Mathieu: I had doubts I would come back
Originally published on: 01/06/12 00:00
Beating John Isner is a mean feat these days. You need wrists of steel to return the first serve, a step-ladder on hand to climb up high enough to retrieve the second, and, of course, a whole lot of staying power once you get deep into that fifth set.
But two years after his good friend Nicolas Mahut failed in the mother of all matches at Wimbledon, French wild card Paul-Henri Mathieu succeeded, beating the American 6-7 6-4 7-4 3-6 18-16 in five hours and 41 minutes.
“I remember Mahut’s match so I just couldn’t believe it was over,” said Mathieu after winning the second longest match in French Open history yesterday. “It was tough. Every time I needed to concentrate and focus again on my serve, so when the match was over I had trouble realising it was really over.”
The 30-year-old Frenchman was playing just his seventh tour-level match since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for the whole of 2011. Last March, Mathieu had his lower leg surgically broken so that doctors could realign his shin bones to correct a knee problem and the former world No.12, who entered Roland Garros at No.261 in the world, admitted going the distance with Isner was easy compared to what he had been through.
“Sometimes I had doubts I would come back, I went through very tough moments,” he said. “And this was really hard, I mean, the path to the comeback. So for me today, even if I played for five hours, this was really easy.”
Mathieu, who has won just two matches in his last four ATP Tour events in Marseille, Casablanca, Monte Carlo and Estoril, was particularly delighted to have made a return to Philippe Chatrier last night.
"Playing like this on a big court like this is fantastic, especially after being injured,” he said. "This is why I fought and tried to come back. It's to have those moments again. Even if I had lost, I would have said it was a wonderful day on a beautiful court with the crowd with me.”
Though two of his four career titles have come on clay, Mathieu has never been beyond the fourth round of his home Grand Slam – or indeed any other major. He made the last sixteen at Roland Garros in 2002 and 2008 and will play either 20th seed Marcel Granollers or Malek Jaziri in an attempt to match his career-best effort.