Unlike most sports, tennis is not timed. Rather, the match is won by winning a certain number of sets. With this concept in motion, the sport has opened itself to some oddities. Most matches hover around the two hour mark. Some may even stretch to three. But, be it a Singles Match or a Doubles Match, sometimes the score can’t be settled in a timely fashion. It doesn’t matter if it’s a men’s match or a woman’s match. The matches on this list represent the top 10 longest tennis matches of all time. The athletes listed below must encompass enormous amounts of endurance. Simply put, no normal human could participate in these matches competitively. These matches are truly special.
10. Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal 2012 (5h 53m)
In modern tennis, two names have risen to the top of the pack. One, a fiery left-hander who is the King of the Clay courts, and the other a man who has battled himself as much as he has his opponents on the court. In 2012, both of these warriors clashed in an epic confrontation that will always be remembered down under. The 2012 Australian Open Final saw Djokovic face a hardened opponent in Rafael Nadal. Once the duel reached a tiebreak in the fourth set (Nadal leading 2-1), many wondered if Novak could come back. Oh, he came back. He won the fourth set tiebreaker and would go on to win the fifth set, 7-5. The match lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes, seeing Djokovic collapse on the court in joy when it was over.
9. Radek Stepanek def. Ivo Karlovic 2009 (5h 59m)
The majority of spots on this list feature matches that occurred in the Davis Cup. This is the first of many, as the feisty Czech Stepanek outlasted Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic in an affair that lasted a sliver under 6 hours. Radek and Ivo were both fighting for a spot in the Finals of the Davis Cup in 2009, and neither one of them would back down. What makes this match unique is the number of tiebreakers the players participated in (the first four sets all led to tiebreakers). The fifth and final set saw the players playing games into the double digits. Eventually, Stepanek overcame Karlovic’s powerful serve and won the fifth set, 16-14.
8. Horst Skoff def. Mats Wilander 1989 (6h 4m)
In the first match on this list to cross the 6 hour mark, Skoff and Wilander faced off in a 1989 Davis Cup Quarterfinal match. With the first two sets reaching tiebreakers (each player winning one), the third set was a bit of a shock. Skoff lost the set 6-1. It seemed as if Wilander had Horst on his heels. However, Skoff would bounce back and deliver a 6-4 fourth set. With the match reaching close to 6 hours, the players would battle until Skoff got the better of Wilander two times in a row, sealing his 9-7 victory in the fifth. Though Mats lost a long and tough match that lasted a shade over 6 hours, his team (Sweden) would go on to the Davis Cup Finals. They fell to West Germany 3-2.
7. Lucas Arnold Ker, David Nalbandian def. Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Marat Safin 2002 (6h 20m)
In the first Doubles match to appear on this list, Argentinean partners Ker and Nalbandian got the best of Russia’s Kafelnikov and Safin in a match that lasted a lot longer than anyone anticipated. In the 2002 Semifinal of the Davis Cup, both of these teams were fighting for a spot in the Finals. Ker and Nalbandian took the first two sets, and it was looking as if the Russians wouldn’t even win a set. However, they managed to squeak out the third set (7-5) and won the fourth set a bit more solidly (6-4). With a match length of 6 hours and 20 minutes, you would think the fifth set would contain a monstrous amount of games. It did. It took a total of 36 games in the fifth set for the Argentineans to gain the victory.
6. Boris Becker def. John McEnroe 1987 (6h 21m)
While lasting just a minute longer then the preceding Doubles matchup, Becker and McEnroe‘s encounter in the 1987 Davis Cup will never be forgotten. Any time these two met each other in the court, fans always knew sparks would fly and they would see some of the best tennis they were ever going to see. On this particular occasion, with their country’s reputation on the line, Boris and John engaged in a slug fest. With McEnroe winning the first set 6-4, nobody expected an extended second set. Boris got the better of John in this second set, winning 15 games to 13 games. The two would trade sets one more time before entering the last set, in which Becker won in a smooth, 6-2 fashion.
5. John McEnroe def. Mats Wilander 1982 (6h 22m)
With both men appearing on this list in previous spots, this would be the first match either of these men played that went over 6 hours. Edging out the previous match by just one minute, John McEnroe came out on the other end of this particular match, beating Wilander in five gruelling sets. Once again set at the Davis Cup (this time in 1982), the third set would be the one that established the precedence for absurdly long tennis matches. Wilander took the third set from John, 17-15. However, the ever resilient McEnroe would battle back and eventually go on to win the match, 8-6 in the fifth set.
4. Vicki Nelson def. Jean Hepner 1984 (6h 31m)
The only match on this list that involves women, it is an impressive feat to see any women on this list. Why? If you know the rules of tennis, you know that men’s matches are played in a “best of five sets” scenario (during Grand Slams and special tournaments) and women’s matches are only played in a “best of three” format. Knowing this match only lasted three sets shows just how much grit and determination both of these players had during each and every point. Both American players were dueling it out in a tug-of-war to see who was going to advance to the second round of the 1984 Central Fidelity Banks International. Nelson got the better of Hepner in the third set and won it 11-9.
3. Fabrice Santoro def. Arnaud Clement 2004 (6h 33m)
One of the few matches on this list not taking place in the Davis Cup, this match-up featured two Frenchmen going toe-to-toe. The prize was the 2004 French Cup, but only one of them would make it out of the first round. With Santoro taking the first two sets, the tournament looked grim for Clement, but he narrowly escaped defeat by winning the third set in a tiebreaker. After taking the fourth set in commanding fashion (6-3), the match came down to just one set. In fact, the match lasted so long, the last set wouldn’t be finished until the following day. Santoro managed to fight back and win the fifth set by a score of 16-14.
2. Tomas Berdych, Lukas Rosol def. Stanislas Wawrinka, Marco Chiudinelli 2013 (7h 2m)
The second Doubles match appearing on this list is also one that supersedes seven hours of play time. Featuring two players who have broken the Top 10 (Berdych, Wawrinka), the first round match took place at the 2013 Davis Cup. Fighting to earn a championship for their country, both teams exerted an astounding amount of effort during the match. All sets were close (the most lopsided set being 6-4) and fans were in for a treat. After a tick over seven hours, match point was scored for Berdych and Rosol. They won the fifth set 24-22 in an epic, seven hour power struggle.
1. John Isner def. Nicolas Mahut 2010 (11h 5m)
This will never be topped. The 2010 Wimbledon match-up in the first round has been immortalized at Wimbledon itself with a plaque commemorating the three-day struggle. It was the perfect combination. Isner, with his large, lumbering serve and Mahut’s quick return game made them polar opposites to each other. Each other’s weakness was the other’s strength. After lasting two days, tennis fans weren’t the only ones tuning in. Everybody stopped to see when, and if, the match would ever end. After three days worth of Grand Slam tennis, Isner collapsed on the ground. The energy was drained from his body. He had just won the longest tennis match of all time, 70-68, in the fifth set. It will never be forgotten. Where were you when Isner beat Mahut?