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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
Let's start with a few tennis notes. Word out from Martina Navratilova this week that she has come through the radiation treatments for her breast cancer just fine and considers this simply another chapter in her life of adventure. Well, that's a whopping understatement. I was emailing back and forth with Martina all through her radiation sessions in Paris. What she doesn't mention to the press is just how she went through the final, more painful stages of the treatments. First, she would ride her bicycle to the clinic. Come on, find me another individual who rides their bicycle to cancer radiation. In some stage of pain, which Martina refuses to categorize, she walks out of the clinic and then rides her bike over to Roland Garros where she not only works in the commentary booth at the French Open tennis matches all day….but she plays and wins in the Legends division with doubles partner Jana Novotna. This is a living SuperHero of our time, unafraid to defect from her country and family as a mere teenager, unafraid to live her gay life out loud when loss of sponsors was the consequence, unafraid to ride her bicycle to daily radiation, as if it were merely a stopover for baguette and café au lait.
And of course it's a quick connection from Martina to Wimbledon, where she dominated for so many years, an unfathomable 20 titles on the famous grass of the All England Lawn and Tennis Club. So it was only fitting to see a shot of Martina, an announcer for the Tennis Channel, standing courtside today delivering exuberant applause for the two gentlemen who slugged it out and endured the longest tennis match in history. The 6'9” American John Isner, not particularly known for his powers of endurance, and the considerably shorter Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, went at their early-round match three days ago and the first four of five sets were pretty entertaining. Fairly equal play. They split 2-2 in just under three hours. Word got out around the grounds that a five-setter was starting and fans drifted in, in hopes of a long, hard-fought battle. None of them, nor the players, nor the umpire, not even Martina Navratilova, could have predicted the length and the nature of the battle that was to ensue. As a matter of fact, it wasn't so much a battle because that word implies bitter enemies fighting for their lives. Isner and Mohut were in this extraordinary feat more together than they were against each other. That fifth deciding set went into the night, into the next day, into the second night, and today, in an historic 11 hours and minutes, the end finally came. John Isner won the mind-boggling 8-hour fifth set 70 games to 68.
It was perhaps appropriate that this wild adventure didn't take place on the masters' Center Court. It was Court 18, shall we say played as more of a Public match, and the crowd knew they had been part of something that had not only never occurred before but would likely never happen again. Nicolas Mahut was spent and dejected, after staying the course all those long three days. Towel draped over his head, he exited to leave Isner his deserved celebration but the crowd wouldn't have it. It wasn't Isner's win that mattered here. They chanted and called Mahut back out and it was the two of them, equals, not winner and loser, who took their bows.
This is the reason I'm not a big fan of the U.S. Open having changed format to use a quick tie-breaker to end even the final set. At the stature Grand Slam tournaments, the players and the fans both deserve the opportunity to prove their courage and play out classic games to an honorable denouement.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.
Banner image: John Isner of USA (L) poses after winning on the third day of his first round match against Nicolas Mahut of France on Day Four of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 24, 2010 in London, England. Photo: Alastair Grant-Pool/Getty Images