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The longest-match sequel falls flat at Wimbledon

- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 22, 2011

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND (AP) - Inevitably, the sequel didn't live up to the original. Not even close.

The replay of the longest match in tennis history turned out to be a ho-hum Part II, with John Isner beating Nicolas Mahut in straight sets in two hours in the first round at Wimbledon.

It was a far cry from the 2010 epic, in which Isner triumphed 70-68 in the fifth set of a marathon that lasted 11 hours, 5 minutes and stretched over three days.

"Nothing's going to live up to that match," the American said after winning Tuesday's contest 7-6 (4), 6-2, 7-6 (6). "It wasn't going to go that long."

On a day featuring Serena Williams' tears of joy after her long-awaited return to Grand Slam tennis and convincing wins by Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Isner and Mahut faced each other again on the grass of the All England Club where they made history last year.

But it was all straightforward and mainly one-sided this time. It finished after 2 hours, 3 minutes, with Mahut sailing a forehand long on the second match point. This match lasted 9 hours, 2 minutes and 149 games less than the original.

"Everything was different," Mahut said. "It's another year, another match, another tournament. It was difficult to play this match. We talked about last year during three days. That was not easy. But he handled (it) much better than I did."

Last year's match was played on Court 18, which now has a plaque commemorating the event. They played Tuesday on the new Court 3, which was half empty by the end of the match.

"I'm actually glad they put out here on this court," Isner said. "I don't know if they want to tarnish the legacy of Court 18 by playing a second time."

At the end, the two men _ who became close friends after last year's encounter _ shared a warm embrace at the net. Isner dominated play, breaking three times and finishing with 41 winners to only 10 unforced errors. Both men had eight aces.

"It wasn't easy, but obviously it was considerably quicker than the last time we played," Isner said. "I definitely wanted to finish it here and really glad I am because we were running out of daylight.

"It's a nice feeling I don't have to sleep on finishing this match."

Isner sympathized with the Frenchman, who seemed to be struggling with a knee problem.

"He has nothing to hang his head about at all," Isner said. "He fought just as hard today. Maybe he wasn't 100 percent. ... Really, it stinks for him that he's out now."

Isner, who lost in the second round last year to Thiemo de Bakker, said his goal is now to make it into the second week.

"I was more relieved last year to finally get it over with because what we did was remarkable, and you can't ever think something like that could happen," he said. "But I also knew after last year's match that I had no shot in the second round. That was kind of tough to swallow. This year I'm happy to get through this one."

Mahut was philosophical about how things turned out.

"What we did last year, it's much more than a tennis match," he said. "I'm very proud of it. But this is from last year. Today I just lost the match in three sets. It's a different story."

With showers in the forecast, Wednesday's schedule features five-time champion Venus Williams playing on Centre Court in the second round against 40-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm, followed by defending men's champion Rafael Nadal against Ryan Sweeting. Among other top names scheduled to play are Andy Murray, Andy Roddick and Juan Martin del Potro.

Few matches are likely to inspire the type of emotion that overtook Serena Williams after her 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 first-round win on Centre Court over Aravane Rezai.

The four-time champion, returning to the main stage after missing nearly a year with serious health problems, broke into tears within seconds of ending the match with an ace.

"It definitely was so emotional for me because throughout the last 12 months, I've been through a lot of things that's not normal, things you guys don't even know about," she said. "It's just been a long, arduous road. To stand up still is pretty awesome."

Williams, who underwent two foot operations and was hospitalized with blood clots in her lungs, played her first competitive matches since last year's Wimbledon at the grass-court tuneup in Eastbourne last week.

"It's been a disaster year, but I've been praying," Williams said. "To be able to come back at Wimbledon is pretty awesome. I didn't expect to play. And I didn't expect to even do anything. So I'm just excited. I've never cried with joy for anything.

"For me it wasn't about winning the match," she said. "It was about being out there. ... It just really goes to show if you don't give up, you still have a chance. I guess I proved that I could, that I could. I think that sums it up: I could."

Rezai was impressed by Williams' play and touched by her outpouring.

"It shows she's not a machine, she's a human being," Rezai said.

Federer began his chase for a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon championship by beating Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-2. The third-seeded Swiss won 29 of 31 of his points on serve in the first set and lost just 12 points on serve for the match.

Just as imposing was second-seeded Djokovic, playing for the first time since his 43-match winning streak was stopped by Federer at the French Open. He dropped just 11 points on serve as he beat Jeremy Chardy of France, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1.

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