Zugegeben, das Folgende hat praktisch nichts mit Popkultur zu tun, aber ich kann mir den Hinweis darauf nicht verkneifen, weil Xan Brooks, dem Journalist des Guardian, etwas Außergewöhnliches gelungen ist. Im nun wirklich undankbarsten Genre des Online-Journalismus, dem Liveticker eines Sportevents, durfte Brooks gestern arbeiten. Dabei hatte er das Glück, ein Match von derart epischen Dimensionen kommentieren zu dürfen, das Rekorde brach, die sich bereits jenseits jeglichen Verstehenkönnens befinden. Das Match zwischen John Isner und Nicolas Mahut dauert nun bereits neuneinhalb Stunden an und wurde gestern wegen Einbruchs der Dunkelheit beim Stand von 59:59 im fünften Satz abgebrochen. Allein jener epische fünfte Satz dauert nun bereits länger (7:04 Stunden) als das längste jemals gespielte Tennismatch.
Brooks kommentiert das Spiel anfangs mit leichter Fassungslosigkeit, zieht Vergleiche zu „Warten auf Godot“, baut später Referenzen zu „Herz der Finsternis“ von Joseph Conrad ein, versteigt sich zu Zombie-Fantasien, die George A. Romero stolz machen würden und lässt uns Mitleser einen immer weiter aufsteigenden Wahnsinn spüren, der aus dem Beobachten eines fast zehnstündigen Tennismatches resultiert. Das spotjournalistische Meisterwerk des Jahres:
„4.05pm: The Isner-Mahut battle is a bizarre mix of the gripping and the deadly dull. It’s tennis’s equivalent of Waiting For Godot, in which two lowly journeymen comedians are forced to remain on an outside court until hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky. Isner and Mahut are dying a thousand deaths out there on Court 18 and yet nobody cares, because they’re watching the football. So the players stand out on their baseline and belt aces past each-other in a fifth set that has already crawled past two hours. They are now tied at 18-games apiece.
On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die.
4.25pm: But none of this means a thing to the Everlasting Zombie Tennis Players on Court 18. They hear nothing but the thud of the ball off their racket and the sonorous tones of their Zombie Umpire. They can think of nothing beyond their next trudge to the chair for a short sit down before the ordeal begins again anew. They have forgotten all about Wimbledon and the world beyond the backstop.
John Isner’s serving arm has fallen off. Nicolas Mahut’s head is loose and rolling bonelessly on his neck. And yet still they play on. The score is now 21-21 in the fifth and final set. This is now, officially, the longest final set in Wimbledon history.
4.45pm: It’s ace number 62 for John Isner in the Never-Ending Story of Court 18, a tournament record. But, incredibly, Mahut seems to be coming back at him. He forges his way to the first deuce of the set thanks to a backhand lob that somehow gets over the head of the American, who stands six-foot-nine in his stockinged feet. Both men, as has been established, are now dead on their feet, although the Frenchman looks the marginally less rotten (a few less worms wriggling from his eye sockets).
Naturally Isner holds on, He staggers, sightless, to the net and scrapes off a desperate drop volley for a winner. The American now leads 24-23. But inevitably we are still on serve.
„No!“ screams a gang of reporters. „Nooo!“ I think that they are lamenting the match, but of course they are lamenting the football. On the other side of the world, Slovenia just came close to scoring.
4.50pm: It’s over. It’s finally over. It was a long, hard match and it took its toll on the players. But finally, at long last, we have a result.
I’m actually talking about the football here. England win 1-0 against Slovenia to go through to the knock-out stage. The Isner-Mahut match is still ongoing: 24-24 in the final set. Isner’s leg has just dropped off.
5.05pm: On Court 18 it is very different. On Court 18 a match is not won and lost; it is just played out infinitely, deeper and deeper into a fifth and final set as the numbers rack up and the terrain turns uncharted. Under the feet of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, the grass is growing. Before long they will be playing in a jungle and when they sit down at the change of ends, a crocodile will come to menace them. They are poised at 25 games apiece in a deciding set that is now nudging three hours.
5.45pm: False dawns and shimmering mirages out on the jungle Congo of Court 18. For a moment there, I thought Isner was cracking. The man can barely move his feet any more and Mahut still has some bounce, lashing a backhand return for a clean winner.
But what John Isner still has is his serve. It is a brutal serve, heavy and reliable. He totters to the baseline, fires some aces and goes ahead 32-31, leaving Mahut to serve to stay in the match for what I am reliably informed is the 2,362nd time. This he duly does and so we go merrily on through the jungle. The score stands at 32-games apiece; the clock at six hours and thirty-odd minutes. It is now the longest match in Grand Slam history.
