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Sports

Welcome to tennis' never-ending story

HOWARD FENDRICH The Associated Press
Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 06:00 AM

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WIMBLEDON, England -

Even the scoreboard couldn't keep up.

The electronic sign keeping track courtside as the points passed and the game totals rose went blank while 23rd-seeded John Isner and qualifier Nicolas Mahut of France played - and played and played - the longest match in tennis history, until action was suspended because of darkness at 59-59 in the fifth set Wednesday night at Wimbledon.

"Nothing like this will ever happen again. Ever," said Isner, a Tampa resident who trains at Saddlebrook and is coached by Craig Boynton, a Tampa native and Berkeley Prep graduate who also has worked with Jim Courier and Mardy Fish.

The first-round match already had been suspended because of fading light Tuesday night after the fourth set.

They have been playing each other for exactly 10 hours - 7 hours, 6 minutes in the fifth set alone, enough to break the full-match record of 6:33, set at the 2004 French Open.

Never before in the history of Wimbledon, which first was contested in 1877, had any match - singles or doubles, men or women - lasted more than 112 games, a mark set in 1969.

Isner and Mahut have played more games than that in their fifth set, without a victor, although the American came close: He had four match points but Mahut saved each one.

"He's serving fantastic. I'm serving fantastic. That's really all there is to it," Isner said. "I'd like to see the stats and see what the ace count looks like for both of us."

Well, here they are: Isner has 98 aces, Mahut 95 - both eclipsing the previous high in a match at any tournament, 78. All the numbers are truly astounding: There has been 881 points, 612 in the fifth set. Isner has compiled 218 winners, Mahut 217. Isner has only 44 unforced errors, Mahut 37.

And this cannot be emphasized enough: They are not finished.

No one has won yet.

The match will continue, stretching into a third day.

"He's just a champ. We're just fighting like we never did before," Mahut said. "Someone has to win, so we'll come back (today) and see who is going to win the match."

At 58-all, more than 6 1/2 hours into Wednesday's action, both players took a bathroom break - and, frankly, who could blame them? Not much later, shortly after 9 p.m., Mahut and Isner approached the net to discuss with a Grand Slam supervisor, Soeren Friemel, whether to keep going Wednesday.

"I want to play," Mahut said, "but I can't see."

Not that anyone will ever remember, because of what happened Wednesday, but for the record, Tuesday's portion of the match went this way: Isner won the first set 6-4, Mahut took the next two 6-3, 7-6 (7), and Isner claimed the fourth 7-6 (3).

"I have almost no words anymore watching this. It's beyond anything I've ever seen and could imagine. I don't know how their bodies must feel the next day, the next week, the next month. This is incredible tennis," 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer said.

"For them to serve the aces they served and stay there mentally is a heroic effort. As we know, we have no draws in tennis, so there will be a loser. But I guess in this match, both will be winners because this is just absolutely amazing."

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