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Enduring bromance of tennis' 'marathon men'

By Chris Murphy, CNN
March 11, 2013 -- Updated 1150 GMT (1950 HKT)
American John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will forever be bonded together by their singles clash at Wimbledon in 2010 which became the longest match in tennis history.
American John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will forever be bonded together by their singles clash at Wimbledon in 2010 which became the longest match in tennis history.
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The marathon men: An unlikely bromance
An emotional journey
Game, set and match
An unlikely bromance
Scores on the doors
'An absolute warrior'
A slice of history
A tall story
Team America
Serb and volley
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "Marathon men" John Isner and Nicolas Mahut have forged close friendship
  • Their first round match at Wimbledon in 2010 is the longest in tennis history
  • By the end of their 11-hour match they'd become famous the world over
  • Isner speaks regularly to Mahut who he calls one of the "classiest guys on tour"

Open Court is CNN's monthly tennis show. Click here for program times and latest features.

(CNN) -- You'd think John Isner and Nicolas Mahut would be sick of the sight of each other.

But from the ashes of their record-breaking marathon match at Wimbledon in 2010 -- officially the longest in tennis history -- an enduring "bromance" has blossomed.

It had to, after the pair walked on court for a low-key first-round match in the men's singles draw, limping off three days later after 11 hours of tennis, battered, bruised, fatigued, but lauded as heroes the world over.

Even if either should go on to win a glut of major titles in their respective careers, it is entirely possible they will still forever be known for "the marathon match."

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Far from resenting the attention their epic encounter brought them, the pair are firm friends; not surprising, given they are the only players on the planet to know just how much that eight-hour final set, which ended 70-68 in Isner's favour, can take from you.

"I'm actually really close with him," Isner told CNN's Open Court.

"Prior to that match, I knew him but it seemed in passing, I'd give him a head nod, nothing more than that but from that match, I've realized that he is one of the nicest, classiest guys on tour.

"He actually is a really good friend of mine. We keep in touch all the time so we developed a friendship from that match, obviously sharing a court for three days."

Isner is now officially the highest ranked American in the world following Andy Roddick's retirement, but try as he might to move on from the marathon match it is almost always top of the list when tennis fans approach him.

So what was it like to be involved in an episode that transfixed the world?

"Yeah, it was crazy. I don't think people will remember the fact that I won that match. I think it would be more the fact that we played it ... Nicolas Mahut, he was a warrior that day," Isner said.

"I do hear it all the time, it's something that's going to stick with me forever but I've feel like I've done some things out of that match. I've broken the top 10.

"I had a few marquee wins under my belt so I've done some good things to try to shed that label but it's up to me to keep doing more."

He is one of the nicest, classiest guys on tour. We keep in touch all the time
John Isner on Nicolas Mahut

Many expected a tight encounter, given the serving prowess of both players and Isner won that battle too, firing down 112 aces compared to Mahut's 103.

For a player who stands at 6 foot 9 inches, Isner's serve is undoubtedly the most powerful weapon in his armory. When it fires, few in the world can live with him, even in this golden age of Federer, Murray, Djokovic and Nadal.

He has five ATP Tour titles to his name, winning twice at the Newport and Winston-Salem events. Last weekend he competed at Indian Wells, where in 2012 he saw off world No. 1 Novak Djokovic before losing to Roger Federer in the final. On Saturday he was beaten in his opening match by Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt.

"If I can get that opportunity where I can play those guys ranked in the top five of the world, that's when I usually see myself raise my game," Isner explains.

"I like playing on those big stages and I think that's one of the main reasons why I beat Federer, I beat Djokovic and I almost beat Rafa at the French Open of all places. That's why you play this game -- to get a crack at those guys, try to take it to them.

"Outside of my serve, I think my forehand is my best shot," he added. "It's no secret. My game isn't rocket science. The more aggressive I am, the better my results are going to be.

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"I have to be really aggressive with my forehand. Something that I'm constantly working on. I need to return better. If I can do that, I'll see a lot more success but my serve is my weapon and that's something that I rely on all the time."

But while that towering frame benefits his imposing serve, it can also hinder his movement around the court. No surprise then, that Isner invests a huge amount of training time on improving his on-court coverage.

"I'm always trying to work on my weaknesses which in the main part is my movement. I can improve that aspect.," he said.

"If I can improve my movement just a little bit, my game will improve a lot so other than that, my height certainly helps me with my serve first and foremost but it's also a bit of a detriment when it comes to moving around the court."

"The game is pretty physical today where you see these guys running down balls. You can't hit a winner on some of these guys but for me, that's not the case."

Isner may have found it difficult to shake off the "marathon man" tag but there are some other things that have stuck with him by his own choosing -- like his love for wrestling.

The spectacle of World Wrestling Entertainment may not be to everyone's tastes but Isner and his friends still gather round to watch it every week.

"Although it is scripted, I do have great respect for these guys. A lot of guys make fun of me but these guys are actually putting their bodies on the line," he said.

"Growing up in North California, me and all my friends, it was pretty sad but our weeks revolved around a Monday night.

"Monday night wrestle would come on and we'd all huddle up and pay per views would come on and I'd get 10 of my friends to come over -- $5 each, so we could pay the $50 to watch the pay per view.

"It's something that I've always liked and I haven't grown out of it either. You know, at 27 at 6 ft 10 ins, I haven't grown out of that stage so for me, it's something I do to pass time on Monday nights."

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