At 4:33 am local time Sunday morning in Melbourne, Lleyton Hewitt outlasted Marcos Baghdatis 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6- 7(4), 6-3 in the latest recorded finish of a match in the history of tennis – soon to be documented in the book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS ( www.newchapterpressmedia.com) The previous latest finish of a match was at the 2007 Australian Open, when Italy’s Andreas Seppi defeated American Bobby Reynolds 6-1, 6-7 (4), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-3 at 3:34 am (play delayed during the day due to excessive heat, causing for the match to start at 11:45 pm local time).
The Hewit-Baghdatis match lasted 4:45 – just 14 minutes shy of the epic four hour, 59 minute Andy Roddick victory over Younes El Aynaoui, 6-5, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 4-6, 21-19 in the 2003 quarterfinals and 26 minutes shy of the five-hour, 11 minute third round match (an Aussie record for longest singles match) in 1991 where Boris Becker beat Omar Camporese, 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5), 0-6, 4-6, 14-12.
Hewitt lead 5-1 in the fourth set and held a match point at 5-2, before Baghdatis rallied.
The Hewitt-Baghdatis match began at 11:47 pm local time Saturday night – incorrectly reported on ESPN2 here in the United States as the latest ever start to a match at a major championship. There was a post-midnight start at the US Open back in 1987 when Gabriela Sabatini and Bev Bowes started their first round match just after midnight, following the four-hour plus epic between Boris Becker and Tim Wilkison (Becker winning 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2). Sabatini won the match 6-3, 6-3 in a match concluded at 1:30 am. Asked in the post-match press conference if she felt worried starting her match just after midnight, Sabatini said, “I wasn’t worried when I saw Beverly sleeping in the players’ lounge.”
In another late night match in 2006 in Tokyo, Benjamin Becker defeated Jiri Novak 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) in a round of 16 match that ended at 3:24 am (the third latest finish on record).
Said Bobby Reynolds, a former Vanderbilt University standout, of his 2007 late night finish, ”It felt like one of those late-nighters you have in college when you’ve got a paper to write and you need to drink a couple Cokes and get it done.”
Wrote Chris Clarey of The New York Times of the Reynolds-Seppi match, “Though tennis matches have certainly finished at that hour or later in some all-night, full-moon strain of the recreational game, there is no record of one having finished that late in a Grand Slam event or, for that matter, a regular tour event….The latest match at the United States Open was Mats Wilander’s victory against his fellow Swede Mikael Pernfors in the second round in 1993. That finished at 2:26 a.m., which still made the Swedes look like early birds in comparison.”
In that post-match press conference back in Flushing Meadows in 1993, Wilander was asked if he had ever played so late. Wilander dead-panned, “Played what?”
The New York Times (the paper of record some say) documented the historic Wilander-Pernfors match. Quoting the Times, “It began at 10:26 P.M. as a contest between two old friends blasting backhands and forehands past one another from 10 feet behind the baseline….As the fourth set progressed in the wee hours of Saturday morning, everyone present knew they were witnessing something special….And by the end of Mats Wilander’s miraculous 3-hour-59-minute, come-from-behind 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 1-6, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory over his fellow Swede Mikael Pernfors in the second round of the United States Open, the thousand or so die-hard fans scattered about Stadium Court were on their feet, applauding one of the best Open matches in recent memory.” (For the record, the official scorecard of the match, recorded the end time of the match at 2:26 am – all exact times of matches and times of day/night when matches start and finish are only official when taken from the scorecard, as with reports from the Hewitt-Baghdatis match, which need to be 100 percent officially confirmed).In 2002 at the US Open, Younes El Aynaoui and Wayne Ferreira finished a round of 16 men’s match on Court No. 4 at 2:14 am – the Moroccan winning 3-6, 7-5, 7-5, 7-6 (3) in the second-latest finish at the US Open. Back in my USTA days, when I presented Younes with the information that he and Wayne were 13 minutes shy of US Open history, Younes laughed and said that he and Wayne should have agreed to go five sets to break the record.
Another late one came at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, when Nicolas Massu and Fernando Gonzalez of Chile won the doubles gold medal in a four-hour and 43-minute final-round 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4 win over Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schuettler of Germany that concluded at 2:51 am local time in Greece. Even more remarkable, is that Massu turned around the next night and beat Mardy Fish 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the gold medal singles match.
Said Massu, “I didn’t sleep (after the doubles match). I sleep like four hours yesterday (actually the same day!), and I play a long match. I go to the bed like 6:30 a.m., because I arrive to the village at 4:35, then I eat, I get a massage, and then I wake up today at 12. I didn’t sleep like normal.”
Hewitt can use Massu as some inspiration as he next has to play No. 3 seed Novak Djokovic in the fourth round – probably scheduled for Monday night Melbourne time.