Nicolas Mahut: "I love being able to relive the experience through these objects"

April 30, 2024

Now 42, the professional tennis player is exhibiting one of the rackets used in the longest match in history, played at Wimbledon in 2010, as part of the "Légendes Mondiales du Sport" exhibition at Samaritaine. An opportunity to share some emotionally-charged memories.

How did you start out in tennis, and at what point did you realize you'd make a career out of it?

I started playing tennis because my family did. It was what we did on Sundays, at the club in Angers, where I grew up. I gradually got better and was lucky enough to quickly be among the best in my category. I continued to progress until the age of around 16 to 18, when I moved to Paris. When things got a little more serious, I told myself I had what it took to go pro! Even if I didn't really know what that meant, I knew I wanted to play tennis all the time. My passion became my job, and I'm very lucky.

What values have guided you since the start of your career?

For me, it's really important to be true to yourself. You can't hide or lie, and you have to know how to challenge yourself. You can have a lot of successes as a sportsperson, but also a lot of failures. Defeat is part of the process of achieving great things. You have to be surrounded by the right people, never lose sight of the ultimate goal... And be ambitious!

And what do you think makes a great player?

Inevitably, a great player has something that sets them apart. I've always drawn inspiration from Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, because I was fortunate enough to play at the same time as them and to watch them. Every time they played, they strived to improve even though they were already winning Grand Slams. It's all about trying to be the best version of yourself, physically, mentally, in terms of diet... They push performance to the extreme.

Your name is still associated with the record for the longest match, at Wimbledon in 2010, against John Isner. 11 hours and five minutes! What are your memories of that time?

At the time, it was a very painful defeat. There was a disconnect between what people had experienced as sports fans—a timeless performance—and my feeling of defeat. It was a very special match that I absolutely wanted to win for a variety of reasons. I'd managed to surpass myself, to unlock certain barriers within myself, so I was convinced I was going to win it. When I lost, it was hard to accept, especially given the euphoria surrounding the match. But in the end, pride got the better of me. It taught me a lot—how to stay focused for hours on end, how to go beyond my limits—as it was after that match that I achieved the best results of my career.

One of the rackets used during this match is on display here. What is your relationship with competition-related items, and this one in particular?

I know that this match will remain etched in tennis history, but I like being able to relive these moments through these objects, in this case, this racket. I don't know if it's the racket that hit the match ball, but it's the one with which I participated!

What emotions do you feel when you see it?

It takes me right back to the game! Around 14 years have passed, but when I think back, it's not memories that come back to me, it's emotions. What I felt on the court before, and after. This match lasted three days, and entering on the third day was the most intense feeling I've ever had on court. Usually, at Wimbledon, you come out of the locker room and are escorted by one or two members of security. On this third day, we were escorted by a guard of honor, made up of about 10 or 12 people! When I see this object, when I think back to that match, it's one of the first emotions that comes to mind.

What do you think of the "Les Légendes Mondiales du Sport" exhibition at Samaritaine?

I'm a sports fan in general, and I think it's fantastic to be able to relive moments in sports history through these objects on display. I'm proud to be exhibited alongside legends! It's really something special; there's no other exhibition that brings together so many valuable sports-related items. And we're paying tribute to athletes in a legendary place.

What's your favorite everyday style these days?

I spend most of my time in shorts and sportswear! It's been my daily routine for 30 years, and it's probably what suits me best. I also like going out to dinner with friends and dressing up a little bit differently, but sports gear is what I wear the most.

This summer's campaign at Samaritaine celebrates everyday athletes. What's the sportiest thing you do in your daily life?

Still tennis! And the older I get, the more I have to take care, especially when it comes to resting. I don't play as much as I used to, but there's physical training. A large part of my day is devoted to staying as fit as I can!