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Thanks to the scoring system used in tennis, it’s possible for two evenly-matched players to get stuck on the court for hours on end. And while most matches played are a few hours, every so often, there’s an ultra-long match that makes history. In this article, we’ll take a look at the longest tennis game and a few shorter (but still memorable!) long games.
What’s the Longest Tennis Match Ever?
The longest tennis match ever played happened at Wimbledon in 2010. It was a men’s singles match between Nicolas Mahut and John Isner. The total match time was 11 hours and 5 minutes, although the total match time was spread over three days!
It was only broken up because the lack of natural light impedes visibility, making it a challenge to play well. Keeping track of the little yellow ball bouncing on the tennis court might not seem too hard, but it’s remarkably difficult as darkness starts to fall.
Isner finally won, and most of the ultra-long match happened in the fifth set. The fifth set alone lasted 8 hours and 11 minutes. This match set a world record for number of games played, too: in total, Isner and Mahut played 183 separate games!
Now, a commemorative plaque hangs at Wimbledon’s Court 18 to commemorate the history’s longest game of tennis.
Since the Isner-Mahut 2010 Wimbledon match was so recent, the entire match was captured on video. This video will show you all 11 hours and 5 minutes!
How Long Is the Average Tennis Match?
After hearing just how long the longest tennis match ever played went, you might start to wonder just how long most matches go. The good news is that the 2010 Wimbledon match is certainly an outlier, and most tennis matches aren’t so long that they take up the majority of a day.
Tennis matches vary greatly when it comes to length. But on average, a best-of-three match (like most Grand Slam women’s tournaments) last 90 minutes. A best-of-five match (like most Grand Slam men’s tournaments) lasts an average of 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you’re looking for a range of possible times, experts estimate that the average tennis match lasts between 2 hours and 3 hours and 20 minutes.
7 Other Notable Long Tennis Matches
Now you know the answer to “what is the longest tennis match?” you might be interested in hearing about some other extremely long-lasting tennis matches. While not quite as long as the longest tennis match in history, these matches nonetheless challenged the will and focus of their participants!
1. 2013 Davis Cup
Nearly all of the longest matches in history are singles matches. But this particular match, the second-longest one (and the longest match in Davis Cup history), is a doubles match. It lasted 7 hours and 2 minutes. It was between the Czech team of Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol and the Swiss duo of Stan Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli.
This second-longest match in tennis history wasn’t a final or anywhere close. In fact, it happened in the first round of the doubles tournament in the 2013 Davis Cup! Though the match was close, the team from the Czech Republic ultimately prevailed.
2. 2015 Davis Cup
Though the longest game in tennis history wasn’t played at the Davis Cup, the Davis Cup seems to be the home of many first-round longest matches. This first-round Davis Cup match was between Joao Souza of Brazil and Leonardo Mayer of Argentina.
The match lasted 6 hours and 43 minutes. It was remarkable because it brought together long-time rivals Brazil and Argentina; these countries maintain a strong rivalry in a number of sports arenas.
Ultimately, Argentina’s Leonardo Mayer won the match. He collapsed to the ground from exhaustion after doing so as Argentine fans erupted into thunderous cheers and applause. The match stands as the longest Davis Cup singles match on record.
3. 2018 Wimbledon
You probably will recognize one tennis player from this match: he also was part of the longest game in tennis ever! This relatively recent match was played in the semi-final of Wimbledon in 2018. The American John Isner faced off with South African Kevin Anderson.
Ultimately, the South African Anderson won the match, and it lasted 6 hours and 36 minutes in total. If you’re a dedicated tennis fan, you might already know that Anderson flew through each qualification round until he faced Novak Djokovic in the final. Djokovic ultimately won the title.
Interestingly enough, both players played college tennis before turning pro. Isner played for the University of Georgia and Anderson played for the University of Illinois.
4. 2004 French Open
As we’ve seen, many of the longest matches on record aren’t finals or semi-finals: they’re first-round matches! This match happened between two French tennis players, Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement. Just like the longest match in history, this one had to be split over multiple days thanks to the lack of natural light in the evenings. The total match time was 6 hours and 33 minutes.
However, the match was only split over two days. When the match resumed, Fabrice Santoro emerged victorious. He made it through the second round of the tournament but was eliminated in the third round. At the time, the match between Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement was the longest match in history. It held that record for six years!
5. 1982 Davis Cup
This is yet another Davis Cup match that made the ranks of the longest tennis matches ever played. American player John McEnroe faced the Swedish Mats Wilander.
Though it’s one of the longest tennis matches ever played, this match was also especially tense because of an overall tied score in the quarterfinals. John McEnroe finally won the match point after 6 hours and 22 minutes.
Thanks to McEnroe’s victory, the United States advanced in the tournament until the finals. Ultimately, the United States won the tournament, defeating France to win the top spot.
6. 1987 Davis Cup
Just like John Isner, American John McEnroe has been in more than one of the longest tennis matches ever played. This one is yet another match played in the Davis Cup. It was an exciting match for tennis fans, as two legends were competing in the Davis Cup relegation play-offs. John McEnroe played against German tennis star Boris Becker.
This match took 6 hours and 21 minutes to reach the end of the final set. Boris Becker was the ultimate winner, helping Germany defeat the United States.
7. 1980 Davis Cup
You may not be surprised to see this match was played at the Davis Cup. It also features John McEnroe, a player who frequently found himself embroiled in intense, multi-hour matches. In this match, McEnroe’s opponent was Jose Luis Clerc from Argentina.
Though the United States had hopes of beating Argentina in the Americas Inter-Zonal finals of this Davis Cup, Argentina ultimately prevailed. Clerc also defeated McEnroe in this match. The total match time was 6 hours and 15 minutes.
This match was the first time John McEnroe had ever lost a match played at the Davis Cup. The clay court may have played a role in the loss, as clay courts tend to be a bit slower than other surfaces (and playing on clay is an adjustment if you aren’t familiar with it).
Are There Any Steps Being Taken to Shorten the Longest Tennis Matches?
In light of the Isner-Mahut 2010 Wimbledon match, some Grand Slams have adopted different rules. The earlier rule (that was in place for the Isner-Mahut match) required the winner of the final set to beat the opponent by 2 games. At Wimbledon, there is now a rule that if the final set reaches a score of 12-12, a tie-break will be used to decide the winner. Many other Grand Slams include some version of the tie break rule. However, the French Open still goes by the old system.
Incorporating tie breaks will help ensure that players aren’t subjected to exhausting multi-day matches, especially in the middle of tournaments. But it also helps keep the game exciting. Once two players have been locked in an intense match for hours, it’s easy to start making silly mistakes. Since many Grand Slams will use a tie breaker instead of letting a match drag on forever, tennis fans will be able to see the top players playing at their best.
How Long Will Your Match Last?
After hearing about these nerve-wracking matches, you might worry that you’ll be stepping into a marathon the next time you step on the tennis court. But ultra-long matches like the 2010 Wimbledon Isner-Mahut match are extremely rare. With any luck, your tennis matches will be no more than a couple hours!