By Pritha Sarkar
PARIS (Reuters) - As the man who emerged victorious from "the endless match", John Isner should have known a thing or two about winning grand slam marathons.
Except that, on Thursday, the American simply did not possess the firepower or the energy to crawl over the finishing line as he came off second best in a 76-game, five hour 41 minute test of endurance against a Frenchman who was playing with a broken toe.
Paul Henri Mathieu's 6-7 6-4 6-4 3-6 18-16 victory not only left his feet black and blue but was even more remarkable as less than a year ago he did not know if he would ever play professional tennis again as he was hobbling around in a plaster cast after undergoing major reconstructive leg surgery.
"It stinks that I lost, but sleeping on a match like this isn't much fun," said a glum Isner.
If anyone knows the elation and adrenalin rush going through Mathieu's veins on Thursday, it will be Isner.
It was less than two years ago that he beat Nicolas Mahut in the longest ever tennis match in the first round at Wimbledon.
He won 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-6 70-68 for a total of 183 games. The match lasted 11 hours five minutes and the final set alone lasted eight hours 11 minutes.
That surreal freak show sent statisticians into overdrive and Thursday's match, although half as long timewise, secured its own place in tennis annals as it was a Roland Garros record in terms of games played.
Such landmarks failed to impress Isner.
"I am just going to go home, I don't want to think about tennis right now," he said.
There was a sense of deja vu about the showdown on Philippe Chatrier court.
Just as in Wimbledon, it pitted an American against a Frenchman, albeit one who had broken his toe nine days ago.
Just as in Wimbledon, there was a danger the match would not be completed in a single day with light fading fast over Roland Garros.
But there was one major difference.
At Wimbledon, Isner had the advantage of serving first throughout the fifth set.
In Paris, he was the one serving second in the fifth set and knew that with one slip up, there would be no second chances and he would be on that early flight home.
He held firm for his first 16 service games. In fact such was Isner's survival instinct, that Mathieu managed to convert only four of his 24 break point opportunities.
Crucially the last one was the one that counted.
After watching six match points come and go, a disbelieving Mathieu appeared to go into a trance as it dawned on him that Isner's forehand had sailed wide and victory was his.
"At the end of the match, I did not even believe I won the match. We played for more than five hours, and I thought it was not going to finish," said Mathieu, who held up his celebratory tipple during the news conference: a bottle of energy drink.
"I remember Mahut's match. So I just couldn't believe it was over," added the man who needed a wildcard to play in Paris after his ranking slumped to 261.
"Four days before this tournament, I broke a toe against a bench. After the match I have two bruises on two nails of my toes, because (they) hit the shoe for six hours. It's just a bruise. There are worse things than that."
(Editing by Clare Fallon)