LONDON – John Isner hit 64 aces – 64! – and saved two match points while winning a five-setter at Wimbledon for only the second time in six tries.
You might have heard of the other such victory: It ended 70-68 in the final set.
In this much shorter instance of going the distance, the No. 9-seeded Isner came through 6-1, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-5 against Ruben Bemelmans, a Belgian qualifier ranked 104th, in a second-round match that ended Thursday after it was interrupted by rain the evening earlier.
“Certainly didn’t sleep like a baby last night,” the 33-year-old American said.
“All the stuff is running through my head. I’m half asleep, I’m not really asleep. We have all been there. You have something weighing on you,” he continued. “But fortunately, I didn’t feel, like, tired today. I still had a lot of adrenaline running through my body.”
Among the things that might have kept Isner tossing and turning:
– Isner held a match point at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker, but Bemelmans erased that with a winner, then added the next two points, too, to grab that set;
– he also dropped the fourth set in a tiebreaker;
– he had lost four five-setters in a row at Wimbledon, exiting the tournament that way in 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017;
– he got into a heated and extended argument with chair umpire Mohamed Lahyani over a couple of replay reviews Isner was sure were incorrect, drawing a warning for the language he used.
“Now I’m going to get fined for that,” Isner said to Lahyani after apologizing, while also noting, “I said one bad word.”
They resumed Thursday at 4-3 in the fifth set, and Isner quickly was one point from defeat, trailing 5-4 while serving at 15-40. But he made both of those match points disappear via – what else? – aces, the first at 132 mph and the other at 144 mph.
“Just him keeping his nerves really well. Props to him that he produced those serves,” Bemelmans said. “There’s always a letdown when you miss those chances, but really, I didn’t miss them. He served them away. So it was not my fault. I could do nothing about it.”
Isner, who is based in Dallas, then broke in the next game and served out the victory, although not without casting aside one last break point, after double-faulting to 30-40. He closed this way: 141 mph service winner, 127 mph ace, 140 mph service winner.
That serve, Bemelmans said, is “tough on any surface.”
“Sometimes you’ve just got to bluff a little bit and choose a side, just to get in his head,” he added, “which I managed to do from the third set on.”
Enough to take that pair of tiebreakers, perhaps, but not to win a return game: Isner held all 27 times he served.
When a reporter told him how many aces Isner finished with, Bemelmans asked, “Is that a record?”
He then was reminded of that three-day, 11-hour marathon in the first round eight years ago – Isner hit 113; the man he beat, Nicolas Mahut, had 103 – and Bemelmans rolled his eyes and said, “Ah, of course.”
So Isner’s 64 slots come in as the third highest ace count at Wimbledon. At this point, though, he’s far more interested in doing something he’s never done: get to the fourth round at the grass-court Grand Slam tournament.
Isner is 0-3 in the third round so far, with each defeat in a fifth set.
“That, of course, weighs on you, especially at this event. It’s not just fifth set, in general; it’s this event,” said Isner, who faces 98th-ranked Radu Albot of Moldova on Friday. “So to finally come through on the good side of that feels amazing.”
Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich
More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis