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Friday, June 25, 2010

Isner vs Mahut finally ends at 70-68

Isner v Mahut: Game over, Isner wins 70-68, and a lot of potatoes

It's been over 24 hours since the longest game in history finally ended.  At one point, it seemed that we might still be playing into the second week of Wimbledon, but eventually, in the 138th match of an epic set, Mahut finally conceded a game on serve, and John Isner of the USA emerged victorious, in the longest match in tennis history.

The final set was in fact almost two hours longer than the previous longest match ever played.  It would come as no surprise to you to learn that John Isner paid for his 183 game marathon, and lost 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 to Thiemo de Bakker in the second round.

Yesterday I did a post describing some of the demands of playing a match this long.  This was picked up by the Washington Post, and they contacted me last night for some comments and ideas of the physiological demand.  But rather than repost all those thoughts, below is the graphic they drew based on my eventual assumptions, which you can see in its original format here.

A whole lot of potatoes...

One of the things I realized after is that one of the most amazing things about the match is the energy expenditure involved.  A tennis player would expect to burn between 11 and 15kCal per minute.  So, if we go for the middle ground, we assume 13 kCal per minute.  In a match where serving was do dominant, this could well be a slight over-estimate, but it'll do for assumption and illustration's sake.

Therefore, in 11 hours and 5 minutes, the energy burned would be around 8500 kCal.  How much is this?  Well, if someone like Isner, who weighs 110kg, were to run a marathon, he would burn approximately 4600 kCal.  So, his 11 hour tennis match came at the cost of almost two marathons.  Sure, it was "run" over 3 days in installments, but the numbers are extra-ordinary.

To give you an idea of just how amazing, three medium sized potatoes provide about 200 kCal, and so the Isner-Mahut match "cost" about 129 potatoes per player.  Or, if they prefer Coca-Cola as a source of fuel, then you're looking at 20 liters (about 5.3 gallons) of Coke to replace the energy.

This is conceptual, of course, it's intended to highlight just how much work is done playing tennis at that level for that long!  It also shows just how important nutrition would have been to recovery, both during change of ends and after the day's play.  Like Tour de France cyclists must eat to survive, Isner and Mahut would have had to get a lot of food down to replace their glycogen reserves!

As for dehydration - I've seen a few reports saying how "dangerous" this would be - it's not.  As long as players are able to drink to thirst, they're fine.  And with change of ends every five minutes, Isner and Mahut would have had plenty of chance to drink enough to stay perfectly hydrated.  The bigger problems were energy intake, and then muscle fatigue.

Muscle damage - can't stand the shock

One final point - the biggest demand in the match is the mechanical loading of the muscles.  This is because of the nature of the game.  About 4,500 changes of direction, 500 jumps and 2000 short, sharp accelerations and decelerations put significant load on muscles, and in particular, they require eccentric contractions.  These contractions cause muscle damage - microscopic tears in muscle fibres.  This is why players lose their speed and power after about 20-20 in the fifth, and this is why they look so sluggish playing.  For Isner, this would have been a big factor affecting him playing against de Bakker today - the worst muscle soreness comes about 48 to 72 hours after the exercise bout.  So today would be perhaps the worst day!

So Isner, not surprisingly, saw his Wimbledon campaign end in three very short sets against de Bakker.  He played the equivalent of five matches just to reach the second round, but had little chance of progressing.  However, his status in history, along with that of Nicolas Mahut, will remain forever.



Robbie Fields said...


Another great blog posts ... informative yet poetic ... a true tribute to athletes.

Gene said...

Did anyone see them eating during breaks? The camera wasn't on them the entire time, but when it was all I saw was drinking of bottled water (from 39-38 and the next day). Of course, they probably didn't bring enough food/bars for 118 games the second day, and no one mentioned about their coaches ordering some take out.

Nigel and Glauce Brooks said...

Here's an interesting comparison and, depending on your sporting proclivities, you may find it even more amazing than the Mahut Isner game.
Yiannis Kouros is holder of the 100m road record. According to the International Association of Ultradistance Runners, he ran the distance in 11 hours 46 minutes and 37 seconds which is about the time it takes to play a good game of tennis and take a shower!
Average speed 13.665kph
Total energy expenditure 10,000cal?

Ross Tucker and Jonathan Dugas said...

Hi Brooks

Interesting comparison!

The calories used would be very high. His mass would influence it quite a bit. The rule of thumb is 1kcal/kg/km.

I've seen pictures of Kourous, and he seems a really small guy, mass of maybe 65kg?

So that would mean that his 100 mile journey would cost 10,465 kCal. If his mass were 60kg, then 9,660kCal. Interestingly, the speed he runs at doesn't affect the total energy use too much, only the rate.

An impressive effort, certainly. The top Tour de France riders will burn around 7,000 kcal per day in the high mountain stages, three or four days in a row, which is another remarkable feat.

I think any elite endurance performance is amazing. I still think the best endurance performance I've seen is Wanjiru's Beijing Olympic Marathon, just because of the conditions.

I guess the acid test in my view is how many other people could do it if they tried it? I dare say a good few tennis players would have made it to 70-68 if required (for example, Andy Murray and Nadal are certainly fitter than most tennis players). Not to detract from the efforts of Isner and Mahut, of course.

And I dare say a good few men could challenge that 11:46:37 (if the price was right, sadly!).

Nobody could run a 2:06:32 in those conditions though...

djconnel said...

As a non-tennis fan, I was puzzled by the scoring, that the previous sets appeared to have been scored only to 7 (without a 2-game lead) while the final set was played until a 2-game lead was established. That is in fact the rule at certain top-level tournaments (but none in the U.S.), as explained in Wikipedia.

Silly rules...

Lem said...

Hi, Ross.

I'd like to include eccentric forces on the rotator cuff (infraspinatus, teres minor) especially during serves, which you said characterized the last few games. These muscles were implicated in the review article by Kovacs (2006).

Great ideas as always. Thanks for the interesting reads.


Giovanni Ciriani said...

You mentioned DOMS (delayed onset of muscle soreness). There is some evidence that certain techniques are more effective than others to alleviate DOMS. Massage is certainly one, but there are others as well.