It began as another typical day of tennis at the All England Club. Rain caused all action to cease, except on Centre Court, which deployed its retractable roof and allowed play to continue.
It was Day Four of Olympic tennis competition and the third day that rain interrupted play.
Scheduled on Court One was the match between the No. 5 seed, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and the young man with the deadly serve, Milos Raonic. The Canadian was unseeded at the 2012 Olympics in London but held an ATP ranking of 23.
It promised to be a very exciting match with two powerful servers on display.
Ultimately, however, the Olympic tennis match on Court 1 turned out to be the most significant in Olympic history.
The mesmerizing contest ended with a score of 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 in a little under four hours.
Tsonga emerged the winner in the longest three-set match in Olympic history. The final set extended for 48 games, and that itself is a record.
The Frenchman took control early. After all, Tsonga had advanced to the semifinals of the past two Wimbledon Championships, and he knew how to play this game on grass. No one was really surprised when the No. 5 seed broke Raonic’s serve out of the blocks. It seemed that Tsonga would tame the serve of the 6’5 Canadian, as he shot out to a 3-0 lead.
Although Raonic fought back, Tsonga served it out, winning the first set 6-3.
In the second set, the roles reversed, and it was Raonic who broke Tsonga’s serve and extended his advantage to 3-0. The Canadian also served it out to win the second set 6-3.
The two were dead even, as the saying goes, when the third and final set got underway. Rain, however, interrupted play almost immediately, and the two men shuffled off to the locker room to wait for the sun to return—or at least for the rain to stop.
While they were contemplating their future plans of attack, both men settled on being extremely stingy—not allowing the opponent any opportunity to break his serve.
When play resumed, the third set lasted almost three hours, with hardly a break point visible on either side of the net.
At one point, Tsonga seemed to rise to the occasion, holding a break point up 16-15. Raonic, however, ended that brief glimpse of victory with an ace, wiping out Tsonga’s advantage.
Tsonga repeated the scenario at 21-20, but again, the Canadian erased the Frenchman’s “ad” when Tsonga failed to return the ball.
Finally, at 24-23, Raonic fell behind 0-40 on his own serve. This time he could not come back from that deficit. Tsonga won his last point with a drop shot that remained beyond the reach of Raonic, who finally fell after fighting for so long.
Previously the longest men’s three-set match was Fernando Gonzalez’s conquest over Taylor Dent at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens. The third set went to 16-14 with the Chilean winning the match and consequently, the bronze medal.
In 1988 the doubles match between Carling Bassett-Seguso and Jill Heatherton of Canada versus Mercedes Paz and Gabriella Sabatini of Argentina went to 20-18 in the third set before the team from Canada moved on to the second round.
Of course the longest match in tennis history occurred at the 2010 Olympics, with John Isner and Nicholas Mahut taking the final set to 70-68 and Isner finally winning.
The commentators today were waxing long about the Isner-Mahut match as the Tsonga-Raonic contest lingered on.
Needless to say, Tsonga was happy at the conclusion of the match, doing his post-win dancing celebration on Centre Court, grateful for the win and grateful for the record-setting match.
Even Raonic was pleased with the level of his play after the first three games. The Canadian will go home, but Tsonga will advance to the third round, where he must face Feliciano Lopez, the Spaniard who just dispatched Juan Monaco to win his way into round three.
Whether or not the long match on Tuesday will affect the play of Tsonga going forward is yet to be seen. Certainly no one else was on court for four hours.
The end result of the record-setting match today on Court One will not be known until Tsonga meets Lopez on Court 18 tomorrow.