Isner vs. Mahut: The Greatest Match In Tennis History

As a tennis fanatic, it would be remiss of me not to mention the greatest match in tennis history when American John Isner beat Frenchman Nicolas Mahut 70 to 68 in the 5th set last week.  That’s right 70 games to 68 games in the fifth set because one must win by two in the fifth set at Wimbledon.  The 11 hour, 5 minute match spanned over 3 days and finished when John Isner hit a solid down the line two-handed backhand to seal the deal.

The previous record for longest match was at the 2004 French open, lasting now just a paltry 6 hours and 33 minutes.  It is completely unfathomable that a match could last so long, simply because it is unconscionable how Nicolas Mahut could hold serve over 60 games in a row to survive!  The physical endurance is one thing, but what’s most impressive is the mental fortitude both players had to never give up.


1) Anything is Possible.  If someone were to say that a match would go 30 all in a 5th set, I would say “NO WAY” and probably confidently bet my life savings and my lucky underwear!  Even if someone asked for 20-to-1 odds ($10 to win $200) to bet that it could happen, I’d still call them crazy and happily take the other side.  I’d probably bet up to $1,000 and then proceed to lose $20,000!  Now I’ll think carefully when I hear impossible sounding feats.  Anything is possible!

2) Standards Always Go Higher. When Roger Federer defeated Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 in the 2009 Wimbledon final, we all thought that was one of the greatest finals in history and that a 16-14 score would never be breached.  Fast forward to 2010, and Roger and Andy’s match sounds downright mediocre.  The same goes for anything we do, be it creating a product, or being a solid employee.  Standards don’t go backwards, they go forward.  We’ve got to continuously innovate and try harder.

3) Everything is Mental. At some point, you know that the bodies of John and Nicolas were screaming to stop and give up.  But, with the crowd of thousands cheering them on, they started to zone and battled away cramps and fatigue to last a marathon.  Personal finance, physical fitness, blogging, work performance and everything is all mental.  If you have the right mindset, you will likely succeed in anything you try.  If for a second your mental fortitude breaks down, it’s game over.  You’ve got to want it like no other.

4) Consistency is Key. John won because he hit one more ball in than Nicolas.  If you workout three times a week for 52 weeks in a row, it’s pretty much a sure thing you’re going to be much more toned than if you maintained an erratic schedule.  If you post 2-4 times a week on your site and get to know one new person online a week, there’s no doubt your blog will grow.  If you get into the office first, and leave last every single work day, you will move ahead in your career.  The list is endless.  Stay consistent, and watch everything start going your way!

5) Pace Yourself For Long Term Success. A day after John’s match, he lost in just 72 minutes 0-6, 3-6, 2-6 to unknown Thiemo de Bakker.  John’s serve was 20 mph slower than average, and he just didn’t have any energy left understandably.  You don’t want to go from playing the longest match to the shortest match.  Volatility is generally not good for your career or any venture you take.  The biggest risk we can take is taking no risk at all.  If we burn out before reaching our potential (See “The Dark Side Of Early Retirement“), it’ll be just one darn shame.  Balance out your work and your life, but at the same time stay consistent as well.


Chances are high that we’ll never be world class athletes or CEOs of mega-cap companies.  That said, we should always learn from people at the top of their game to boost our own.  In “The Mental To Physical Connection For A Healthier Lifestyle“, the article recommends we use sports or general physical activity to balance out work and our creative sides.  It’s important to be tethered to a counter force so that we don’t burn out.  If we can stay consistent with whatever it is we are hoping to achieve, there’s no doubt progress will be made!


Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship. Sam focuses on helping readers build more income in real estate, investing, entrepreneurship, and alternative investments in order to achieve financial independence sooner, rather than later.

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  1. ctreit says

    6) Tenacity pays off. I have come across many successful people of whom I thought that their strongest character trait was their tremendous tenacity. They just stayed with it no matter what. Sure, Nicolas Mahut was as tenacious as John Isner and lost, but he was there to win in just in case the scale had tipped his way. Now, what can you do if you don’t have that kind of tenacity and drive?

    • says

      Tenacity! That’s the word I was looking for. I think I may have to update the post thanks to you.

