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Isner and Mahut back to resume never-ending match

LONDON (Reuters) - “Feel like a million bucks” John Isner Tweeted on Thursday hours before he was due back on Wimbledon’s Court 18 for the third day running to resume a match against Nicolas Mahut already etched into sporting folklore.

France's Nicolas Mahut walks onto court 18 for his resumed match against John Isner of the U.S at the 2010 Wimbledon tennis championships in London, June 24, 2010. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett

Just how Isner can feel anything but sore, tired, ragged or delirious is anyone’s guess after he was locked in battle for 10 monumental hours with Mahut before gathering gloom over the All England Club mercifully halted play at 59-all in the fifth set on Wednesday.

The world waited to see Chapter III of this most compelling of matches on a day Queen Elizabeth was visiting the championships for the first time in 33 years.

But with their battle taking place away from the main Center Court, where the Queen will be in attendance, former champion John McEnroe quipped: “It’s a good thing Isner and Mahut don’t have to bow because if they did, they wouldn’t be able to get up again.” It was so long and grueling, and with no end in sight, McEnroe also suggested doctors should have been on standby to run to the players’ aid.

“I thought Isner was getting delirious and was worried for his health,” McEnroe said after watching his fellow American barely being able to put one foot in front of the other between points.

The match reached such epic proportions, that the battling gladiators were breaking records with almost every shot they made during the course of the fifth set -- which has already lasted a surreal seven hours and six minutes.

With records for the longest match, longest set, most games in a set at 118, most games in a match at 163 and most aces at 193 already set by the end of play on Wednesday -- it was little wonder that the courtside scoreboard could not keep up with the antics and broke down at 47-all.

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Technology might have given up the ghost but there was no stopping the human spirit that kept Mahut and Isner going on and on and on.

When Mahut lay sprawled face down on the ground after diving after a Isner volley at 58-all, for a few seconds it seemed as if the Frenchman simply wanted to fall asleep.

In fact had Mahut’s coach run over to tuck a pillow under his head, few would have blamed him.

British bookmakers were even offering odds of 100-1 on whether Swedish umpire Mohamed Lahyani would fall asleep during the match.

After such an energy sapping outing on Wednesday -- when they had resumed their tussle at 0-0 in the fifth set -- the duo were offered a lie-in on Thursday by Wimbledon organizers who deemed their match should not start again before 1530 local time.

The unprecedented nature of their plight meant no one could offer them much advise on how they could prepare for Thursday’s challenge.

“How in the world can they possibly walk, let alone play?” said McEnroe.

“There is nothing we can fall back on to even begin to think what they should do other than to make sure there are plenty of experienced medical people around. It gets unhealthy.

“I sat next to John’s mum and she was close to having a heart attack. It’s great to see the will of these two guys but should we think about at least maybe a tiebreaker at 30-all.

“These poor guys. This kind of match will set them back weeks and months. This is debilitating... these guys will not be able to walk for a month.”

While the match will no doubt revive the debate about tiebreaks in the fifth set here, as they do at the U.S. Open, perhaps Wimbledon should also break with protocol and rename the 782-seater Court 18 after the two heroic protagonists.

Editing by Miles Evans