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By Ray Fleming<> “IT was an honour to play the greatest match ever in the greatest place” - the words of the French tennis player NIcolas Mahut after he had been beaten
70 -68 by the American John Isner in the fifth set of their first-round contest at Wimbledon. The match began on Tuesday afternoon, continued on Wednesday and ended yesterday after 11 hours and 5 minutes - a record by a long way in the history of tennis. The statistics of this encounter are extraordinary: 138 games, 112 aces served by Isner and 103 by Mahut, a fifth set that lasted 8 hours; four match points held but lost by Isner before he finally took the game; 65 games in which Mahut served to stay in the match.

Remarkable also that these two almost inseparable players should be separated officially by Isner's 23rd seed at Wimbledon while Mahut is a qualifier with a world ranking somewhere in the one-hundred-and-eighties. When the statistics have been digested and the many finer points of the play analysed one important point will remain - the fine spirit in which Isner and Mahut contested the game despite their obvious tiredness. Quick to recognise that something exceptional was taking place, the Wimbledon authorities had a trophy for each player and for the admirable umpire Mohamed Lahyani. There are suggestions that the tie-break system should be extended to the fifth set. No, no, no. Epic encounters of the Isner-Mahut kind are the very stuff of great tennis.