PARIS — US hopes at the French Open were extinguished on Thursday as marathon man John Isner was once again involved in an epic duel, the fourth longest in Grand Slam history, which this time he lost.
The giant Isner found himself as the last American standing out of eight starters after qualifier Jesse Levine had earlier gone down 6-4, 7-5, 6-2 to Milos Raonic of Canada.
But after what turned out to be, at five hours 41 minutes, the second longest match in French Open history, as well as the fourth longest in all Grand Slams, Isner lost 6-7 (2/7), 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16 to French wildcard Paul-Henri Mathieu.
Mathieu finally entered the third round by converting his seventh match point, Isner hitting a forehand wide. The American hit 41 aces but also had 98 unforced errors.
Ironically it was against another Frenchman, Nicolas Mahut, that Isner played the longest match in history at Wimbledon in 2010 when he took 11 hours and five minutes, spread over three days, to win 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7/9), 7-6 (7/3), 70-68.
In earlier action Andy Murray and defending champion Rafael Nadal both reached the third round, but their manner of going through could not have been more different.
The British fourth seed defeated Jarkko Nieminen 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2, but he had looked down and out in the first few games of the match as he struggled to shake off back spasms and pain in his left leg.
In stark contrast Nadal took his Roland Garros match record to 47-1 with a straightforward 6-2, 6-2, 6-0 win over Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan.
Elsewhere, fifth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga completed a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 win over German qualifier Cedrik-Marcel Stebe in a match interrupted by rain late Wednesday, while sixth seed David Ferrer of Spain coasted past Benoit Paire of France 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.
Grimacing in pain and clutching his back and legs, Murray needed medical treatment three times in quick succession as grim-faced coach Ivan Lendl looked on.
But at a set and 4-2 down, Murray suddenly found a new lease of life and a run of seven games in a row in his favour gave him command.
The strained look on his face at the end when Nieminen hit long on match point, however, bore testimony to the concern that he must have for his chances of making it six straight semifinal appearances at Grand Slam tournaments.
“It was fine yesterday, went to bed and woke this morning and couldn’t put weight on my left leg,” Murray said of his injury woes.