Last year, Isner and Mahut played each other in the first round of Wimbledon. That match lasted 11 hours and five minutes with a total of 183 games. That’s a lot of time, considering even the most most grueling games barely break five hours.
In fact, it’s near impossible to play that many games in a single match. Most tournaments institute a tie-break when both players have each won six games in a set. However, Wimbledon foregoes this custom in the final set, requiring players to win by two games. This results in scores like 8 to 6, or 14 to 12. The final score was Isner 70, Mahut 68.
The marathon game, which lasted three days, didn’t just break tennis records (like most aces — 216 and longest set — 8 hours and 11 minutes), it also broke an Internet record. According to Akamai’s Net Usage Index, the match helped create the single highest news day based on total page views per minute.
At noon ET on June 24, 2010, Akamai registered 10,357,646 page views per minute. Some of that was due to a series of World Cup soccer games at the same time, according to Suzanne Johnson, Akamai’s director of marketing, media and entertainment. “I think it was a perfect storm, everything that’s ranking in the news index before this was a single event,” she says. Still, the day had nearly 4 million more views per minute than the second highest record day.
The World Cup appealed to a massive international audience. The tennis match, although initially attracting a much smaller audience, gained traction online as the score became stranger and stranger. The nature of the match — wherein either player could easily lose within the span of a couple minutes — prompted viewers to not only check the scores, but to refresh the page so they didn’t miss the crucial moment.
The time difference also meant that much of the North American audience was checking the game from work. “There’s always going to be more traffic when you factor in the time of day, when the opportunities to watch on television are not there,” Johnson says. She says she followed the match herself after a friend pinged her to tell her they were still playing.
Social media remains a huge factor. Word of mouth drives more traffic when the spectacle is more spectacular. A tennis match is skippable, but a once-in-a-lifetime, freak-of-nature marathon game? That’s tweetable. Indeed, many people did retweet those last moments. It’s a strategy more networks are adopting, Johnson says. They are driving people to rush online to catch the final tense moments of exciting events.
So is the Isner-Mahut rematch going to topple last year’s numbers? Probably not. The game is almost guaranteed to be anti-climactic — and without the World Cup, it won’t likely beat the Internet numbers either. But if I’m wrong, you can be sure we’ll all be hitting refresh.