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Marathon Wimbledon match foes meet again

| Saturday, June 18, 2011

WIMBLEDON, England — The longest-match rematch is coming to Wimbledon: John Isner and Nicolas Mahut will play each other in the first round.

Last year, the pair played the longest match in tennis history, with Isner winning, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68, in a first-round match at the All England Club that lasted 11 hours, 5 minutes stretched over three days. A gasp followed the announcement at Friday's draw, followed by laughter.

"It's going to be pretty nuts," Isner said Friday. "I couldn't believe it. I joked with him earlier in the week, last week, and said, 'Watch us play each other.' And he said, 'No, there's no way. That's not even funny."'

The two players have become good friends since their historic encounter a year ago. They were to practice together today but canceled those plans once they learned the rematch was on.

"We might do dinner (afterward)," Isner said. "We're really good friends now, but obviously we both want to win. But we're going to enjoy it and laugh at it at the same time."

Isner couldn't let go of the oddity, later tweeting a joke: "anyone seen the wimby draw• Who do I play?"

He was not the only one buzzing about this on Twitter.

"Isner vs mahut drawing each other in the first round after last year is the most amazing thing I've seen in tennis! Centre court anyone?!" fourth-seeded Andy Murray said.

The match last year was played on Court 18, and a plaque this year commemorates the epic contest. Isner said he didn't mind which court they played on.

"I don't care what they do," Isner said. "It's going to be crazy, they might put us on a bigger court, (or) put us back on that court (18)."

This year's match is to take place — or begin at least — Tuesday. Their first-round match was held over twice because of darkness last year. With rain forecast for the opening week of Wimbledon, there is a chance they could be delayed again.

Defending champion Rafael Nadal was drawn in the opposite half from six-time champion Roger Federer, meaning there is a chance of a fourth Wimbledon final between the two.

The top-seeded Nadal will start against Michael Russell of the United States in the opening match on Centre Court on Monday. Nadal could come up against the big-serving Milos Raonic in the third round and then 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the last 16. If the seedings hold, Nadal's quarterfinal could be a rematch of last year's final against Tomas Berdych.

Federer has second-seeded Novak Djokovic as his projected semifinal opponent. The third-seeded Swiss will face Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan in the first round, and could encounter former finalist David Nalbandian in the third round. Djokovic meets Jeremy Chardy of France in the first round.

Seventh-seeded Serena Williams and big sister Venus Williams, who turned 30 yesterday, are in opposite halves, setting up the possibility for a fifth sibling final at the All England Club.

The sisters have won nine of the past 11 Wimbledon finals. Serena, who has won four, is 3-1 against five-time champion Venus in the final.

Serena has played only two matches since winning the title last year after complications from a foot injury led to blood clots on her lungs. She returned in Eastbourne this week, losing a three-set match to Vera Zvonareva.

Zvonareva could meet Venus, who is seeded 22nd, in the fourth round at Wimbledon. Venus opens against Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan, while Serena takes on Aravane Rezai of France. Zvonareva plays Peters Township native Alison Riske, who is ranked 118th in the world and earned her spot based on that ranking.

As the defending champion, Serena's first-round match Tuesday will open play on Centre Court.

Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, the No. 1-ranked player looking for her first Grand Slam title, meets Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain in the first round. She could meet Serena in the semifinals.

French Open champion Li Na has a potentially tough second-round match. If she gets past Alla Kudryavtseva of Russia in the first round, she could face Sabine Lisicki, who won the Birmingham title on grass last week. Lisicki was awarded a wild card at Wimbledon after a long injury layoff.

Maria Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, will face Anna Chakvetadze of Russia in the opening round.

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