A couple of weeks ago, Gael Monfils and Gilles Simon made the unorthodox decision of extending their warm-up into the first game of the match. Or somthing. At 40-40 in the opening game, they counterpunched each other into oblivion, needing sixty-one shots before Monfils finally sent a slice long to end the point.
If you haven’t seen it, or you suffer from insomnia, click the link here.
What might be most remarkable about the rally is that, when Monfils made his error, there was no sign of the point drawing to a close — it isn’t hard to imagine those two hitting another 61 shots like that. But even at 61, it’s an awfully long point.
So (asks the statistician) … how long was it? Rally length is not widely available for ATP matches. But thanks to IBM Pointstream, I do have rally length for each point on a Hawkeye court from the French Open. (I’ve played around a bit with those numbers.)
From the French Open, we have roughly 20,000 men’s points to look at, which doesn’t count double faults. About 35% of those points lasted only one stroke: an ace, a service winner, or an error of some sort on the return. Only 15% of the points went 8 strokes or longer, and fewer than 10% reached 10 strokes.
In the entire tournament, only 12 rallies hit the 30-shot mark–only halfway to the Simon/Monfils level. You won’t be surprised at most of the names involved in those dozen extreme points:
Mardy Fish Gilles Simon 38 Andy Murray Viktor Troicki 37 Gilles Simon Robin Soderling 36 David Ferrer Sergiy Stakhovsky 33 Andy Murray Viktor Troicki 33 David Ferrer Gael Monfils 33 Rafael Nadal Pablo Andujar 32 Tobias Kamke Viktor Troicki 31 David Ferrer Sergiy Stakhovsky 31 Rafael Nadal Andy Murray 31 Rafael Nadal Pablo Andujar 30 Andy Murray Viktor Troicki 30
Both Simon and Monfils make an appearance, with Ferrer, Murray, and Nadal showing up multiple times. What surprises me a bit are some of the guys who hung in there with the counterpunchers, especially Fish and Troicki.
In any event, 61 shots still stands out as a once-in-a-blue-moon accomplishment.
WTA rally length
Incidentally, you might suspect (as I did) that some WTA players would slug it out even longer. Again using Pointstream data from the Hawkeye courts at the French, it turns out that ladies only reached the 30-shot threshold twice. First, Marion Bartoli went to 33 against Olga Govortsova, and Na Li got to 32 shots against Silvia Soler-Espinosa. The tongue-tying Wozniacki-Wozniak matchup comes in third, with a 28-stroke rally.
While we’re at it, let’s check the Wimbledon data. Surprise, surprise–tied for the longest rally of the tournament is a 31-stroke exchange between Juan Martin del Potro and … Gilles Simon. In fact, that match featured four of the 20 longest rallies of the tournament.
Also notable is Novak Djokovic, who reached 31, 30, and 29 against Bernard Tomic, and 25 (twice) and 24 against Marcos Baghdatis.
The true oddity in the top ten is John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who somehow took a break from aces and errant groundstrokes to go 25-deep. It was the only point of the match that went longer than 12 shots.