The Rundown

The Top 10 sporting epics

The Rundown

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Novak Djokovic with his Australian Open trophy

Everybody is talking tennis at the moment after watching the incredible Australian Open final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal that lasted just under six hours.

The match was the longest Grand Slam final in history and it sparked our interest into what other epic contests there have been in other sports.

So find below our top 10 sporting epics, starting with a tennis tussle whose length dwarfs even the five hours 53 minutes it took Djokovic to take care of Nadal.

Tennis: The Mahut-Isner match at Wimbledon in 2010

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut grabbed the attention of even the most casual tennis fan when their epic first round match in the men's singles in 2010 finished 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-6 70-68 to Isner.

The match began at just after six o'clock on Tuesday evening, with play continuing for almost three hours before being suspended due to bad light. The players resumed at 2pm the next day, and played right through until ten past nine in the evening when it

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John Isner and Nicolas Mahut

was suspended once again at 59 games all in the fifth set, with the conclusion taking place on the Thursday with a final one hour and five minutes of play before the American won thanks to a forehand right on the line followed by a backhand passing shot.

The match broke every endurance record in the sport: the longest match (11 hours five minutes), the greatest number of games (183), the greatest number of aces in a match (216) and the longest set ever played (eight hours 11 minutes). That fifth set alone would have been the longest match in tennis history all on its own.

Golf: The 1931 US Open that went on for 144 holes

When amateur golfer Charles von Elm hammered in a birdie putt to force a play-off with Billy Burke for the 1931 US Open at Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio, he had no idea what he was letting himself - and the crowd - in for.

Having already played the final two rounds of regulation competition on Sunday alongside Burke, the two returned on Monday morning for the play-off - which, at the time, meant a 36-hole strokeplay match between the tied players.

Burke looked set to finish things up on the Monday night, but for the second consecutive day Von Elm canned a birdie on the final green - thereby triggering another 36-hole play-off on the Tuesday.

With both players exhausted and staggering around the course like a pair of punch-drunk brawlers, Von Elm finally looked to have blown it when he missed a two-foot tap-in on the 16th hole of the afternoon round to go two shots behind.

But Burke dropped a shot to see his lead cut to one, and then Von Elm's approach to the last gave him a decent chance at a birdie to force yet another 36 holes. To the immense relief of all - probably including Von Elm himself - the ball came up just short, and Burke was the winner with a score of 589 to 590 over the 144 holes.

Thankfully, the USGA changed the rules on play-offs just a few months later to the current format: 18 holes followed by sudden death.

Cricket: The longest Test match, South Africa v England in 1939

Back before the influence of TV demanded the limiting of sporting uncertainty, it was not uncommon for Test (and even occasionally first class) cricket matches to be played on an unlimited time basis.

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Len Hutton

England's Test match against the South Africans in Durban was such a match. The last game of the series started badly for the tourists as their first innings reply to South Africa's 530 left them 214 runs behind, with the hosts setting them an improbable 695 to win.

Amazingly, England seemed equal to the task, despite the early loss of star player Len Hutton (pictured): they kept plugging away, eventually reaching 654-5 at the end of the 10th day of scheduled play.

Sadly, that day was March 14 - and the English team's boat back home left on the 15th. England needed just 42 more runs to win, but with no hope of another boat home for some time the two sides agreed to a draw that left the tourists as 1-0 series winners.

Baseball: The Pawtucket Red Sox and Rochester Red Wings play for 33 innings in 1981

As the ninth and final inning of the Minor League clash in Pawtuckt, Rhode Island came to an end it seemed that the Red Wings were about to win - that is until Russ Laribee drove in a run for Chico Walker at the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings.

It didn't quite work out that way. Nothing could separate the teams right up until 4:07am the next day - Easter Sunday - when somebody got the league commissioner on the phone to get permission to halt the match in the 32nd inning.

The game had almost finished in the 21st inning until Pawtucket's Wade Boggs drove in a run to tie the match once again, prompting the player to admit that, "I didn't know if the guys on the team wanted to hug me or slug me".

