World records are usually reserved for talk around the pool and the track at Olympic Games but on Monday Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga set his own on Wimbledon’s No.1 Court with an epic 6-3, 2-6, 25-23 triumph over Canadian Milos Raonic.
Lasting two minutes shy of four hours it was the longest tennis match in Games history and the marathon 48-game decider alone equalled the previous record for total number of games in an Olympic match, set when Fernando Gonzalez beat Taylor Dent 6-4, 2-6, 16-14 for the bronze medal in Athens eight years ago.
“At the end I was just very happy for my country. I did it for them, and that's it. When I arrive on the court, I forget myself, and I try to play for the others," Tsonga said. “It was not easy because I have to finish on his serve, and this guy have a big serve, so it was not easy. I had many possibilities and I didn't took it. He played better than me on these points. Finally I did it, so I'm really happy."
For Raonic, the inevitable "what-ifs" were circling his mind moments after the dramatic finish.
"I was a little bit disappointed with the way I started the first three games, but after I felt like I was playing the better tennis for most of the match until probably really late in the third set," he said. "Then he was sort of creeping past me. I created a lot of opportunities for myself, so it was a little bit unfortunate I didn't make the most of them. There's a lot of good things to take, there's a lot of learning things to take from this."
Well aware the game could hinge on a single break of serve should the match reach a third set, it was the Canadian with the monster first delivery who started more nervously, dropping his opening service game to hand Tsonga a crucial gift.
Serving at 4-2 the Frenchman survived two break points – one, an attempted backhand pass from Raonic narrowly missing the net cord.
He would go on to close out the set with a love game, 6-3 after 29 minutes, but the towering 6ft 5ins Canadian was now in the groove on serve and piled the pressure on early in the second set.
Ripping a backhand to the feet of a stranded Tsonga at net, Raonic brought up a break point and converted when the Frenchman’s forehand sailed wide for 2-0.
It was the only invitation he would need, going on to serve out the set with a love game; an ace down the T levelling the match at a set apiece.
When rain caused a lengthy delay at 2-1 in the decider, a backlog in the schedule again looked likely.
As it turned out the weather proved only a fraction of the hold-up for the remaining matches due on No.1 Court.
With play resuming and both players consistently sending down first deliveries well above the 200km/h mark, games continued on serve; Raonic particularly dominant, holding a string of service games to love.
At 15-16, with Tsonga having made gradual inroads on his opponent’s booming serve, match point was seen and gone in a flash; Raonic staying alive with an ace.
At 20-21, he saved another with an ace.
For 19 games, the Canadian had held serve to stay in the match but at 23-24, he finally slipped up.
Falling behind 0-40, Raonic saved match point number three before the Frenchman clinched the marathon with a drop volley winner; the third set alone taking three hours to decide.