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Lucasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo clinch Wimbledon men’s doubles final epic

For more than four and a half hours they threw everything at each other. The Wimbledon men’s doubles final was not always pretty but it was never less than scintillating and utterly, to the end, unpickable who would endure. Eventually Lucasz Kubot of Poland and Brazil’s Marcelo Melo won the brutal, tag-team slugfest against Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic after an epic 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (2), 3-6, 13-11 encounter.

This was not a match that swung like a pendulum or ebbed and flowed. There was barely a cigarette paper between the two pairs all afternoon, then early evening, then evening proper and finally so late that, for the first time this year, the roof on Centre Court had to be closed and the floodlights turned on. Kubot, Melo, Marach and Pavic – names that even wizened tennis fans would struggle to place – achieved what Andy Murray and Roger Federer could not at Wimbledon 2017.

The lights coming on proved to be the decisive factor. That call was made at 11-11 in the fifth, just before 9pm, but Kubot and Melo responded better to the 10-minute break and the new conditions and broke immediately. A huge crowd stayed on Centre Court and Kubot treated them to an exuberant can-can. Pavic, distraught, hid under a towel for minutes until Marach pulled him to his feet and the pair received perhaps the loudest ovation of the day (including the women’s singles final).

This match should, like Roger Federer suggested in Melbourne earlier this year, have been a tie. By all statistics – aces, double faults, winners, errors – the two pairings were inseparable. It was the kind of match that, 20 minutes in, you would have put your pension on it going to five sets. Kubot and Melo won only because someone had to.

Both pairs had big chances. Marach, an Austrian, and Pavic, a Croat, saved two match points at 6-5 in the fifth set. They then had four chances to break the Kubot-Melo serve – to all intents match points – at 8-8. For most of the match serves were impregnable. Break points were hen’s teeth. Then, bizarrely, in the fourth set, there were three service breaks in a row. It was that sort of contest.

There was even a mirror effect in how they looked on the court: both teams had one guy each (Kubot and Marach) in a white, backwards baseball cap and a rangy, dark-haired partner. Pavic and Marach, though, were the smaller pair and Pavic was noticeably the most youthful – he is 24 – and also the only leftie.

Kubot and Melo, the fourth seeds, entered the final as the more fancied pair. They came together at the start of 2017 and have been pretty well unbeatable since. They had already won five doubles titles this year and before the final were on a 13-match streak on grass, having won in s’Hertogenbosch and Halle previously. In the semi-finals they outlasted the No1 pair, Henri Kontinen and John Peers, winning a fifth set 9-7.

Unbelievably the fifth set of the final was actually shorter than the one Marach and Pavic played in their semi-final. That match against Nikola Metkic and Franko Skugor also lasted four and a half hours but ended 17-15 in the fifth. Marach also showed special fortitude in a video that did the rounds this week of him taking a ball smashed at close range in his privates. He joked: “It’s good that I have two kids!” Sadly, poor Marach must have a similar sickening feeling all over again.