PARIS -- A year ago in the second round, John Isner fell to French wild card Paul-Henri Mathieu in a bruising marathon. Isner lost 18-16 in the fifth set and the match set a Roland Garros record for most games (76) and was the second-longest in duration here in the Open era, at 5 hours, 41 minutes.
You might also remember a tense little 11-hour-5-minute match three years ago at Wimbledon, in which Isner prevailed over Nicolas Mahut in the fifth set 70-68.
We are happy to report that, on Friday, Isner edged fellow American Ryan Harrison in another gargantuan five-setter but that the more modest score was 5-7, 6-7 (7), 6-3, 6-1 -- and only 8-6 in the final frame. And the match required only 3 hours, 50 minutes.
Ultimately, Isner won because he kept moving forward, relentlessly. He pressured 21-year-old Harrison at 5-all in the third but failed to convert one of five break points. In Harrison's next service game, Isner wore him down again and watched him finally crack with a double fault.
Isner held for the victory, converting his second match point with a charging forehand volley, then bent over completely, looking quite spent. At 6-foot-9-plus, this is no easy thing. Isner had won three of four previous matches against Harrison, including the one played on clay last month in Houston on the way to the title there.
"That's very satisfying," Isner said. "But more so than that, just winning a five-set match is extremely satisfying, as I'd exited every Grand Slam last year in five sets, every single one. I played well in 2012, but that really was a tough pill to swallow for me. This one helps, and I really do think it will help me going forward."
After winning the first two sets -- and with Isner playing "sleepy" after three days off -- Harrison said he might have relaxed just a tad.
"Whenever you're up two sets like that in a three-out-of-five-set match and you're starting to get momentum on your side and the guy breaks a racket first game of the third set and you're starting to feel like you're on top, it's not a time to hit cruise control," he said. "It's a time that you hit the gas pedal and try to bury them.
"I might have just gotten a little too relaxed on my service games. So I guess that was the mistake there."
Now 28-year-old Isner has advanced to the third round for the second time in his career. For what it's worth, he reached 4-0 against fellow Americans in Grand Slams.
"I enjoy the fact that some people think that myself and a lot of Americans can't really play on this surface," Isner said, "but it's the surface that I like. It gives me a lot of time. I'm going to hold serve, and then it just gives me more time. I'm a big guy; I need that time to hit the ball big."
Isner next plays 35-year-old Tommy Haas, who …
Put a Sock in it
There was a moment, however fleeting, when it looked as if 20-year-old Jack Sock might have the measure of Haas.
It was 3-all in a first-set tiebreaker, and Sock was working the ball all over the place. Drop shot, lob, drop shot -- and, somehow, Haas got to all of them. When he flicked a forehand cross court that hit the line, Haas was in control of that first frame; he then won the last four points of the tiebreaker.
So 35-year-old Haas defeated Sock in their second-round match, 7-6 (3), 6-2, 7-5, leaving seven Americans (two men, five women) ultimately reaching the third round, still the best total in a decade.
The German, for the record, is the first man over 35 to reach the third round since Jonas Bjorkman in 2007.
"I don't know what to do yet, I guess, besides playing tennis," Haas said. "But no joke, I enjoy it. I have had a lot of injuries, and I felt like the last thing I want to do is retire because of an injury. I'd like to do that on my own terms, if possible. When you play tournaments like this and you play on nice little courts or stadiums and you have, you know, fans watching you play, I mean, you want to ride that wave as long as you can."
Said Harrison, who often practices with Haas: "He moves well; he's in great shape, hits the ball well. If you're a random spectator, you would not guess that he's 35."
Serena Williams continued her searing run through the tournament, strafing Sorana Cirstea, 6-0, 6-2, to advance to the fourth round.
Williams, who lost in the first round here a year ago, has lost only six games in six sets. U.S. Davis Cup captain Jim Courier, working on the ITV broadcast, said playing Serena was like "facing the guillotine."
She has won 27 consecutive matches, the most among WTA players in five years.
"I actually don't think about it," Serena said afterward. "And after every match, I'm reminded. And, ironically enough, I forget about it as soon as it's done. I don't think it's about a winning streak. I think it's about winning important matches and winning the right matches at the right time."
No contest for Federer
But, somehow, Benneteau had managed to win two of their previous six matches coming into Friday's third-round match. The most recent: a 6-3, 75 stunner back in February in Rotterdam.
That might have been in the back of Federer's mind when he dismantled Benneteau, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5. Sure, Benneteau executed a fabulous behind-the-back volley -- and won the point -- but Federer advanced to the fourth round.
Benneteau was playing with a leg injury that limited his effectiveness.
"He was clearly handicapped with the leg, which I was able to take advantage of," Federer said. "So I kind of knew I had always some cushion in there. It wasn't that test, I guess, I was expecting today."
Perhaps that test will come Sunday, when he'll play Gilles Simon …
There are only two spots that separate their ATP World Tour rankings, but Gilles Simon has a vastly better record on clay than Sam Querrey. Still, the No. 18-seeded American battled the Frenchman for nearly three hours before losing 2-6, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (2), 6-2. No. 15 seed Simon equaled his best result at Roland Garros by advancing to the fourth round. Querrey, too, had his career-best appearance.
No repeat for Lepchenko
Varvara Lepchenko had a decent look at a return to the fourth round but fell to No. 8 seed Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-4. Lepchenko was serving at 3-all in the third set when she sprayed a forehand wide and gave Kerber the critical break.
Lepchenko, the No. 29 seed, is 1-14 against top-10 players. She was one of five U.S. women to reach the third round, the most at Roland Garros since 2004. Sloane Stephens, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jamie Hampton play Saturday.