the first round of the 2011 Wimbledon, but this time the American won in straight sets.

The record of the John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut encounter is unlikely to be broken as tennis matches now employ the tie-break rule to decide the final set.

Earlier, the rules stated that the final set in Grand Slams would be played until any player had won two more games than his opponent, with a minimum of six games to be won (barring the US Open – where a tiebreak has always been used to decide the final set).

However, new scoring systems have been put in place at different Grand Slams now. At the Australian Open, in case the final set is tied at 6-6, a super tie-break (first player to reach 10 points) is employed to determine the winner.

At Wimbledon, rules now dictate that a tie-break will be played if the final set is tied at 12-12 while the French Open still follows the older system.

Other longest tennis matches

John Isner vs Nicolas Mahut is the longest tennis match ever played, and also the longest in men’s singles.

In fact, John Isner features twice in the list of top 10 longest matches. At the 2018 Wimbledon semis, Isner lost to South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. 4-6, 24-26 in a match that lasted six hours and 36 minutes.

It was the fourth-longest match in tennis history and the second-longest in Grand Slams.

The longest match in the women’s singles lasted six hours and 31 minutes between Americans Vicki Nelson and Jean Hepner in the first round of the 1984 Central Fidelity Banks International tournament. Vicki Nelson won 6-4, 7-6.

The longest doubles match was played at the 2013 Davis Cup between the Czech Republic and Switzerland.

Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol beat Stanislas Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli of Switzerland 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 24-22 in a match that lasted seven hours and two minutes. It is the second-longest match in tennis history.

Longest tennis matches at each Grand Slam
Grand Slam Match Duration Score
Australian Open, 2012 men's singles final Novak Djokovic bt. Rafael Nadal 5 hours and 53 minutes 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5
French Open, 2004 men's singles first round Fabrice Santoro bt. Arnaud Clement 6 hours and 33 minutes 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14
Wimbledon, 2010 men's singles first round John Isner bt. Nicolas Mahut 11 hours and 5 minutes 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 70-68
US Open, 1992 men’s singles semi-final Stefan Edberg bt. Michael Chang 5 hours and 26 minutes 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4