My favourite story about last-year’s epic 11-hour, three-day tennis match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut concerns some of the spectators.
Played on Wimbledon’s humble outside court 18, the 700 seats for the contest between two unseeded players were, on day one, not hot tickets.
But by the final day of the contest, a famous tennis commentator was so keen to see the conclusion that he allegedly pulled the “Do you know who I am?” trick to nab a seat originally claimed by a long-queuing member of the public.
News that Isner and Mahut have drawn each other again, provoked a ripple of astonishment which spread far beyond the locker rooms. How could this match possibly live up to the 2010 one, which Isner clinched 70-68 in a deciding set which was four hours longer than the previous-longest tennis match in history?
I used the Brandwatch social media monitoring tool to measure reaction to news of the re-match and try and gain some Hawkeye-sharp insights into who might have more support.
From June 13 to June 16th the graph showing the number of mentions was as flat and level as the top of a tennis net, averaging about 100 mentions per day.
Then on Friday, June 17th, Wimbledon’s draw commitee, amid Masonic levels of secrecy, mysteriously paired the two together. This resulted in mentions of Isner suddenly bouncing as high as one of his kick serves – to 2,773. Mahut, as he always does, ran Isner close – garnering 2,700 mentions.
The sentiment relating to mentions of Isner were 12 per cent positive and five per cent negative (83 per cent were neutral).
Mahut’s sentiment was also five per cent negative but he just edged Isner as 13 per cent of his mentions were positive. It’s always nice to support an underdog – especially won who served 62 times to stay in the match before losing!
The mild nature of the negative statements posted about Mahut reveal the affection that tennis fans feel for both players. Ellen Sinclair tweeted: “Hope Isner wins as I have the biggest tennis crush ever on John Isner”. Ellen was keen to stress: “I have nothing against Mahut but really want Isner to be around Wimbledon for as long as possible”
Greg Rusedski’s assessment was a little more professional, the Canadian tweeted: “Just heard I might be doing Mahut v Isner. Say it isn’t so. That means I will only need to do one match from Tuesday.”
Overall, the reaction on Twitter was as quick as a blocked Agassi service return (Twitter produced about 86 per cent of the total response across social networking sites and news outlets).
Cooney 83 reflected many people’s opinions by saying: “Court 18 again, please put Layani as chair umpire too, but plan a couple of bathroom breaks this time.” Perhaps they could have the same spectators too?
Allballsallowed on wordpress.com worked out the odds of them being drawn together: “I can confirm it is 142.5/1.”
Exicanha Dancer, a top contributor on Yahoo Answers, posed a thought that many of us tennis cynics hadn’t dared say out loud: “I think Wimbledon is trying to fix the draws. They were probably going to put Serena vs Venus in the 3rd round (seeded 8 and 24) but Kim Clijsters had to withdraw.”
On June 18th, mentions of the two players plummeted like a drop shot to 799 but it is sure to be a different story on Tuesday, when the two friends and rivals step on court again.
So based on the social media monitoring, who will have the most support?
Overall, Mahut was mentioned 4,954 times, whereas Isner was mentioned 5,006 times.
But if you factor in the fact that Mahut has a name which is more difficult to spell and that Isner is higher-seeded and (apparently) scores more highly on the eye-candy scoreboard, the Frenchman could claim a pyrrhic victory.
But Mahut is unlikely to pay much heed to statistics. He actually won more points during the course of that historic match and still lost!