Marathon man’s 2013 ends with marathon loss

Thank goodness for final-set tiebreakers.

Perhaps that is exactly what Nicolas Mahut was thinking late in his second-round match against Gilles Simon at the BNP Paribas Masters on Wednesday afternoon. The two Frenchmen had been battling for almost three hours when Mahut held serve at 5-6 in the third set. But it didn’t go on forever. It ended–as did Mahut’s season–with Simon emerging victorious 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(3) after two hours and 59 minutes.

Same ol’, same ol’, you might be thinking.

Oh, but it isn’t. This is not the same Mahut who, along with John Isner, will always best known for a 2010 Wimbledon extravaganza that lasted 11 hours and five minutes before Isner finally prevailed…wait for it…70-68 in the fifth set. It took a while, but maybe—just maybe—Mahut is finally known for something other than being the Marathon Man.

It didn’t take long for Isner to map the designs of a different legacy. Of course, it helps when you wield one of the biggest serves in the history of the sport, the single shot with which Isner is obviously most associated. Post-marathon, the 6’10’’ American parlayed that weapon into six titles, two Masters 1000 runner-ups, a Grand Slam quarterfinal (2011 U.S. Open), a win over Roger Federer, two upsets of Novak Djokovic, and a Top 10 ranking (career-high of No. 9 in April of 2012).

Three years older, seven inches shorter, and without the benefit of starting each service point with a high-octane rocket launcher, Mahut’s A.M. (After Marathon) life did little to relieve him of that zero-year burden. The Frenchman won only a single ATP-level match throughout the remainder of 2010 and he had a mere five ATP match victories by the time the next Wimbledon rolled around in 2011 (when Mahut lost to Isner again in the first round). He was ranked 80th at the end of 2011 and was outside the Top 100 at the end of 2012. In June of this season he found himself at—no joke—No. 240 in the world.

But thanks to a positively stunning resurgence, Mahut is no longer stigmatized with just the man who lost the marathon moniker.

He’s the man who won ‘s-Hertogenbosch as a qualifier, one of only two qualifiers (Ernests Gulbis in Delray Beach) this entire season to win an ATP title.

He’s the man who went 31 years and five months without winning an ATP title, only two win two in the span of four weeks (he won Newport as a wild card). At the rain-delayed Newport event he won four matches (two singles, two doubles) and two titles in the span of 25 hours.

He’s the man who soared an absurd 165 ranking spots in four weeks, and he currently stands 184 places better than he did as recently as June 23.
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He’s the man who reached his first Grand Slam doubles final at 31, pushing the No. 1 team in the world to a final-set tiebreaker before wearing his emotion on his sleeve for all his French fans to see at the end of a heartbreaking loss.
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He’s also the fun-loving Frenchman who cross-dressed, specifically borrowing items from mixed doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic, during a match (ironically, also against Isner) at the 2011 Hopman Cup…and the man who ended Fernando Gonzalez’s career at the 2012 Miami Masters after–you guessed it–another marathon (7-5, 4-6, 7-6(3) in two hours and 37 minutes).

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Both men, first Isner and now Mahut, have exceeded expectations since the hard-to-believe, three-day epic; Isner in part for reaching the Top 10 after once being labeled as all-serve robot, Mahut in part for capturing the first two titles of his career in his 30s. They will never completely shed the label, nor should they. After all, it’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. It’s the reason why they are part of the Tennis Hall of Fame.

“Marathon Man.” Yes, it sounds good. But what Mahut is doing now is even better.

7 Comments on Marathon man’s 2013 ends with marathon loss

  1. Nice tribute Ricky.
    So much attention is given to the top 10 or so players, it is easy to overlook the efforts of all the other players who slog their guts out year after year without any of the glittering prizes.

  2. If at first you don’t succeed. Try, try, and try again.

    The last few years have been notable for the number of players amongst the older generation who have played some of their best tennis late in their careers.

  3. Ricky,

    This was a wonderful piece. Good read!

    I watched the Mahut/Simon replay last night on the tennis channel. I thought Mahut might pull it out after winning the tb and the second set. Simon was kind of up and down throughout the match.

    However, Simon seemed to step it up in that third set tb to get the win. But I think that Mahut gave a great effort. It’s nice that he will be known for something other than the Marathon man match.

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