6pm: The score stands at 34-34. In order to stay upright and keep their strength, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have now started eating members of the audience. They trudge back to the baseline, gnawing on thigh-bones and sucking intestines. They have decided that they will stay on Court 18 until every spectator is eaten. Only then, they say, will they consider ending their contest.
7pm: The umpire climbs down from his chair and starts mildly slapping the net cord with his right hand. No one knows why. John Isner winds up for a backhand and misses the ball entirely. No one knows why.
What’s going on here? Once, long ago, I think that this was a tennis match. I believe it was part of a wider tennis tournament, somewhere in south-west London, and the winner of this match would then go on to face the winner of another match and, if he won that, the winner of another match. And so on until he reached the final and, fingers crossed, he won the title.
That, at least, is what this spectacle on Court 18 used to be; what it started out as. It’s not that anymore and hasn’t been for a few hours now. I’m not quite sure what it is, but it is long and it’s horrifying and it’s very long to boot. Is it death? I think it might be death.
42 games all.
7.30pm: Let it end, let it end, it’s 46-all. It was funny when it was 16-all and it was creepy when it was 26-all. But this is pure purgatory and there is still no end in sight. John Isner has just struck his 90th ace. Nicolas Mahut, poor, enfeebled Nicolas Mahut, has only hit 72. Maybe we should just decide it on the number of aces struck? Give the game to Isner and then we can all crawl into our graves.
7.45pm: What happens if we steal their rackets? If we steal their rackets, the zombies can no longer hit their aces and thump their backhands and keep us all prisoner on Court 18. I’m shocked that this is only occurring to me now. Will nobody run onto the court and steal their rackets? Are they all too scared of the zombies‘ clutching claws and gore-stained teeth? Steal their rackets and we can all go home. Who’s with me? Steal their rackets and then run for the tube.
It’s 48-48. What further incentive do you need?
8.20pm: Wow, is that really the time? I must go home; can’t think what’s kept me. Wa-ha-la-ha-la-ha-la!
Oh yes, just remembered. The tennis. The tennis. Out there on Court 18, our two white-clad derelicts dig deep into the reserve tanks and remember to run again. They move along the baseline, coaxing the ball back and forth, back and forth until Mahut falls over. Is he ever going to get up? Astonishingly, he does. At game point, he pushes Isner into his backhand corner, staggers in to the net and dinks a drop volley. It’s 53-53.
8.55pm: Yet again, Mahut wobbles on the brink of defeat. Yet again he steadies himself. One minute Isner has him at 30-30. The next he’s through again and we’re tied at 58 games apiece.
But wait! An official has stepped out on the court. Is it an official, or is it the angel? Is this endless, epic Battle of the Zombies finally going to be brought to a close?
8.59pm: No. It’s not. At least not just yet. An exhausted Isner is serving to make it 59-58. An exhausted Mahut runs for a volley and falls flat on his face. An exhausted umpire calls the score in a dreadful, reedy croak. An exhausted Isner takes the game. It’s 59-58.
9.10pm: Is it over? It is not over. For a brief moment back then, I thought it was over. Isner clambers to match point on Mahut’s serve. Mahut steps forward and saves it with his 95th ace. It’s 59-59.
Mahut wants to come off now; the light is almost gone. But the official orders the pair to play two more games. „We want more! We want more!“ chant the survivors on Court 18. I’m taking this as proof that they have gone insane.
9.12pm: Mahut prevails! Mahut wins! This is not to say he wins the match, of course. Nobody is winning this match; not now and not ever. But he prevails in his complaint and his wish is granted. Play is suspended. They will come back tomorrow and duke it out all over again. The scoreboard will be re-set at 0-0 first set and Isner and Mahut will take it from there.
OK, so they won’t do that, exactly. Instead, they will pick it up where they left off, at 59-59 in the final set. Apparently the last set of this match has now lasted longer than any match in tennis history. Can this really be true? Nothing would surprise me anymore.
9.25pm: Last thoughts before I ring me a hearse. That was beyond tennis. I think it was even beyond survival
It’s a crying shame that someone has to lose this match but hey-ho, that’s tennis. The historic duel between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will resume tomorrow and play out to its conclusion. Possibly. Maybe they’ll just keep going into Friday and Saturday, Sunday and Monday; belting their aces and waiting for that angel to come and lead them home. As the woman in the stands might say, „Wa-ha-la-wa-ha-la-la-la!“
Thanks so much for sticking with me; for your comments and tweets and your emails too. It was very much appreciated. If you’re going to liveblog a tennis match in Necropolis, it’s reassuring to have someone there to hold your hand.“
P.S.: das Spiel wird am heutigen Donnerstag auf Court 18 fortgesetzt. Ansetzung laut Wimbledon: nicht vor 15.30 Uhr. Ein schöner Treppenwitz ist dabei, dass zudem auch noch Nicolas Mahuts erstes Erstrundenspiel im Doppel angesetzt ist…