In Barnburner, Mathieu Downs Isner

French Open 2012
By Hiland Doolittle, June 1st, 2012

In the longest match ever played on the red clay at Roland Garros, France’s own Paul-Henri Mathieu stepped up in class and downed big John Isner in a remarkable fifth set that brought back remembrances of Isner’s epic three-day win at Wimbledon over another Frenchman Nicolas Mahut. This time a different Frenchman wore the big fella down and moved on to the third round.

Paul-Henri Mathieu defeated John Isner in the longest match on red clay

The 30-year old Mathieu may be the 261st ranked ATP player, but on this day he stood ten feet tall. Mathieu achieved his highest ranking in 2006 when he climbed to number 12 on the circuit. Always known as a very fit competitor, he has lacked the big power game to remain competitive. On this day, at Roland Garros and spurred on by a very noisy home crowd, Paul-Henri did the unthinkable. He wore the Georgia Peach down. 10th ranked John Isner’s big serve sank from 140 mph to a very returnable 115 mph.

For statistic collectors, this match was a dream come true. The match began just after 3:00 pm and ended at 9:00 pm. For those of us that watched the match at home, it was exhausting listening to John McEnroe complain that something had to be done about limiting the player’s court time. Neither Isner nor Mathieu complained about their inability to close out the match. That is why they tie the aces, so to speak. It‘s pretty difficult for the common man in France to understand what’s so bad about making $2 million a year doing something you love. It’s not like these “gladiators” as McEnroe described them were forced to do battle in front of millions of viewers and spectators.

Statistically, digest this. Isner had 41 aces. Mathieu had 6. Mathieu struck 69 outright winners. Great. Isner had 107. Mathieu had 233 points. Isner had 217. The score was 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16. Was it pretty? No. Was it compelling and forgettable? Definitely. The winner only converted 4 of 24 break opportunities. Isner converted 2 off only 4.
Fantastic, nail-biting. When you turned McEnroe off, you could see the tension, the mind-boggling determination and it hurt. This was the best game in town on this day in Paris.

The day provided other thrills. 4th seeded Andy Murray looked unwell and unable to play during a first set disaster. On other days, on days when Ivan Lendl was not sitting in his coaching box, Murray might have retired. Not this day. To the consternation of veteran Jarkko Nieminen, Murray’s aching back subsided. The Scotsman mounted a second set rally and stole a 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 win.

Tommy Haas did not need five sets today. The German cruised by Sergiy Stakhovsky, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Haas advances to meet 17th seed Richard Gasquet.

On the women’s side, 7th seed Li Na, our pick to defend her title was efficient in taking out Stephanie Foretz Gacon 6-0, 602 in less than one hour. 9th seed and former number one Caroline Wozniacki looked poised and comfortable. With no title this year, the great Dane has watched her ranking plunge. Thursday, Caroline cruised past Jarmila Gajdosova 6-1, 6-4. Big names are on court tomorrow.


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