The Guardian's Xan Brooks began his live-blog of today's Wimbledon tennis tournament normally enough. He noted the day's players, the history of the event, and, of course, the weather. But at some point during his ten high-intensity hours of tennis blogging, Brooks appears to have snapped. Signs that something had gone terribly wrong first emerged during hour five of the live-blog, around 4 p.m. local time.
4.05pm: The Isner-Mahut battle is a bizarre mix of the gripping and the deadly dull. It's tennis's equivalent of Waiting For Godot, in which two lowly journeymen comedians are forced to remain on an outside court until hell freezes over and the sun falls from the sky. Isner and Mahut are dying a thousand deaths out there on Court 18 and yet nobody cares, because they're watching the football. So the players stand out on their baseline and belt aces past each-other in a fifth set that has already crawled past two hours. They are now tied at 18-games apiece.
On and on they go. Soon they will sprout beards and their hair will grow down their backs, and their tennis whites will yellow and then rot off their bodies. And still they will stand out there on Court 18, belting aces and listening as the umpire calls the score. Finally, I suppose, one of them will die.
Ooh, I can see the football out of the corner of my eye. England still 1-0 up!
Brooks kept his cool for the next hour, however, commenting on the matches at hand. But the interminable game was still getting to him.
5.05pm: ... On Court 18 it is very different. On Court 18 a match is not won and lost; it is just played out infinitely, deeper and deeper into a fifth and final set as the numbers rack up and the terrain turns uncharted. Under the feet of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, the grass is growing. Before long they will be playing in a jungle and when they sit down at the change of ends, a crocodile will come to menace them. They are poised at 25 games apiece in a deciding set that is now nudging three hours.
This, it seems, was the beginning Brooks' downward slide.
5.25pm: Isner and Mahut are currently level at 28 games apiece in what people are now telling me is the longest match in Wimbledon history. Over on Court 14, Thiemo De Bakker and Santiago Giraldo are locked at 14-14.
This suggests that the curse of Court 18 has started to infect the other courts too. What happens if they just keep going? What happens if, from here on in, every single match at Wimbledon heads into a decider and then decides to stay there, with neither player ever reaching an advantage; with the scoreline simply sailing off the map and into the wide blue yonder? Do the stewards lock the gates and make us stay? I've been chuckling over the nightmarish experience of Isner and Mahut, little realising that it has implications for the rest of us as well. We are all involved - going round and round, round and round. Wake me up when the scoreline goes into triple figures.
This is when Brooks first developed his fear of a "Zombie Pandemic," which he mentions without explanation in an otherwise straightforward post.
5.30pm: Phew, the Wimbledon Zombie Pandemic has been contained. Thiemo De Bakker comes through 16-14 in the final set of his match against Santiago Giraldo. He will now play (hysterical laughter) the winner of the match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. Needless to say, it's still going on: 30-30 in the final set
Brooks righted himself after this, giving almost a full hour of straight tennis commentary before snapping completely. Here are his darkest moments.
6.25pm: The scoreboard is barely visible through the grass and weeds and trails of Spanish moss. It shows that John Isner and Nicolas Mahut are locked at 37 games each in the final set.
I'm wondering if maybe an angel will come and set them free. Is this too much to ask? Just one slender angel, with white wings and a wise smile, to tell them that's it's all right, they have suffered enough and that they are now being recalled. The angel could hug them and kiss their brows and invite them to lay their rackets gently on the grass. And then they could all ascend to heaven together. John Isner, Nicolas Mahut and the kind angel that saved them....
6.48pm: The sun is sinking and the court is a blur. It is at this stage that Zombie Isner starts to look like Zombie Mahut and the Zombie Umpire stops croaking and starts to chirrup like a grasshopper. In other words, we're here but we're gone. Is anyone still alive up in the stands or have they now all been eaten? It's 40-40. And that's games, not points
Still no sign of that angel either, the one that swore blind that she would come down and spirit the players off to Disneyland Paris where they could ride the Thunder Mountain rollercoaster forever and ever amen. I'm now starting to wonder if she really exists....
7.20pm: And so this match goes on and on, on and on. Somewhere along the way, the players have mislaid their names. The man who was once Mahut is now a string-bag of offal. The man who was Isner is a parched piece of cow-hide. The surviving members of the audience don't seem to care who wins. They just cheer and applaud whoever looks likely to make a breakthrough and bring this nightmare to a close. Invariably they are disappointed.
8.20pm: Wow, is that really the time? I must go home; can't think what's kept me. Wa-ha-la-ha-la-ha-la!
Oh yes, just remembered. The tennis. The tennis. Out there on Court 18, our two white-clad derelicts dig deep into the reserve tanks and remember to run again. They move along the baseline, coaxing the ball back and forth, back and forth until Mahut falls over. Is he ever going to get up? Astonishingly, he does. At game point, he pushes Isner into his backhand corner, staggers in to the net and dinks a drop volley. It's 53-53....
8.40pm: It's 56 games all and darkness is falling. This, needless to say, is not a good development, because everybody knows that zombies like the dark. So far in this match they've been comparatively puny and manageable, only eating a few of the spectators in between bashing their serves.
But come night-fall the world is their oyster. They will play on, play on, right through until dawn. Perhaps they will even leave the court during the change-overs to munch on other people. Has Roger Federer left the grounds? Perhaps they will munch on him, hounding him down as he runs for his car, disembowelling him in the parking lot and leaving Wimbledon without its reigning champion. Maybe they will even eat the trophy too.
Growing darker, darker all the while.