      You’re right, it’s all about going to the very end, and then some!

  2. says

    These are great points. I also like ctreit’s addition of tenacity. All of these qualities can help one prosper in any situation. My motto is never say never and that has worked to my benefit, staying positive and open to possibilities. Of course, being physically fit also helps, especially if your job demands it of you (like in John Isner’s case) or you intend to live a long life.

    • says

      I hope we all plan to live a long life. It is Nic Mahut who is the true champion, b/c he was always down and had to hold serve to stay alive. Isner did great, but he’s expected to win as he is trying to break serve and is ranked 100 spots higher. Either way, great match.

  3. kt says

    dude; it is just a tennis match! you dont have to be philosophical about everything :) but you can make an exception for the longest match in recorded history

    • says

      Spoken like a person who doesn’t play tennis or compete in any sports, ever! If you did, you’d realize what a seriously incredible feat this was to go 70-68 in the 5th set.

      This is why so many employers look for sports, and leadership through sports in their candidates. The incredible amount of tenacity and mental fortitude leads to a higher level of employees.

      Feel free to prove me wrong and tell me you play sports and have a great job. Would love to know what you do!

      • kt says

        the closest thing that i ever came to playing a full match was those mind numbing
        computer games we used to play when younger. I tried tennis but i couldn’t
        understand how the scores were counted, i tried football but i never used to get
        the ball, i tried badminton…. and the list goes on and on. I can’t help it i am just
        not sporty; i haven’t even watched a single world cup game which is very weird
        for a guy

  4. says

    I solidly believe that we have 3 aspects of our life to keep in balance to be the most happy!
    1.) Physical
    2.) Social
    3.) Mental

    I think people that focus on all three are overall happier, more productive people. That is why you’ll see many CEOs in great shape considering how busy they are!

    • says

      Good point about adding the Social aspect. That’s something I need to work on in real life I think. Often times I’m just a tad too lazy to be that super social guy after a long week of work. I’ll try harder if I think #2 is slipping too much!

      Good point about very fit, and physically active CEOs.

  5. says

    I was shocked when I was following that match. Unfortunately, it wasn’t televised where I lived as World Cup was dominating the airwaves, but I kept refreshing my screen on I have played a lot of tennis, and I cannot imagine how they felt. I get so mad at myself when I am at advantage and then it goes back to deuce, how did those poor guys feel? I just kept thinking that the winner was just ruined for his next match that it probably didn’t even matter who came out the victor, except for the record books!

    • says

      I’m sure they were saying “FOOK! Give up already” in the heads over and over again. Good to hear you play and get a little angry when you don’t close out the game on your serve!

  6. Charlie says

    I didn’t get to watch that match, but heard about it and WOW it’s crazy how long they played. I can barely last 1 hour in any sport. It’s amazing what some people can do…. in anything really – sports, music, art, work. It’s so motivating to hear about experiences like this and see how much people can accomplish.

  7. says

    It was an amazing match, I saw it live from about about 40-40 onwards. :)

    The funny thing is I’ve always wondered what would happen if a break could be held in the fifth set… it’s always been a floating anomaly in the rules… but nobody thought it could happen to this extent. It’s like the debate about whether Warren Buffett is a genius, or whether he’s the equivalent of tossing a coin and getting heads 1,000 times.

    Totally agree that at this level sport is 100% mental. That’s what I was saying in our discussion about the lousy showing of the England football team the other day Sam. :)

    Good spot for a post, I think this match is going to become a byword.

    • says

      Mate, at 35 all, I went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned, surely figuring it would be over in an hour, and when I returned it was 52 all! Ridiculous!

      Gotta say, England is overrated, especially with their $100 million team payroll. Gerard makes more than the entire US team COMBINED and the score was a tie!

  8. says

    I did not get a chance to watch the game but heard about it the following morning on the news. It is crazy how long they played. Going that long it is no wonder one of them did not just throw in the towel.

  9. Suzan says

    Very nice posting! I happened to watch a little bit when Andy Roddick played against a 26-year-old Taiwanese Lu who ranked 82nd in the world. Lu won over the three-time finalist Roddick by surprise!

