24 June 2010

Wimbledon magic

"Game Mahut. 59 games all, final set". That was the umpire's call when one of the most epic sporting events at Wimbledon drew to a temporary close. Dr Ross Tucker comments.


Nicholas Mahut of France had just held serve, for the 59th game in a row, to level up the fifth and final set against John Isner of the USA, who himself had reeled off 59 consecutive service games. 

It was an extra-ordinary feat of consistency, big serving and willpower, in a match that was eventually interrupted as the 10 hour mark was reached. The scoreboard couldn't stand the pace - the picture to the right was taken at 47-47, and at 50-50, it went blank...

Not surprisingly, the match has seen all kinds of records broken:

  • With 877 points in the match, one might assume an average rally length of 3 shots (serving was dominant, so rallies would be short).  Three shots means six changes of direction, because a player must run to the ball, play the shot, and then return to court position.  
  • The distance covered per point might then be about 15m.  So that gives us ± 5 200 changes of direction, and 13.1km run.  Add to this the walking between points, which is at least another 15m, and the total distance covered is closer to 30km.  
  • That may not seem significant (if you come from an endurance sport background), but remember that each run is ended with a sudden stop, and an acceleration to return to good court position.  And, you're not moving forward in a straight line, but sideways.  So you're looking at about 2 000 lateral "sprints" making up about 10km, by my assumptions.
  • The deceleration is perhaps the most demanding part - stopping, and then driving off the same leg in the other direction imposes a significant challenge, which you can easily experience by going out and doing lateral runs over 5m for even 10 minutes.
  • Every serve is a jump - so that's 439 jumps for Mahut and 438 jumps for Isner.  They may be small, but each jump and landing comes at a cost and I can only imagine how tired their legs will be today.
  • Then there's the significant matter of having to swing a racket through the ball at least 2 000 times, and the upper body fatigue that this would cause. 


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