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LONDON, June 30 (Reuters) - Memories of John Isner and Nicolas Mahut's marathon tussle came flooding back at Wimbledon on Saturday when Marin Cilic staggered past Sam Querrey 7-6 6-4 6-7 6-7 17-15 in fading light to win the second longest ever match at the All England Club.
Two years after American Isner won an 11 hour five minute duel, which featured 183 games and ended 70-68 in the fifth set, a similar battle played out on Court Two with Saturday's protagonists going toe-to-toe for more than two hours in the fifth set alone.
But at five hours 31 minutes, Croatia's Cilic achieved his third-round win in less than half the time it took Isner to put away Mahut in 2010.
After missing a chance to close out the match at 6-5 in the fifth, Cilic was kept on court for another 21 games as dusk fell over south west London, bad light threatened to stop the players in their tracks.
But just as it seemed the duo would have to return on Monday to complete unfinished business - since Sunday is a rest day at Wimbledon - Cilic broke for a 16-15 lead.
The Croatian brought up matchpoint after watching an exhausted Querrey drag the ball long to end a 29-stroke rally and yelled out in triumph when the American overcooked a backhand service return.
After giving the fans who had stuck around for the conclusion a thumbs-up, Cilic trudged off court knowing he will have 48 hours to recover before he faces fourth seed Andy Murray for a place in the quarter-finals.
"Big drama, especially in that fifth set. It was a really big mental battle today," said Cilic, whose Queen's Club triumph this month was overshadowed by David Nalbandian's umpire-kicking antics.
"I was serving for the match at 6-5 and it wasn't easy. Today was a little bit windy and that made it more difficult but I'm really happy with the way I stayed in the match.
"It wasn't easy to be focused all the time. I was serving extremely well and was really having trouble with the returns. But I'm big time glad I came through." (Editing by Ed Osmond)