At Wimbledon two years ago, he won 70-68 in the fifth, the longest set and match in tennis history. At Roland Garros on Thursday, as afternoon gave way to evening, the 10th-seeded American lost 7-6 (2), 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 18-16 to Paul-Henri Mathieu of France in the second round, a 5-hour, 41-minute test of stamina and attention span.
This one goes in the books as the second-longest match, by time, in French Open history.
“I just didn’t get it done. I felt like I got caught in patterns that weren’t ideal for me,” Isner said. “I wasn’t going for my shots at certain points in the match, and that comes from a little bit of a lack of confidence.”
If the 6-foot-9 Isner, who led Georgia to an NCAA title, is going to become more than a novelty act, he needs to win encounters like Thursday’s, and not because of the duration but because it was a first-week Grand Slam match against a player ranked 261st who got into the field thanks to a wild-card invitation from the tournament.
“I dug deep,” said the 30-year-old Mathieu, who hadn’t played in a major tournament since the 2010 U.S. Open because of a left knee injury that forced him off tour all of last year. “I was away from the courts for quite a while, and I came back to live moments like this.”
He helped provide easily the most intrigue on a day that featured straight-set wins for defending champions Rafael Nadal and Li Na.
But it also ended after 9 p.m., forcing organizers to postpone until today the match involving Maria Sharapova that was supposed to follow on Court Philippe Chatrier.