After letting 12 match points slip away in the fourth set, 35-year-old Tommy Haas came back from a break down in the fifth and beat John Isner 7-5, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-7 (10), 10-8 at the French Open on Saturday.
The match lasted 4 hours, 37 minutes. That's brief compared to the 11-plus hours Isner played across three days during his victory over Nicolas Mahut in the first round at Wimbledon three years ago. Haas, like everyone else, associates Isner with that marathon to top all marathons.
"I was definitely hoping it wasn't going to go like in Wimbledon with him and Mahut. I was probably going to wave the white flag before that," the 12th-seeded Haas said. "That was not going to happen to me."
Haas was one point away from winning 12 times late in the fourth set. The International Tennis Federation said the most match points saved in any men's match on record were the 11 erased by Adriano Panatta when he wound up defeating Kim Warwick in Rome in 1976. In the 2000 French Open final, Magnus Norman saved 10 match points before losing to Gustavo Kuerten on the 11th.
Neither Haas nor the 19th-seeded Isner realized just how many there were on Saturday.
"I lost track totally," Haas said.
He was only 2 for 22 on break-point chances until converting his 23rd of the match when Isner put a volley in the net. Haas then served out the victory.
Haas is the first man to reach the fourth round at Roland Garros at 35 since Jonas Bjorkman was that age in 2007, and yet by the end, he looked to be the fresher man against the 19th-seeded Isner, who is 28.
At the changeover before the very last game, Isner chose not to even sit in his sideline chair, leaning over with his hands on his knees and his chest heaving.
Isner never had come back to win after dropping the first two sets of a match until he did it on Friday in Paris against Ryan Harrison in an all-U.S. matchup. But Isner couldn't quite pull off that trick twice in a span of about 30 hours, coming so close to another big comeback against Haas.
He had his chance to win, too. Leading 5-4 in the fifth set as Haas served, Isner earned his first, and only, match point. But Isner flubbed a backhand on a 12-stroke exchange.
In Paris a year ago, Isner lost 18-16 in the second round to Paul-Henri Mathieu, a Frenchman ranked outside the top 250 at the time. That one lasted 5 hours, 41 minutes, making it the second-longest match, by time, in French Open history.
"These long matches seem to follow me," Isner said, his words drawn out slowly.
Against Haas, Isner already had saved nine match points before they even got around to playing the fourth-set tiebreaker.
That's where Haas, a four-time Grand Slam semifinalist, got three more chances to end things. Down 7-6 in the tiebreaker, though, Isner hit an ace. Then, with Haas getting a chance to serve while ahead 8-7, the German double-faulted. And at 9-8, making it an even dozen opportunities to win, Haas pushed a backhand into the net.
Isner eventually converted his third set point, at 11-10, with a service winner, and a wide smile creased his face.
The match was more than 31/2 hours old, but it finally was even, at two sets apiece.
"It's obviously a great match to be a part of, especially at such a big event, against somebody that is very used to those kinds of matches," Haas said. "Unfortunately, one has to lose, and I think it would have been more upsetting for me in this case after having many chances in the fourth set there."
That fourth set lasted more than an hour, and the fifth would, too, even though Isner broke in the opening game en route to grabbing a 3-0 lead.
But he couldn't hold on, despite 27 aces over the course of the late afternoon and early evening on Court 1, which is known as the "bullring" because of its oval shape. A large segment of the crowd, cheering for Haas, broke into clap-accompanied chants of "Tom-my! Tom-my!"
Haas moved on to face No. 29 Mikhail Youzhny of Russia for a berth in the quarterfinals.