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Marathon finally history

WIMBLEDON, England — The final shot came off the racket of John Isner on Thursday, a backhand hit with a single purpose late in the afternoon on Court 18 of the All England Club.

It was meant to be a winner. It was not hit daintily or with caution, even though Isner was playing the 491st minute of a final set in a first-round Wimbledon match that had carried on through three days.

It found its spot, out of the reach of gallant Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, who lunged for the ball knowing it was out of his reach.

When the winning shot landed, the 980th point played by Isner and Mahut in an 11-hour, 5-minute match, neither Isner nor Mahut could do much more than drop to their knees and whimper.

Isner was the winner, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68, in the longest match in tennis history. It took Isner and Mahut just over an hour Thursday to finish what they started Tuesday. Making history can be tedious.

Isner couldn't quite grasp the enormity of what he had accomplished. When he went home Wednesday night, with the score tied 59-59, he said he didn't feel rooted in reality.

"I thought it was a dream," Isner said. "I didn't think that type of match was possible. I was really expecting to wake up, in all seriousness."

The tennis Thursday was no different than what had been played Tuesday and Wednesday. It was elemental. Big serves, returns into the net, little in between except an occasional two- or three-stroke rally, sometimes an attempt at a net rush or a lob.

The crack in Mahut's final service game came on the second point when he made a forehand error after he led 15-0. At 15-15, Mahut tried a delicate drop shot, but the ball nestled into the net. Mahut won the next point, but Isner got a swing at a second serve and cracked a forehand winner to give himself a fifth match point in the set. As the crowd roared, Isner converted by swinging all-out with that backhand.

The completion of the historic match took top billing on a busy day that included Queen Elizabeth II's first visit to the All England Club since 1977, top seed Rafael Nadal's five-set victory over Robin Haase and top women's seed Serena Williams' unhappiness that her 48-minute, 6-0, 6-1 rout of 118th-ranked Anna Chakvetadze took place on Court 2 instead of Centre Court.

Isner must be back at noon Friday for his second-round match against Thiemo De Bakker, who needed to win his first-round match 16-14 in the fifth set.

Presumably Isner will have had a better meal Thursday than he did Wednesday, even if it isn't served by as famous a delivery boy. Isner said Andy Roddick was waiting in the locker room Wednesday night with a bag full of takeout food.

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