The Guardian and the glory of Isner-Mahut

There should be some recognition for beautiful writing, especially when it’s essentially on the fly. That’s what the Guardian was able to produce today for the longest match in tennis history — and a fifth set, still not over, that alone is longer than any match the sport has seen. This excerpt is from the post-game:

“This is not a tennis match. It is a fight. It is a fight not far removed to what might have taken place on a patch of grass 200 years ago or so. And, because of their courage, it is a fight neither man can lose.”

There is a difference between war and competition. The former is destructive, ruins men, and can be lived without, at least in theory and in our hearts. The latter is compelling, proves men and can be lived without, but only by those without a heart.

And, to think, the day started out with England and America caring not about much but the World Cup. Even at 18 games apiece, the duel was considered but a boring slugfest — but the writing was sharp:

The Isner-Mahut battle is a bizarre mix of the gripping and the deadly dull. It’s tennis’s equivalent of “Waiting For Godot,” in which two lowly journeymen comedians are forced to remain on an outside court until hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky. Isner and Mahut are dying a thousand deaths out there on Court 18 and yet nobody cares, because they’re watching the football. So the players stand out on their baseline and belt aces past each-other in a fifth set that has already crawled past two hours. They are now tied at 18-games apiece.
On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die.

Of course, drama is self-sustaining and multiplying. At 45-all: 

And so this match goes on and on, on and on. Somewhere along the way, the players have mislaid their names. The man who was once Mahut is now a string-bag of offal. The man who was Isner is a parched piece of cow-hide. The surviving members of the audience don’t seem to care who wins. They just cheer and applaud whoever looks likely to make a breakthrough and bring this nightmare to a close. Invariably they are disappointed.

And they’ll be back, hours from now, for who knows how long. If predictability holds, it may be but 10 minutes. Or another 5 hours. It’s like baseball, but with rackets: You never know.

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