American qualifier Michael Yani’s French Open debut lasted one match. It felt like about two or three.
Yani lost to Lukas Lacko of Slovakia 4-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 12-10 in a marathon that began Sunday and finished Monday, covering 4 hours, 56 minutes of playing time. The 71 games equal the most in a singles match at the tournament since tiebreakers were instituted in 1973.
“Ridiculous,” Yani said, cracking open a can of caffeine-rich soda. “I’ve never gotten to a fifth set before, so, I mean, that was pretty cool, I’m not going to lie—to go that deep into a fifth.”
He sighed, before adding: “I wish I could have closed it out.”
The 29-year-old player based in Durham, N.C., fell to 0-7 in tour-level matches for his career. He had his chances this time, with three match points in the fifth set: two Sunday at 6-5, then one Monday at 10-9. Lacko also wasted his own opportunities along the way, with four match points way back in the fourth set.
“I knew I would have (more) chances,” Lacko said. “It was a question of time.”
Well, quite a long time.
Three other men’s singles matches at Roland Garros also lasted 71 games. The overall record is the 83 games played in a match in 1957.
When a contest lasts that long, Yani explained, “You don’t really know what’s going on out there. You’re just sort of going through the motions, and let instinct take over.”
Play was suspended Sunday night because of darkness, with the score 8-8 in the fifth set.
“I thought it was going to be difficult, and I thought I was going to be a little nervous, have a hard time going to sleep and waking up,” Yani said. “But I was so tired last night, I just passed out. I hit the bed, and—boom!— gone. And I woke up, and I was so tired and so sore.”
When they resumed Monday afternoon, the score progressed to 10-10, when Lacko (pronounced LECH-ko) broke Yani’s serve for the only time the entire match.
Yani actually had managed to break Lacko’s serve in the very first game— and then never again. Lacko saved the last 13 break points he faced.
“I definitely thought about that along the way,” Yani said. “I kept looking at the scoreboard … and I’m sitting there, going, ‘How are we both not getting broken at all?’ He served unbelievably well on the break points. I felt like every time I had one, he popped in a good first serve. So, credit to him.”
Neither the 151st-ranked Yani nor the 81st-ranked Lacko had played in the French Open’s main draw. Lacko’s reward for working the tennis equivalent of overtime? He will play 11th-seeded Mikhail Youzhny of Russia in the second round.
“I will be ready, for sure,” Lacko said, between bites of a chocolate bar.