During one point in the second set, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic pinged the ball back to each other an eye-watering 54 times.
As it fizzed over the net repeatedly, the crowd began to realise they were watching something special. Rallies of that length have long been an endangered species at the top of the men’s game. This was a magnificent revival of a seemingly forgotten art.
Fans of tennis rallies would have enjoyed last night’s World Cup qualifier in Kiev, then. Though they may have been the only ones.
Time and again the ball was knocked from one side to the other. The team in yellow would have possession for a couple of passes, then relinquish it to the team in red, who would hold the ball for a moment before politely allowing their opponent another chance to touch it.
There was just one drawback in the spectacle. While hammering the ball back at your rival is the very point of tennis, in football the success of teams like Spain and Holland suggests that it is best to starve your opponent of any hint of possession. Which was a concept apparently way beyond the capability of either side last night.
While no-one could be particularly surprised at England’s hapless inability to keep the ball, watching Ukraine was a singular misery. Weren’t this lot supposed to be good? Weren’t they talked up before the game as if they were some sort of footballing giant, a horrible obstacle in the way of England’s progress?
As it turned out they were about as ruthless and effective as Summertown Stars under 13s. And the truth is, any side with any pretension to be a leading footballing nation should have dispatched this lot without a second thought.
First, the positives. Albeit that he was up against a bunch who would struggle to make the reserves at Peterborough, Gary Cahill had a very good game. Strong, assured, comfortable and disinclined to panic he looked a proper international centre-back.
Let’s issue a collective sigh of relief, too, that England remain at the top of the group and that their further progress remains in their hands. At this stage of the qualification process results are all that matter and, while they could, should, ought to have got a better one, at least England didn’t lose. That is something.
Yet watching one of the least entertaining ninety minutes of live sport I can remember, you were nonetheless left wondering why it was like that. Sure, we know all the problems England face in terms of diminished pools of talent, of lack of alternatives, of dwindling resources.
But the fact is Ukraine were woeful. They should have been taken apart. Sure, key personnel was absent, but there was enough talent in that England side to do better than that. The Three Lions, though, seemed sucked down to their hosts’ level. Instead of imposing their own skills on the game, they sank into the morass of kick and hope.
This question has not been resolved over the long years of watching England toil: what is it about wearing the shirt that makes otherwise excellent players shrink? There were three members of the England team last night good enough to have won the Champions League. Which was three more than were selected by Ukraine.
So how come they played like they were in the Championship? Frank Lampard was earning his 100th cap. He is a man of huge footballing intelligence and great experience.
When he plays for Chelsea he is precise, accurate and absolutely instinctively understands the need to retain possession at all costs. For most of his career he has treated the ball as if it were a personal friend.
And what was it that turned Jack Wilshire, a player of immense skill and resolve, a player capable of dictating the tempo of a game, into a nervy ingénue, falling over as he lost the ball with the frequency of a third-rate Bambi impressionist?
This is the player we routinely cite as the one glittering hope we have for a more enlightened footballing future. Yet against opponents far less accomplished than those he routinely betters in the Premier and Champions League, he could not find any rhythm or purpose. What is going on?
It is not the manager, because whatever Roy Hodgson’s critics might suggest about his caution and indecision, things were no better under a serial winner like Fabio Capello.
As a performance, last night was almost identical to that draw with Algeria in Cape Town in 2010, which anyone who saw it will acknowledge did not qualify as a lot of fun.
It is a conundrum which has perplexed far better qualified judges than this one (Capello, for one, was driven to distraction by the disconnect between club and international form of England’s players). Maybe it is unsolvable. Maybe we shouldn’t worry given that progress to next summer in Brazil remains on course.
But still, watching them labour so unproductively in Kiev makes you wonder: does it really have to be like this?