Posted: Wednesday June 23, 2010 5:00PM ; Updated: Wednesday June 23, 2010 6:10PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>INSIDE TENNIS

Isner-Mahut an exercise in courage

Story Highlights

John Isner-Nicolas Mahut match helps tennis get spotlight on busy sports day

Isner and Mahut could be in worse shape Thursday for conclusion of match

Both players are good stories -- Isner a rising American, Mahut a veteran qualifier

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Nicolas Mahut and John Isner
Nicolas Mahut (left) and John Isner have played 10 hours and there's no winner yet.
Hamish Blair/Getty Images

SI.com caught up with Sports Illustrated senior writer Jon Wertheim after the suspension of the John Isner-Nicolas Mahut match at Wimbledon on Wednesday. Play was suspended with the players tied at 59-59 in the fifth set. It is the longest match in tennis history at 10 hours, including 7 hours, 6 minutes in the fifth set alone.

SI.com: What does this suspension mean for the players?

Jon Wertheim: They won't be first on the court Thursday and I wonder if in a weird way this is a disadvantage. [The match is scheduled to resume no earlier than 3:30 p.m. local time -- 10:30 a.m. ET] The body has to be doing some weird stuff. I mean, John Isner is 6-9 and you wonder what his night's sleep will be like. Yes, they can get some rest and replenish fluids, but I wonder if they won't be even less energetic on Thursday.

SI.com: Put this match in some kind of historical perspective for us?

Wertheim: There was a doubles match at Wimbledon in 2007 where Brazil's Marcelo Melo and Andre Sa won 28-26 in the fifth set and everybody sort of giggled and made jokes about these two little-known players from Brazil having their day in the sun. Well, this match's fifth set will more than double that. This is like the 100-round match in boxing. It's fun and everyone will watch, but if you step back, I do think it is a little absurd. It's a classic in a different sense. There's not a trophy in the corner of the court and it's not a final or a great rivalry, but there is certainly a type of courage on display.

SI.com: But the publicity must be good for tennis, no?

Wertheim: If my messages are any indication, this is eclipsing the World Cup on Wednesday. Selfishly for tennis, they want to keep this going for as long as they can. I think that it gets the minutes on sports highlight shows and it is certainly fodder against the myth that this is a prissy sport. For as many UFC fights as I have been to, this is just as much an exercise in courage.

People see how brutal the sport is, but I also think it's a little silly because I'm not sure what these guys will have left in the tank Thursday and I'm not sure what this proves. Apart from the danger, there is a little bit of a feeling that it's not credible. I think triple overtime is great but the 15th overtime, you think maybe they ought to rethink the format. But on balance, it is a good thing. It's a World Cup day and everyone wants to talk about tennis. There is something about this that seems a little unseemly to me, but I just may be a prude.

SI.com: What can we expect from these guys when this continues?

Wertheim: Players have won entire Grand Slams playing less time than this match. On the one hand, it is a very serve-heavy match and they are not exactly running wind sprints on the court. But at the same time you have to think that the tank is beyond empty. The storyline is significant for tennis. You have this American kid who went to college and is quietly improving his ranking playing against a veteran journeyman who was a qualifier. These are two good stories. Tennis got an upgrade in the publicity department Wednesday.

 
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