Saturday, June 3

John Isner heavy metal game drums Andy Murray out of Wimbledon | Wimbledon 2022

Amid fevered scenes akin to a revivalist meeting, Andy Murray tried his damndest to conjure up one last famous late-night miracle on Center Court. But father time – and the crunching heavy metal tennis of John Isner – offered a brutal riposte.

The giant American crashed down an extraordinary 36 aces and 80 winners as he snuffed out Murray’s dogged challenge – and the urges of the Wimbledon crowd – to secure a 6-4, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 victory. In his 37 years, Isner has surely never played better tennis. He was a gunslinger who refused to miss.

“It’s no secret that I am not a better tennis player than Andy Murray, but I may have been a little bit better today,” Isner said to loud applause. “This was one of the biggest wins of my career.”

The American’s critics would say there is nothing particularly sophisticated about his game. But why reinvent the wheel when you possess a howitzer of a serve? And when it is backed up by a forehand that tears seven strips of nylon off the ball – and a deft touch at the net? Isner might be the tennis equivalent of a garage band who has mastered three chords. But he still confused Murray with his Blitzkrieg Bop.

But, as much it will pain the Wimbledon crowd that cheered him royally to the end, this was Murray offering a portrait of the artist as an older man. Still supremely talented, for sure. But a little slower and less bold. In a game of millimeters and microseconds, it made all the difference. His 35-year-old body of him was slightly late to those thundering serves, delivered on high by Isner’s 6ft 10in frame, and the numerous drop volleys that always seemed just out of reach.

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The match was not supposed to go like this. Beforehand, the bookies had made Murray, who had won all eight of his previous contests against Isner, a strong favourite. But those victories were all years ago, before Murray’s body broke down and his hip was resurfaced.

Given the supreme difficulty of breaking Isner’s serve it was vital that Murray made a fast start. Instead he was broken in the third game.

The Scot immediately had two chances to return the favour, only for Isner to save them – first with a deft volley and then a 128mph first serve. Incredibly, Murray did not get another opportunity to break in the entire match.

A run of service holds meant that Murray lost the first set 6-4, but it was not as if he was playing badly – ​​it was just that power was trumping precision.

The second set followed a similar pattern. Towards the end of it Murray briefly changed tactics – throwing in more drop shots and attempting to move Isner around the court more – and seemed to have half a chance when 30-15 up on Isner’s serve at 5-4. But then the American hit exquisite drop volleys on successive points, showing he had a nice touch for a big man, to hold the game and shortly afterwards he took the tie-break to leave Murray in deep trouble.

In the tie-break, Murray was on the back foot immediately as he lost the first three points and then found himself 5-2 down. But if he sensed a chance after pulling it back to 5-4, Isner retaliated with two 136mph serves to take the set.

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For two sets Isner had been unplayable. Not only was he getting 79% of first serves in – a staggering percentage given many were flying past Murray at 130mph-plus – but he was also winning 88% of his first serve points.

Murray’s best hope now was that Isner, at 37 and having played a five‑set match on Monday, might start feeling some lead in his legs. But there was no sign of it as the match continued on serve. “Come on Andy, he’s older than you!” cried one wag, but Isner serve proved as impenetrable as ever as the third set headed to another tie-break. This time it was Murray who made a fast start, rushing to a 3-0 lead. And with the crowd urging him on, he was able to capitalize by winning it 7-3.

By now the crowd were on their feet and punching the air. Murray couldn’t do it, could he? But for all the crowd wanted a miracle, Isner was not going to oblige. A break at 2-2 in the fourth set put the match on his racket and he held his nerve even after the stadium roof closed to secure a highly deserved victory.

John Isner serves for the match against Andy Murray Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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