ATPWorldTour.com reviews the Top 5 comebacks of the 2011 season, beginning with No. 5:
5. Robin Soderling vs Lleyton Hewitt, 6-7(5), 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, Wimbledon 2nd RD
Lleyton Hewitt had to feel good about his chances after jumping out to a 7-6(5), 6-3 lead against World No. 5 Robin Soderling at Wimbledon. The former World No. 1 had established a two-sets lead 94 times in Grand Slam competition and won all but one of those matches, his sole loss coming to Tommy Robredo at Roland Garros back in 2003.
Soderling, meanwhile, had battled back from a two-sets deficit twice before, most recently in 2005 at Roland Garros. “I tried not to think about the scoreline,” he said. “Instead, I tried to keep looking forward. I know I was playing pretty well. I served well. And if I could just start to move a little bit better, start to return a little bit better than the first two sets, I knew I had a good chance.”
Two games away from defeat at 5-5 in the third set, Soderling broke Hewitt for the first time to begin his comeback, and he broke the Australian at the end of a tight fourth set to level the match.
Hewitt fought to regain the momentum with a service break in the third game of the fifth set, but his retaliation would be short lived as Soderling immediately levelled. The Swede broke Hewitt to love in the 10th game to close out the dramatic victory in just under four hours.
4. Andy Murray vs Viktor Troicki, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, Roland Garros 4th RD
Andy Murray had torn a tendon in his right ankle during his third-round match at Roland Garros, and looked troubled when he confronted Viktor Troicki for a quarter-final spot a couple days later. After losing five straight games to start the match and four straight to end the second, he surrendered his serve for a sixth time to give Troicki a 2-1 lead in the third.
But the match proved to be far from over. The British No. 1 immediately broke back, had his ankle re-taped and fought to draw level at two-sets apiece before darkness suspended play Monday night.
When the pair resumed the match Tuesday afternoon, Troicki was once again first out the blocks. He broke Murray in the sixth game and held the match on his racquet in the ninth game. However, tight shots crept into the Serb’s game at 5-3, 30/0 and Murray took full advantage to strike back. The Scot reeled off a total of five straight games from 2-5 down to claim victory after three hours and 26 minutes.
The match was also notable for a rare incident in the sixth game of the final set. Believing that the point was over after an out-of-position Murray threw up a defensive lob, a ballboy charged onto the court as Troicki put away an easy smash on top of the net, forcing umpire Pascal Maria to call for the point to be replayed. Murray won the replayed point but Troicki still broke serve for a 4-2 lead.
“Today, more so than yesterday, I was really nervous, it was very windy on the court,” admitted Murray, who completed a comeback from two sets down for the fifth time in his career. “Once I went behind again I loosened up a little bit and started going for my shots more. I got through it, but emotionally it was pretty challenging.”
3. Ivan Dodig vs Rafael Nadal, 1-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(5), Montreal 2nd RD
One could be forgiven had they chalked this one up as a win for Rafael Nadal early into the second set. The Spaniard, a finalist in the first five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments of 2011 and a two-time Montreal champion, appeared on his way to a routine victory in his second-round opener after building a 6-1, 3-1 lead against 41st-ranked Croatian Ivan Dodig.
Dodig had won just four matches in Masters 1000 competition and never in succession, but found a new level of composure with his back against the wall. “I think I relaxed more and my serve started to work,” said the 26 year old, “especially after I broke him [for the] first time. I was getting more points with my serve. I was getting also like more relaxed during the rallies. I was going more for the shots.”
Dodig successfully drew level with Nadal not just once, but three times. In the decisive set, Dodig fought back from an 0-3 start, and after losing serve for a second time to fall behind 3-5, prevented Nadal from serving out the match. With both players two points from victory at 5-5 in the tie-break, Dodig fired his 19th ace to reach match point and won the subsequent point to pull off the improbable comeback.
“I know it's very tough when you play these guys to be aggressive,” said Dodig. “Today I had some chances and I think I used them. I finished the match by myself. I didn’t wait for his mistakes.”
2. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs Roger Federer, 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, Wimbledon QF
Roger Federer had a perfect track record after winning the first two sets in a Grand Slam match, 178-0 going into his quarter-final match at Wimbledon, and looked in good stead against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He raced to a 5-0 advantage in the second set tie-break and closed out a seemingly commanding two-set lead with a forehand winner.
But Tsonga, who had dropped nine straight sets to the six-time Wimbledon champion, was not discouraged. “Every time I was feeling like a dream, even at two sets down, because I was in the quarter-finals again Roger Federer,” he explained. “The stadium was full. I was not ridiculous. I was in my match. I’m the kind of player who likes these big moments.”
With head held high, Tsonga broke Federer with forehand winners in the third games of the following two sets, and then seized an early service break in the fifth set as he used his booming forehand to draw a crucial error in the first game. Tsonga had allowed Federer just one break point up to that point, in the second game of the match, and continued his strong service display to deny his opponent any chances to regain the break. “I served just unbelievable,” assessed the Frenchman, who won 40 of his 49 service points over the final two sets.
After three hours and eight minutes, Tsonga served out the match to love and followed with his trademark victory celebration on Centre Court. “It will be, for sure, one of the best memories in my career,” he said. “I felt so good on the court. I was quick. I was just perfect today.”
1. Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer, 6-7(7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5, US Open SF
The outlook seemed bleak for Novak Djokovic after Roger Federer took the first two sets of their semi-final match at the US Open. Federer had a 178-1 record when winning the first two sets of a Grand Slam match - the one blemish coming against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon a couple months earlier. Djokovic had clawed back from a 0-2 sets deficit just once in his career - also at Wimbledon, though all the way back in 2005 against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, a victory that lifted him into the Top 100 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the first time.
This time, wearing the badge of World No. 1 , Djokovic roared back to force a decider with service breaks to start both the third and fourth sets. Federer regained the upper-hand in the fifth, breaking Djokovic’s serve in the eight game and setting up two match points, a situation they’d found themselves in a year earlier. In that match, Djokovic had come up with two winners, down 4-5, 15/40, and had admitted afterwards: “To be honest I was just closing my eyes and hitting forehands as fast as I can on the match points.”
Would history favour Djokovic again? He saved the first match point, returning a 108 mph serve with a forehand winner that caught the line, and a second when Federer’s forehand bounced off the netcord and wide. With the crowd loudly saluting Djokovic’s efforts, an unnerved Federer followed with a double-fault on break point chance for the Serbian. He was unable to recover, conceding another service break as Djokovic proceeded to seal the victory on his first match point after three hours and 51 minutes.
“I had to take my chance,” said Djokovic, who went on to defeat Rafael Nadal in the final. “I was very close to being on my way back home. He was serving. He was 40/15 up. I managed to hit that amazing forehand return which got me back. I got a little bit of energy from the crowd, and I fought back.”