First a gasp, then a chuckle, then full-out laughter.
That was the response from the crowd Friday, and the tennis world, when Wimbledon announced a first-round match next week: John Isner vs. Nicolas Mahut.
Yes, one year after their epic three-day match, which Isner won, 70-68, in the fifth set, they are going to play again. Whatever the mathematical odds of this happening, with names drawn at random, it was just luck of the draw.
Almost cruel, Isner said.
A freak moment in sports history is being recreated by a freak lottery-type draw. That match last year became a cult classic. Days later, Isner was in New York, delivering the Top 10 list on David Letterman. (No. 9: “We’ve been playing so long, I’ve forgotten. Am I Isner or Mahut?”)
It is seen as a quirky moment in sports history, but the truth is, this match that would never end, still hasn’t. Isner has not been the same. Mahut suffered depression for months, and physical problems doctors couldn’t diagnose.
A few weeks ago, Mahut asked Wimbledon officials that no matter who he played, would they please not put him on Court 18 again. For both of them, the place is haunted.