    It was what Lu said afterwards that matters to me:

    Lu said he feared his opportunity had gone when Roddick levelled at two sets all when he let a 3-1 lead slip in the fourth set tie-break. He said “I did not believe I could win the fifth set. There is no tie-break and he (Roddick) has a much better serve than me,” he told reporters.

    But then, he said “I told myself I HAD TO FIGHT and IF I STUCK AROUND LONG ENOUGH SOMETHING WILL HAPPEN. I WANTED A CHANCE to close the match.”

    It was with that determination, in addition to wanting to share any fruits of success with his deceased father who taught him how to play, that he won.

    Whether he will succeed again when he plays against Novak Djokovic, the number three seed, it doesn’t matter. Lu admitted the Serb is “a very great player” but said: “I can tell you IF I HAVE A CHANCE TO STEP ON THE COURT, I WILL FIGHT TO THE END.” It was with that spirit, not wanting to give up that matters to me!

    • says

      Suzan – I am so impressed with your following of tennis! When 82nd ranked Lu of Taiwan beat Andy, that was quite a test of sheer will as well! Love those quotes you highlighted from his interview. Just goes to show that if you give yourself a chance to win, even if you are the underdog, you might just win!

      Never stop fighting! Thanks for the comment!

  10. Nunzio Bruno says

    That was def the craziest tennis I’ve ever seen too! I loved your points: 3, 4, and 5. I think everyone gets a little caught up in the “I want it now” mentality that they forget that financial freedom is a lifestyle not a quick race. When you stay consistent you don’t have to worry about holding yourself accountable or stressing about deadlines because you are already taking the small actions everyday to get where you want to be. Nice way to make world class tennis a financial sport :)

  11. Jslugger says

    Greatest match ever? You must be kidding me! Obviously two evenly matched mediocre pros slugging it out to make it the longest match ever but a far far cry from being the greatest match ever; not even int the top 10.

    I would take any McEnroe vs Borg or Nadal vs Federer match, heck even Chang vs Connors was better tennis with their over sized rackets

    • says

      You’re wrong there. If McEnroe vs. Borg were the ones who played this 70 to 68 marathon 5th set match, you’d say this was the greatest match ever. Your statement is clouded by what these past champions did. I’m blind by who is playing.

      Anybody who can go 70-68 in the 5th set has the greatest mettle, and played the greatest match ever. But then again, I’m not one to be a band wagon fan, which is why I think this really is the greatest match ever!

      • Jslugger says

        My assessment is based solely upon the quality of tennis played between two highly skilled opponents that transcends the average play with their full brilliance being demonstrated.

        Obviously your criteria for ranking the “greatest” is based upon length of time/games and not high caliber of tennis. Using your criteria one can say that the “greatest” baseball game ever was 33 innings by the minor league teams Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings because it was the longest recorded professional baseball game.

        I understand your enthusiasm but that was clearly not the “greatest” match ever played. The quality of tennis was not even that high. Not one professional analyst, player or coach to my recollection has called this the “greatest” match ever. I will grant you greatest stamina/endurance sure, greatest length obviously but “greatest” match? Not even close.

        • says

          Another reason why it’s the greatest match ever is because I understand almost what they went through. I’ve played 3 hour tournament and league matches before where my legs started to cramp and burn.

          I don’t know anything about you. For all I know you could be an out of shape guy who has never played a competitive match in his life. Like a sports writer who criticizes an athlete, when the sports announcer can’t do better himself. That’s the best.

  12. Jslugger says

    Played sports all of my life and went to a D-I school on an athletic scholarship, so i do know something about sports. The greatest contests I ever had and remembered were based upon an equal or slightly greater opponent that tested ever ounce of my athleticism, mental focus and skill set. The best ones I walked away with new knowledge about myself and my game. Some were won and some were lost. Time or length of time was never a factor neither was my fitness level in ranking these contests as the greatest. What was paramount was the quality of the contest. The quality of the play is to me is the determining factor for greatness.

    Relatively mediocre tennis players slugging it out in a marathon of subpar play does not constitute the greatest match in tennis. kudos to their stamina and will to win but greatest ever is paper thin.

    Currently i am in terrible shape due to the lack of discipline to workout around a chaotic schedule.

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