Misaki Doi entered uncharted territory in her career at Wimbledon on Thursday.
She defeated a top seed.
At a Grand Slam.
For those following the Japanese woman’s career since the earliest stages, she’s had an uncanny knack for pushing big names to the brink — but falling short when it mattered most — on tennis’ biggest stages. In fact, getting double-bageled by Maria Sharapova at the 2013 Australian Open began a stretch in which Doi went 0-8 vs. Top 20 players at majors.
That’s not to say that she hasn’t had all the chances in the world to pull off a signature win.
In those seven subsequent matches, Doi won a set in six — including the first set in the last five. In match after match, the Japanese lefty put herself into winning position after winning position, unable to get herself over the line — only to see each occasion became more heartbreaking and more agonizing.
1. (16) Victoria Azarenka def. Misaki Doi — 2014 US Open, R1: 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-1
In a season in which she struggled with injury, Victoria Azarenka arrived at the US Open in 2014 as the two-time defending runner-up, having only played sporadically — her arrival in Flushing Meadows marked just her sixth tournament of the season. Doi, on the other hand, came in ranked No. 90 in the world — and had previously taken a set off of Petra Kvitova (see, I said it was a theme) in the first round of the championships the previous year before losing 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
After Doi took the first set in a tiebreak, she and Azarenka remained on serve until 2-3 in the second, in which the Belarusian broke for the first time. While Doi broke straight back, and did so again with Azarenka serving for the set at 5-3, she was unable to draw level — only to eventually fall in a three-set defeat after being handed a final set breadstick in the Flushing heat.
2. (7) Ana Ivanovic def. Misaki Doi — 2015 French Open, R2: 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
With Ana Ivanovic ranked well inside the world’s Top 10, but struggling for form, ahead of Roland Garros in 2015, the 2008 champion might’ve seemed ripe for an upset when she faced Doi in the second round.
Having already come from a set down to defeat Yaroslava Shvedova in the previous round, Ivanovic again found herself down a set to Doi in the second round after the Japanese woman ran off five consecutive games from a break down. Nonetheless, though, the former champion rallied — after saving a break point at 1-1 in the second set, Ivanovic didn’t face another on serve until 5-2 in the third, by which it was too little too late for a Doi comeback.
3. (17) Elina Svitolina def. Misaki Doi — 2015 Wimbledon, R1: 3-6, 6-3, 6-2
Doi first tasted a measure of Grand Slam success at Wimbledon in 2011, as she upset No. 30 seed Bethanie Mattek-Sands and former semifinalist Zheng Jie to make the third round as a 20-year-old.
Having won just one match on the lawns of the All-England Club in the four years since, Doi was drawn for a meeting with No. 17 seed Elina Svitolina, as the Ukrainian looked to win a match at Wimbledon for the first time in her career.
From 0-2 down, Doi won eight of the next nine games against her seeded opponent to lead 6-3, 2-0 before quickly conceding serve to give Svitolina a lifeline. From there, the Ukrainian stepped through the open door and stamped her authority on the match, as she won eight straight games from 2-3 in the second set to build a 3-6, 6-3, 4-0 lead. Doi made her last stand at that point, as she won eight straight points to trim the deficit to one break of serve, but Svitolina had the final answers and won eight of the last nine points for the come-from-behind win.
4. (12) Belinda Bencic def. Misaki Doi — 2015 US Open, R2: 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-3
In what was perhaps one of the most dramatic matches of the 2015 US Open, Doi and Belinda Bencic did battle as night fell in Flushing Meadows last summer.
Doi claimed a first set that saw her rally from break down three times — one of seven in the first set — by claiming the final four games from 5-3 down. Despite that, however, Bencic built a 5-2 lead in the second set before the theatrics well and truly got underway. As the Swiss No. 12 seed grew more and more frustrated with herself, her opponent’s tennis and the calls — or lack thereof, on a court without Hawkeye — from the line umpires and American official Carrie Hinueber, she saw her lead crumble — as Doi saved a total of eight set points en route to winning four games in a row to lead 6-5.
Doi then built a 0-40 lead on Bencic’s serve to win the match in straight sets, before the teenager reeled off five straight points to take the set into a tiebreak — and built a 4-0 lead to win that breaker 7-3. An early break of serve sealed Doi’s fate in the decider, as she trailed 3-0 at the first sit-down.
5. (7) Angelique Kerber def. Misaki Doi — 2016 Australian Open, R1: 6-7(4), 7-6(6), 6-3
Doi’s last Grand Slam match of 2015 ended in match-point-blown-heartbreak, and her first one of 2016 wasn’t much better.
In a rare lefty-on-lefty matchup, Doi took on No. 7 seed Angelique Kerber on Show Court 2 on the second day of the tournament. Once again, the 25-year-old put the right foot forward against a top player on a big court, taking the first set against Kerber in a tiebreak — but not before she rallied from two breaks down.
Kerber again took a lead in the second — breaking early en route to opening up a 5-2 lead — but after Doi saved three set points in the eighth game, she steadied herself to also bring the second set into a tiebreak. After trailing by a mini-break, Doi found herself with a match point at 6-5, but Kerber would not be denied and took the final three points of the set to level the match.
After the final set went on serve for the first four games, Kerber broke through with a break in the fifth game to lead 3-2 — but Doi had an opportunity to get the decider back on serve in the eighth game. Unable to convert on a 0-40 opportunity on the German’s serve, she slumped to defeat in the ninth game and dropped serve at love to lose the match.
Six matches later, Kerber rewrote history herself, as she went on to win her first Grand Slam title.
Undaunted, and faced with the prospect of another exit at the hands of a seed at a major, Doi finally flipped her career script on Court 11 at the All-England Club on Thursday.
Taking on the No. 15 seed and Nottingham champion Karolina Pliskova in the second round, Doi clubbed 25 winners — including three off her hooking, lefty forehand in the final game — to just 14 unforced errors to upset the Czech, 7-6(5), 6-3 and move into the third round of Wimbledon for the second time in her career.
Although the match looked straightforward on the drawsheet, in reality, it was anything but.
The Czech was the first to break through in the opener, taking the game on Doi’s serve to lead 3-2, as she looked to win her third straight meeting in the head-to-head. Doi was not to be denied, though, as she broke back immediately on her fourth chance of a lengthy sixth game to level the set at 3-3, a set that remained with serve all the way until a tiebreak — with Pliskova saving three set points at 5-6.
The pair traded mini-breaks twice in the tiebreak, as they changed ends at 3-all before Pliskova leveled proceedings at 5-5 — but this time, it was Doi who delivered in the clutch and took the last two points to claim a one set lead. An immediate break to open the second set put Doi in a position she’s found herself in many times in majors before — but it looked as though it’d be more of the same as the No. 15 seed carved out three break points to draw the set even at 4-4.
However, she was unable to convert and Doi righted the ship to hold for a 5-3 lead — and she finally broke the curse to claim her first victory over a Top 20 player at a Grand Slam in the next game, reducing Pliskova to merely a spectator.
With a place in the fourth round on the line, Doi will take on not a seed, but a surprise: Anna-Lena Friedsam, who defeated Ekaterina Alexandrova — author of her own Ivanovic upset in the opening round.
A win could see Doi face Kerber at a major for the second time in 2016 — and having broken her infamous string of “almosts,” she could be ready to go one better this time around.