Agony for marathon man Isner
MARATHON man John Isner was at it again in the second round of the French Open but this time there was no happy ending as he was beaten 6-7 (2/7) 6-4 6-4 3-6 18-16 by Paul-Henri Mathieu.
It was the most games played in a singles match at Roland Garros in the tie-break era and the second longest clash ever after the two-day epic between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in 2004 that lasted six hours and 33 minutes.
Clement had already made headlines after playing his last singles match at the tournament at the age of 34, so it was fitting his record should once again come into the spotlight.
Isner is, of course, most famous for his victory over Nicolas Mahut at Wimbledon two years ago that went all the way to 70-68 in the fifth set.
That took 11 hours and five minutes; this was somewhat speedier at five hours and 41 minutes but was certainly not short on drama, and provided a lovely moment for the winner, who missed the whole of last year after knee surgery.
Crucially for Isner he was not serving first in the decider, as he had been at Wimbledon, but he hung on gamely, saving three match points at 10-11 and two more at 14-15.
But Mathieu, ranked 261st in the world, kept pressing and, after seeing a sixth chance go begging, he finally took one, Isner firing a forehand just wide.
The Frenchman said: "I did not even believe I won the match. We played for more than five hours and I thought it was not going to finish.
"So I'm really happy with the win. First of all, I was happy to play again on this court, because I didn't play for so long. So first, I enjoyed the moment. But, of course, when you win, it's better."
The 30-year-old admitted he had had some tough days last year, adding: "Sometimes I was asking myself every day if I was going to play again. It was a really hard road to come back. So, for me, today, even if I play for five hours, this was really easy."
Mathieu was not just playing for himself, the Frenchman revealing a conversation with Mahut before the tournament. "I told him, I'm going to have revenge for you," he said.
Isner was in superb form earlier this season but has struggled on the European clay, and he had no complaints with the result, saying: "My inability to change what I was doing cost me the match, but he was better."
There were no such dramas for Rafael Nadal, who made it only nine games dropped in two matches with a 6-2 6-2 6-0 victory over Denis Istomin.
The defending champion, who is going for a record seventh title in Paris, was very happy with his display but is looking to improve his serve for his next match against Argentinian qualifier Eduardo Schwank, who put out 32nd seed Florian Mayer.
Nadal said: "I feel good. I think I played a really solid match. I can improve things.
"The serve is the first one. I think I improved the level of my serve during the match, but I started the match serving bad."
Nadal spoke after his first-round win against Simone Bolelli about his positive attitude this year in comparison to 12 months ago, when he frequently cut something of a tortured figure despite going on to win the title.
The second seed is always keen to get back home to Majorca as often as possible, but he revealed his state of mind is partly to do with being less homesick.
He said: "This year I'm having fun, a lot of fun. I'm happy. I'm not suffering from the fact that I'm far from home. Whereas last year I was suffering from this.
"It was too much travelling for me. Even though last year I was quite successful. I had this mental fear last year. But things change."
Another eventful match saw 17th seed and home hero Richard Gasquet overcome a cramp-stricken Grigor Dimitrov 5-7 7-5 6-2 6-3.
The talented Bulgarian's problems began in the 10th game of the second set when, after a 36-shot rally, he collapsed to the clay in agony with cramp in his thigh and, although he was able to continue, he was clearly compromised.
The effort also affected Gasquet, who vomited on the court, but it was he who prevailed to set up a third-round meeting with veteran German qualifier Tommy Haas.
Gasquet said: "I was really feeling bad. But he was on the ground. He was even in a worse situation than I was.
"It was very physical, an extremely difficult match."
France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga found conditions at Roland Garros much more to his liking as he defeated Cedrik Marcel-Stebe 6-2 4-6 6-2 6-1.
Stebe had just levelled the match at one set all when rain forced an early end to play on Wednesday night, but the fifth seed had things pretty much all his own way yesterday.
There were comfortable wins for David Ferrer, Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro, Juan Monaco and Milos Raonic but 25th seed Bernard Tomic, the only teenager in the draw, succumbed to the extra clay-court experience of Colombia's Santiago Giraldo, going down 6-4 6-1 6-3.