It had to end, finally, 70-68 in the fifth, but for 11 hours and five minutes stretched over three days, John Isner and Nicolas Mahut took sport to its logical extreme — into a zone where the outside world, even the happenings on the adjacent courts at Wimbledon, ceased to exist.
Sport seldom leads that sort of separate existence. This was especially true in 2010, a year that will forever be associated with spot-fixing in cricket, corruption in high places in football and organisational shambles at the Commonwealth Games.
Sports fans must be eternally grateful, therefore, to Isner and Mahut. And, of course, to Spain, which achieved its maiden FIFA World Cup triumph by stubbornly sticking to its beliefs.
Nearly all of its opponents defended deep and in numbers. In the final, the Netherlands, once similarly staunch in its aesthetic beliefs, resorted to crude hacking.
But Spain didn't lose faith in its modus operandi. Receive, pass, offer. On and on till the openings came, often late in games.
There was no avalanche. One-nil was the scoreline in each of its knockout games, but that didn't tell half the story of the beauty and bravery of Spain's football.
Receive, pass, offer. The mantra is drilled into anyone who learns the game at La Masia, Barcelona's youth academy. Seven La Masia graduates were on the pitch during the World Cup final.
Three — Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi — form the three-man shortlist for the FIFA Ballon d'Or, the sport's biggest individual honour.
How the mighty fell
Elsewhere, the mighty fell soundly on their backsides. Wayne Rooney, who had only to turn up at matches to find the net prodigiously for club and country last year, endured a torrid 2010, scoring off the pitch but seldom on it.
He also starred in one of the most convoluted transfer tearjerkers of all time, at the end of which he remained a Manchester United player, with a fattened contract to boot.
Further demonstration that sportspersons live in fragile bubbles came from Tiger Woods. We wondered, at the start of the year, if the revelations of his infidelity and the subsequent cancellation, one by one, of endorsement deals that relied on his ‘image' would cause his cold-eyed stare down the fairway to falter. The answer, emphatically, was yes.
Australia, cricket's Tiger Woods for over a decade, fared no better. Failure to regain the Ashes from England was confirmation that the side has an arduous rebuilding phase ahead of it.
In tennis, the year began with a tearful Andy Murray confessing, at the Australian Open podium, that he could “cry like Roger (Federer). It's just a shame I can't play like him.”
It ended with Federer winning the World Tour Finals to cap a run of form that saw the Swiss genius, working with new coach Paul Annacone, rack up a 34-4 win-loss record after his quarterfinal defeat at Wimbledon.
In between, Rafael Nadal ruled supreme, regaining the number one ranking and winning three Slams on the trot, including a first ever U.S. Open crown to become the seventh player in history, and the youngest, to complete a Career Slam.
The women's game, as in recent seasons, contained two narratives — that of the Williams siblings and that of the rest. Serena, who won in Australia and Wimbledon, kept her non-Slam appearances to a minimum, allowing Caroline Wozniacki to become only the second year-end No. 1 without a Slam.
Sebastian Vettel became the youngest Formula One world champion, holding his nerve in a tense final race in Abu Dhabi to pip three other title contenders.
For India, 2010 demonstrated a still modest, but growing presence in world sport. Viswanathan Anand, despite braving a 30-hour bus ride thanks to Eyjafjallajokull, came back from a game down to win his fourth World Chess Championship.
The Commonwealth Games in Delhi produced a best-ever medal tally. The shooters, led by, Gagan Narang, were predictably prolific, but there were surprise successes as well, notably in women's wrestling and a 1-2-3 finish in the women's discus throw.
Somdev Devvarman won the tennis singles gold in Delhi, and carried that form to Guangzhou, where he picked up gold in both singles and doubles. India's 4x400m women's team also did the Commonwealth and Asian Games gold double.
Vijender Singh put behind a semifinal disappointment in front of his home crowd to win the middleweight boxing gold at Guangzhou, where he dismantled Uzbek World champion Abbos Atoev 7-0. Sushil Kumar created history in Moscow, becoming the first Indian to win gold at the World wrestling Championships.
Saina Nehwal won the CWG gold in the badminton singles, and more significantly bagged three Super Series titles, in Singapore, Indonesia and Hong Kong, on her way to reaching a career-high number two world ranking.
Further cheer came at the Wyndham Championships, where Arjun Atwal became the first Indian golfer to win a PGA Tour event.