Tennis is one of the toughest sports in the world. Not only because of the skill, precision and high level of fitness required but because matches can sometimes go on for a very long time.
Tennis is unique compared to other sports as there is no time limit, a match will continue until a definite winner is decided. This means that sometimes you can get matches that can last for many hours and even days!
With the new tiebreak rule in effect for all the Grand Slams and Davis Cup now being the best of three tiebreak sets, let’s take a trip down memory lane as we look at the longest tennis matches in history.
The 1980 Davis Cup tie held between Argentina and the United States was one of three marathon matches that John McEnroe would see himself compete in.
The fixture took place on slow clay courts in Argentina which Jose Luis Clerc was more comfortable on compared to the fast hard courts that McEnroe preferred.
In the end, Jose Luis Clerc won 6-3 6-2 4-6 13-11 in a match that lasted 6 hours and 15 minutes. This was a time before tiebreaks were introduced in the Davis Cup which is why we saw the 4th set go the distance. This was also John McEnroe’s first-ever loss in a Davis Cup match and would eventually lead to the United States losing the tie against Argentina.
The 1987 Davis Cup saw the United States facing off against Germany with Boris Becker playing against John McEnroe.
The fixture took place in Connecticut, USA at the Hartford Civic Center. After American Tim Mayotte took a surprising loss against Eric Jelen in 5 sets, this meant that John McEnroe had a lot of pressure on his shoulders to keep the United States in the relegation play-off.
After a close 2nd and 3rd set, the American couldn’t shake the German and Boris Becker ended up winning 4-6 15-13 8-10 6-2 6-2 in a match that lasted 6 hours and 21 minutes. Germany also went on to defeat the United States 3-2 overall in the relegation play-off.
The 1982 Davis Cup tie between the United States and Sweden saw John McEnroe and Mats Wilander compete right until the end in a match that would decide the overall tie.
So far the score was 2-2 overall between the United States and Sweden which meant that this match was the most important.
In front of a packed crowd of 15,000+ people, John McEnroe came through the nail-biting match winning 9-7 6-2 15-17 3-6 8-6 after a total of 6 hours and 22 minutes played and winning the overall tie 3-2.
The United States then went on to defeat France in the final claiming the Davis Cup title once more.
The fourth longest match in tennis history would be between fellow Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement in what would still to this day be the longest tennis match at the French Open.
Clay is known for having longer matches due to the nature of the slower surface however, no one expected the match to be this long.
The match took place in the first round at the 2004 French Open and would see Fabrice Santoro come through in 5 sets, after taking a two sets to love lead, 6-4 6-4 6-7 3-6 16-14 in 6 hours and 33 minutes.
It even had to be played over two days!
The 3rd longest match in tennis history would be played between Kevin Anderson and John Isner in the semi-finals of the 2018 Wimbledon. Both players were looking to reach their maiden Grand Slam final which meant that it was all on the line.
With two big servers, viewers were expecting a close match.
But not this close.
After 6 hours and 36 minutes and what would go down as the longest Grand Slam semi-final in history, Kevin Anderson would win 7-6 6-7 6-7 6-4 26-24.
The South African would then go on to lose to Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the final where Djokovic would win his 4th Wimbledon title.
Leonardo Mayer vs Joao Souza is a match that will go down as the longest singles match in Davis Cup history.
The fixture took place between rivals Argentina and Brazil in the city of Buenos Aires. And yes, as you can expect the crowd was going crazy.
After missing out on 10 match points, Leonardo Mayer would eventually come through the match defeating Joao Souza 7-6 7-6 5-7 5-7 15-13 in 6 hours and 43 minutes.
This also kept Argentina in the Davis Cup tie levelling the score 2-2 overall.
Not only is this the longest match in history, the battle between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut at the 2010 Wimbledon will go down as one of the greatest tennis matches in history.
The first-round match at the All-England Lawn Tennis Club started on June 22, 2010, and finished on June 24th, 2010.
That’s right, it lasted over 3 days!
With a record 183 games played, John Isner defeated Nicolas Mahut 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-6 70-68 in a match that lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes. I think it is fair to say that this record for the longest tennis match will never be broken.
In total 216 aces were served with both players serving over 100 aces each.
The battle between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal at the 2012 Australian Open final is the longest Grand Slam final in history and the longest match in Australian Open history.
The match saw incredible quality from both players and is the highlight of the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry.
After 5 hours and 53 minutes, Novak Djokovic would win the match and claim the 2012 Australian Open title 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 7-5.
To this day, this remains the only time Nadal has lost a Grand Slam final after winning the first set.
The longest Wimbledon final in history was played between Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer in 2019 in what would be Roger Federer’s last Grand Slam final.
After an end-to-end battle in all 4 sets, Roger Federer had 2 championship points in the 5th set. However, he could not convert and Novak Djokovic went on to win the match 7-6 1-6 7-6 4-6 13-12 in 4 hours and 57 minutes.
Andy Murray is known for never giving up and this is shown in his 4-6 6-7 7-6 6-3 7-5 win over Thanasi Kokkinakis at the 2023 Australian Open even after having a metal hip and being 35 years old.
Everyone thought it was all over when Murray went two sets to love down and was 5-3 down in the third set, but one thing we should all remember is that Andy Murray does not give up.
Murray fought back to claim the third set and went on to win the next two in a match that would last 5 hours and 45 minutes and would finish at 4.05am local time. Oh yes, and I forgot to add he had a 5-hour match in the previous round against Matteo Berrettini.
A few years prior to this match Murray telegraphed his retirement in an emotional interview at the 2019 Australian Open where he didn’t think he’d ever be able to play again due to hip surgery. However, he proved doctors wrong and has been able to make a comeback to the tour and is still competing with the best players in the world.
Andy Murray will go down as one of the greatest players in the history of the sport and this match truly displays his fighting spirit and why you should never give up.
Phew, that was tiring just thinking about these matches!
Although it’s sad that we will never see tennis matches last as long as some of these again due to the new tiebreak rule in 5th sets, many people will argue that it is for the best. Not only does it tire out players for their next rounds and increase the risk of injury, but it can also delay tournament schedules.
So all we can do now is look back on the past and reminisce on the moments that these matches gave us!
Image Source: Olympics