The players eventually returned over two months later - the next time the Red Wings were in town - when the game was finished off in the space of a single innings as Dave Koza drove in a winning run after just 18 minutes.

Boxing: Andy Bowen and Jack Burke go 111 rounds in New Orleans in 1893

In the bareknuckle era boxing matches always continued to a knockout - and on April 6, 1893, seven hours 19 minutes of fighting could not separate Jack Burke and Andy Bower.

Burke (pictured) had broken every single bone in both of his hands but still refused to give up, with

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'Old School' fighter Jack Burke

the encounter only being stopped and declared a no-contest by referee John Duffy when both boxers were too dazed and exhausted even to come out of their corners for the 112th round.

Such was the brutal nature of the fight that Burke never fought again and Bowen died in the ring in his very next fight after being knocked out in the 18th round.

Football: 44 penalties taken in Argentine penalty shoot-out in 1989

Back in the late 1980s the Argentine league instituted a rule that came into force at the end of any drawn match, whereby the two teams would hold a penalty shootout to be allocated one extra point.

But when Racing Club drew 2-2 at Argentinos Juniors in November 1989 nobody had any idea what was about to happen: the resulting penalty shoot-out saw 44 spot kicks taken before Argentinos finally won 20-19.

Rugby: Leicester beat Cardiff Blues in a penalty shoot-out

Penalty shoot-outs in football are one thing, since every professional footballer knows how to kick a ball. But the decision to introduce penalty shoot-outs into Heineken Cup rugby only slipped through the net due to the relative rarity of draws in top-level rugby.

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Jordan Crane

That all came to an end in spectacularly embarrassing fashion in May 2009 when Leicester drew 26-26 with Cardiff Blues after extra-time in their Heineken Cup semi-final.

That brought the spectre of a shoot-out, with each player expected to land a place kick from the 22m line in front of the posts. The first few kicks passed without incident until Johnny Murphy pulled Leicester's fourth kick to the left, but Tom James then missed for Cardiff to the right.

Eventually, Welsh star Martyn Williams missed the eighth kick for the Blues to allow Leicester's Jordan Crane (a decent footballer as a youngster) to pop the ball through the posts and put the Tigers into European rugby's showcase final.

Sadly, Crane's successful kick also robbed expectant neutrals of the chance to see ungainly props attempting place kicks. You can't have it all.

Snooker: Cliff Thorburn v Terry Griffiths at the World Championship in 1983

The latest finish ever seen at the Crucible came in the second round match between the Canadian and the Welshman.

With the previous match having run on, Thorburn and 1979 champion Griffiths didn't even get onto the table until 8:55pm, with play continuing for almost seven hours until Thorburn ran out a 13-12 winner at 3:51am.

It was one of the most momentous matches in snooker's history: in the fourth frame Thorburn, who went on to win the title, recorded the first ever maximum break in the World Championships.

Formula One: Jenson Button wins the weather-hit Canadian Grand Prix in 2011

As soon as Jenson Button overtook Sebastian Vettel on the final lap to clinch an astonishing victory in Montreal, people were referring to the race as one of the greatest in the history of Formula One.

And though debate will continue to rage as to whether the epic encounter was the greatest

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Jenson Button wins in Canada

or not, there's no doubt that it was the longest: the chequered flag finally came down four hours four minutes 39.537 seconds after the race began.

F1 races are actually limited to two hours, but red flag delays don't count towards the tally - thus allowing the epic race to run its complete distance. The previous longest race in F1 was the Indy 500 in 1951, which took three hours 57 minutes 38.05 seconds.

Ice Hockey: The Montreal Maroons and Detroit Red Wings go six overtimes

In ice hockey, teams play three 20-minute periods and then if it is a tie at the end of a play-off game they continue to play until somebody scores a goal to decide the outcome.

In 1936, the Detroit Red Wings played the Montreal Maroons in the semi-final round of the Stanley Cup play-offs but it was very much a case of defences on top as the match finished in a 0-0 draw.

So it was left to the teams to play on and on and on looking for an elusive winner - and it was not until the sixth overtime that Detroit's Mud Bruneteau finally found the net. The match lasted a whopping 177 minutes, making it almost the length of three full matches.

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