Matches of the Year: No. 4 – Haas vs. Isner

The Grandstand presents its 2013 Matches of the Year, continuing with No. 4. John Isner has a habit unmatched by any other player on tour of playing deep into fifth sets. His French Open marathon against Tommy Haas, however, was unique even by Isner’s standards. Ricky Dimon and Hasan Murad recap the third-round thriller.

Tommy Haas d. John Isner 7-5, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-7(10), 10-8 – French Open third round

One name—if not the name—that commonly springs to mind when speaking of five-set epics is none other than the marathon man: John Isner. The 6’10’’American once again found himself involved in a colossal battle in the last 32 at Roland Garros, this time against Haas. Haas could have won the match far earlier than at the eventual four-hour and 37-minute mark, but his opponent made him earn it in the toughest possible manner by denying Haas 12 match points (an Open Era record) before Isner’s jaded soul finally succumbed on the 13th one a set later.

Although the match was tightly-contested throughout the first two frames of play, it was Haas who always kept his nose in front. The 35-year-old was watertight in his service games and he converted enough opportunities on Isner’s serve to go up two sets after one hour and 42 minutes. Through 24 games, plus one tiebreaker, Haas had 27 winners to a mere 10 unforced errors.

Of course, Isner was unafraid to go the distance. This was the same Isner who won the 70-68 Wimbledon marathon against Nicolas Mahut, played a five-hour and 41-minute duel against Paul-Henri Mathieu at the 2012 French open, persevered through two final-set tiebreakers against Haas in five previous head-to-head encounters, and staged his first-ever comeback from two sets down at the expense of countryman Ryan Harrison just one day before this showdown against Haas.

Isner continued to pile up aces in the third and started returning with more conviction. The comeback ship was right on track as he won the third set and got himself locked in a tiebreaker for the fourth after saving a monumental nine match points while serving at 5-6. Haas created opportunity after opportunity only to be denied by the big man. Isner was outstandingly clutch in key moments and his aggressive mindset on returns propelled him to a 12-10 conquering of the tiebreaker, during which he saved an additional three match points.

Haas faced the daunting task of being down a break (4-1) against the world’s best server in the decider, but the German—contesting the 41st fifth set of his career—relied on his experience, all-court dexterity, and superior fitness to recover the break. Even after getting back on serve, Haas had to return one-twelfth of the favor to Isner by thwarting a match point on serve at 4-5. The fight continued with both players guarding their service games until Haas made the decisive breakthrough in the 17th game against a struggling Isner and closed out the match 10-8.

It was an exemplary display of not only high-quality tennis but also courage, resolve, and never-say-die attitudes. The pair ended with a combined 177 winners over five gripping sets of tennis.

“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 assured. “It’s crazy. It was a big roller-coaster. It went back and forth. It’s definitely going to be one of the best matches to look back on, for sure. Unfortunately one has to lose.”

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