Another young American was on the sidelines, a 37-year-old man. John Isner left standing in the British twilight, all 6ft 10in, his hopes still alive in the most prestigious tennis tournament.
The crowd cheered for his every mistake, as well as for every winning throw of his rival, the hometown hero. Andy Murray. But finally, thanks to a monstrous serve that brought him 36 aces and helped him earn three match points, Isner became the second American to reach the third round on Wednesday at Wimbledon.
As one of the oldest players on the tour, Isner understood the importance of beating the two-time champion, whom he acknowledged in a subsequent interview on Center Court as a more successful and versatile player.
“At the age I am now, I need to enjoy these moments. It was one of the biggest wins of my career given the atmosphere [which] was fantastic,” said Isner, who won 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-7(3), 6-4. “To play as well as I played against one of our greatest players, Andy Murray, was a huge achievement for me.”
Shortly before Reilly Opelkaseeded above Isner, was defeated by Dutch player Tim van Reithoven, disrupting the most successful starting run. American men at Wimbledon at age 27. Of the 16 participants in the main draw, 13 won the first matches and advanced to the second round.
On Wednesday, four went even further: Isner; Steve Johnson of Orange, who at 32 also beat a British player; Tommy Paul, 25; and Francis Tiafoe, 24. Opelka and Christian Harrison lost. The highest seeded American Taylor Fritzseeded 11th, plays his second round match against another Brit on Thursday.
Scotsman Murray, 35, is trying to recover from a series of injuries, including two hip surgeries that pushed the former world No. 1 up to 52nd in the rankings. He last added to his collection of titles in 2019 at an event in Antwerp, Belgium.
He has never lost to Isner in eight previous meetings, the last of which was 5.5 years ago. Wednesday’s match was their first on grass and first at Wimbledon, the venue that turned Murray into a national icon when he won his first title in 2013, ending a 77-year drought for the British men at their home Grand Slam.
But Isner himself knows a thing or two about Wimbledon records. He played two of the longest matches ever recorded here: a 6-hour, 36-minute marathon in the 2018 semi-finals, which he lost, and a whopping 11 hour 5 minute win in 2010 it lasted over three days and is commemorated by a plaque on the grounds of the All England Club.
His fight against Murray lasted three hours and 23 minutes.
“That’s really all it came down to,” Isner said after playing the last game of love, which featured two aces in a row. “I guess I didn’t give him many opportunities to weave his web and tangle me in it. … I had an incredible serving day and I needed every single one to beat him.”
In his first round match on Monday, Isner threw 54 aces. Throughout Wednesday’s match, his serve regularly topped 130 mph, whizzing cannonballs that Murray had a hard time reading, let alone returning.
“At the big moments, he served very close to the line,” Murray said. “When he does it, [it] it doesn’t always matter what you’re trying to do. Not easy.”
A comeback seemed possible after Murray took the third set, and the roar of the fanatical crowd was heard throughout the area. But after he lost in the fifth game of the next set, the prospects for another Wimbledon championship faded into deepening twilight. A nearly 10-minute break for officials to close the Center Court roof and turn on the lights around 9 p.m. failed to turn the tide in Murray’s favor.
It was all over in a few minutes, with an elated Isner and a despondent Murray, who flew out of Wimbledon before anyone else. Isner chuckled when an on-court interviewer asked how this match compares to his previous experience at Wimbledon.
“Many people ask me about this match in 2010, they ask me about the great memories I have from this match, but it’s more of a nightmare when I’m on the court for 11 hours,” he said. “Indeed, I think it could be at the very top for me.”
His next opponent will be 20-year-old Italian player Yannick Sinner.
On Wednesday, two Americans also came out: Jessica Pegula won the first round match, and Alison Riske won the second round match. Ann Lee lost an attempt to advance to the third round.
Emma Raducanou, reigning US Open champion and Britain has high hopes for womenalso lost her second round match to unseeded Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-3.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.