Pressure Diamonds: The Art of Saving Match Points
Maria Sharapova cheated the gallows twice in the Australian Open second round on Wednesday, saving two match points with booming winners.
After serving a breadstick in the opening set, Sharapova struggled big time with World No. 150 Alexandra Panova and her cracking ground game. The “Siberian Siren’s” forehand went off for most of the final two sets, but when push came to shove, the five-time major champion doubled down on her most precarious wing. With Panova serving for the match, the No. 2 seed kept her 2015 Melbourne campaign alive with a return winner and blistering forehand minutes later.
Put a player’s back against the wall and you will soon see what he or she is made of. Thanks to the scoring system, a tennis match isn’t truly over until the last point has been played, and it’s often those crucial final points that end up producing some of the best shots and highest drama.
Without further ado – and in no particular order – check out ten of the best examples of the past few years:
Ready? Play (to save your necks)!
Jelena Jankovic vs. Tamira Paszek (1R, Australian Open 2008)
In what would become the most successful (and glittering) season of her career, the entertaining Serb began her 2008 Grand Slam campaign with a scare of the highest order. Then 17-year-old Tamira Paszek played lights-out tennis throughout a grueling final set, but thanks to her outstanding athletic and defensive abilities, Jankovic was just about able to keep herself in the tournament and eventually reached the semifinals.
Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal (F, Wimbledon 2008)
After twice knocking on the door of Federer’s living room, Rafael Nadal managed to lift his first Wimbledon trophy at the third time of asking after one of the most tightly contested finals in Wimbledon – or maybe even Grand Slam – history. Nadal came extremely close to sealing the deal in the fourth set tie-breaker, but Federer produced a stunning backhand passing shot down the line to save match point and force a decider. The Swiss eventually lost 9-7 in the final set but with his back against the wall, he showed his class and clutch to come up with goods at the very business end of the penultimate set.
Rafael Nadal vs. Novak Djokovic (SF, Madrid 2009)
In a match that went down to the wire, this was the closest Novak Djokovic got to defeating Rafael Nadal on clay to that point in their rivalry. Ostensibly with the edge, the Serb held several match points in the final set tiebreak. The Spaniard, however, was able to outmaneuver his opponent on all three occasions. On match point No. 2, Nadal saved it with a rally as grueling as one could possibly imagine.
Dinara Safina vs. Alizé Cornet (4R, Australian Open 2009)
Much like Jankovic a year before, Dinara Safina had to fight off match points before making a deep run in Melbourne. A teenaged Alizé Cornet was up a double-break in the deciding set and had two match points on her own serve at 5-4. After a long rally, the Frenchwoman laid everything into a forehand down the line, but missed victory (and a Top 10 ranking) by millimeters. Safina continued to dig deep to survive and won the final five games in succession to march on into the quarterfinals. The Russian continued posting great results throughout much of 2009 but the loss seemed to send Cornet into a four year ennui. It wasn’t until 2013 that the she surged back into relevance.
Heather Watson vs. Peng Shuai (QF, Auckland 2011)
In 2011, Heather Watson earned the crazy scrambling crown when match point down. In their Auckland quarterfinal encounter, Peng Shuai threw everything she had at the Brit, but Watson ended up winning an absolute doozy of a rally to keep herself in the match. This year’s Hobart champion went on to break back, but lost serve immediately afterwards and Peng eventually managed to serve out the match 7-5 in the second set. Watson’s defense, however, when facing match point against her just a little earlier remains solid gold.
Same goes for the commentator providing analysis.
Fernando Verdasco vs. Janko Tipsarevic (2R, Austalian Open 2011)
Or, “the one where Fernando Verdasco (of all people) shows nerves of steel.”
Janko Tipsarevic was well on his way to upsetting the Spaniard but staring defeat in the eye the now 31-year-old kept his cool. The 2009 Australian Open semifinalist came up with a great backhand cross-court pass to save the first match point and an even more spectacular forehand down the line to save the second. Verdasco ended up breaking the Serb, forcing a fourth set tiebreak to send Tipsarevic into a complete meltdown, bageled in the tiebreak and final set.
Talk about a turnaround.
Francesca Schiavone vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova (4R, Australian Open 2011)
Two classics, one tournament.
It was the longest women’s match in Melbourne history – and quite possibly one of the best. Svetlana Kuznetsova and Francesca Schiavone played their hearts out in this nearly five-hour epic (an often overused word but entirely appropriate in this case) – the final set alone lasted a full three hours.
The Russian had multiple chances to finish the encounter in the “middle” of the third, but her sixth and final match point was saved in spectacular fashion by the 2010 French Open champion. The Italian ended up taking the match, 16-14, an hour later. The match point Schiavone saved was symptomatic for the entire match; both women played high-quality tennis with tons of shot-making and creativity for almost the entire duration of the match.
Serena Williams vs. Vera Zvonareva (2R, Eastbourne 2011)
In what can only be called a “unicorn on leap day” scenario, both Williams sisters decided to play a grass warm-up event in Eastbourne to prepare for Wimbledon; both had been out of the game for an extended period of time due to injuries. With both entering unseeded, they were the most dangerous floaters in what had to be the most brutal Eastbourne draw on record. After defeating grass/Sydney specialist Tsvetana Pironkova, the younger Williams ran into top seed Vera Zvonareva, and though the American lost a hard-fought encounter, it didn’t end without a backhand down the line which kissed the chalk and prolonging the thriller.
Serena’s expression after seeing she just about got away with it: absolutely priceless.
Samantha Stosur vs. Maria Kirilenko (4R, US Open)
In the longest tiebreak in women’s Grand Slam history, Stosur had multiple match points while Kirilenko had several opportunities to level the match to one set apiece. The Russian ended up prevailing in the tie-breaker 17-15, but not before having to challenge TWICE from match point down to save herself from losing the encounter. Stosur ended up winning the final set – and eventually the US Open – but neither the Australian nor Russian nor the crowd on Grandstand are ever going to forget this one.
(Seriously, just watch the whole damn thing. An absolutely awesome and entertaining half hour.)
Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer (SF, US Open 2011)
Or: “How can you play a point like that on match point?”
Djokovic was essentially staring down the tennis equivalent of a gun’s barrel when he hit one of the most outrageous returns ever. In his post-match press conference, the Swiss struggled to accept the way his opponent got out of the tightest of spots and branded the shot as recklessness – almost luck – on Djokovic’s behalf.
The Serb went for an all-or-nothing shot and proceeded to save another match point and win the next three games to book his place in the finals. The reaction to all this proved this to be a real parting of the ways, but Djokovic hit the perfect shot at the perfect time – whether it was lucky, reckless or not.
Did we forget your favorite? Feel free to add them in the comments!
WOW..JJ’s saves were amazing.