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Top 5 Comebacks Of The Year

2012 Year In Review

Gulbis, Kiztbuhel© GEPA Pictures / All other photos: © Getty ImagesErnests Gulbis completed a Herculean comeback at Kitzbühel in July. reviews the Top 5 comebacks of the year.

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5. Ernests Gulbis d. Andreas Haider-Maurer, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 – Saved 1 M.P., bet-at-home Cup Kitzbühel First Round
Throughtout his career, Ernests Gulbis has often struggled to win matches after losing the first set (24-91 lifetime). On 11 occasions in 35 matches this season, he had done so. But on five occasions, including once in the unique environment of Kitzbühel – perched 762 metres above sea level – the talented Latvian held his nerve for comeback wins. Against Innsbruck resident Andreas Haider-Maurer, a ninth first-round exit of the season was on the cards when seventh seed Gulbis trailed the crowd favourite by one set and 2-5.

But Gulbis battled hard for a remarkable reversal of fortunes. After breaking back to 4-5 in the second set, the World No. 67 faced one match point. With calculated precision, Gulbis struck an ace. Rewarded for his persistence, he edged the second set and saved three break points in the decider, when he won 14 of his 20 service points. Gulbis won 10 of the last 11 games to prevail in two hours and three minutes. It was one of the year’s most dramatic comebacks. Two days later, Gulbis lost to Rogerio Dutra Silva in the second round.

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Federer, Benneteau, London4. Roger Federer d. Julien Benneteau, 4-6, 6-7(3), 6-2, 7-6(6), 6-1, Wimbledon Third Round
At 9:23 p.m., almost 24 hours after one of the biggest upsets in the history of The Championships, Roger Federer breathed a huge sigh of relief as he left Centre Court to return to the All England Club locker room.

Having watched World No. 100 Lukas Rosol stun 2008 and 2010 champion Rafael Nadal, the previous night, No. 29 seed Julien Benneteau had asked himself, “Why not me?” After all, he had beaten Federer at the 2009 BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. Under a closed roof, 30-year-old Benneteau won the first two sets, later saying, “The best player of all time in front of me. It was perfect.”

The tennis world fell silent as Benneteau cast a spell over Federer, the six-time Wimbledon champion, whom he had known since the age of 12. Early on in the third set, when Benneteau slipped on his right wrist, an injury that had seen him sidelined for one month, the Frenchman’s rhythm was thrown and he lost the first four games. Yet on five occasions in the fourth set, Benneteau came within two points of recording the biggest win of his career. But when third seed Federer won the tie-break, the match slipped from Benneteau’s grasp as muscle cramps set in.

Federer triumphed by virtue of his consistency, aggressiveness and superior fitness, but also with his mental fortitude in a gruelling three-hour and 34-minute encounter. "Mentally he's a rock,” Benneteau said of Federer. “He's two sets down and he doesn't show anything. After that, if your level is a little bit lower, right here, right now, he takes the opportunity." Federer avoided his earliest Wimbledon exit since 2002, when he lost in the first round, and admitted, "I did start to play better and better as the match went on, that's kind of what I expected of myself once a set down. That I guess comes with experience, but experience alone is not going to win you the match. I had to push deep and extremely hard, and I'm very happy with the way things sort of happened at the end."

The Swiss went onto win the Wimbledon title (d. Murray), his 17th major overall.

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Djokovic, Tsonga, Paris3. Novak Djokovic d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6(6), 6-1 – Saved 4 M.P., Roland Garros, Paris, Quarter-finals
The weight of expectation lay heavily on the shoulders of both players. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was attempting to become the first Frenchman to beat a World No. 1 at Roland Garros since 1983, when Christophe Roger-Vasselin – father of Edouard Roger-Vasselin – defeated Jimmy Connors in the quarter-finals. He was also bidding to become the first home hope to reach the semi-finals since Gael Monfils in 2008.
Novak Djokovic, riding a 25-match winning streak at Grand Slam championships, was on course to clinch his fourth straight major and complete a non-calendar year Grand Slam.

What unfolded on Court Philippe Chatrier was a tremendous battle between two charismatic heavyweights. Tsonga fended off three break points in the fifth game of the fourth set, but could not convert two match point opportunities with Djokovic serving at 4-5, 15/40. Djokovic showed tremendous mental strength in the 12th game by saving two more match points. In the tie-break, Djokovic could not convert two set points at 6-4, but was soon rewarded for his greater physical conditioning. With both men clearly exhausted in the deciding set, Djokovic managed to break twice and served out for his 30th Roland Garros match win in four hours and five minutes.

"As a tennis player, this is what you live for," said Djokovic. "This is what you practise for all these years, to be part of an incredible performance, [an] incredible match encounter here in Roland Garros with the home players. I'm really glad that I could win today."

Tsonga left the stadium court to a standing ovation. Afterwards, he admitted, “This is probably the most difficult loss of my career. I haven't lost that many matches after such a big fight... It's very rare for me to have match points and not win the match, so I [will] remember that because it was Roland Garros; it was a quarter-final."

Djokovic went onto finish runner-up to Rafael Nadal, who became a seven-time champion, falling just one match short of holding all four Grand Slam trophies simultaneously. 

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Djokovic, Shanghai2. Novak Djokovic d. Andy Murray 5-7, 7-6(11), 6-3 – Saved 5 M.P., Shanghai Rolex Masters Final
It was a ‘tweener that was heard around the tennis world, an instinctive shot that produced a spectacular result. Andy Murray was serving for his third straight Shanghai title at 5-4, 30/0, when, Novak Djokovic, playing without fear, provided the inspiration. Running back to deal with an accurate Murray lob, he struck it cleanly to surprise Murray, who would have had a routine put-away volley had he followed his lob into the set. Instead, the rally ended four strokes later, when Djokovic produced an outrageous flourish: a perfect, sliced drop shot that flew barely an inch over the net.

Djokovic took advantage of Murray’s momentary shock to break back, and then won a punishing tie-break 13-11. Murray failed to convert five match points in the second set, but Djokovic had won each of them. Three were saved by forehand winners, and one by a strong serve. The fifth point was saved when Murray netted with an attempted forehand retrieval shot after being pushed wide and deep. Afterwards, Djokovic said, “When I faced those match points, I tried to focus on each individually. He was so close to the victory that I cannot say I was the better player.”

The deciding set started evenly, but it soon became clear that Murray was tiring the faster of the two as he was no longer achieving his leg-drive on the serve and he was attempting to keep the points as short as possible. This strategy hurt him at 3-4 down, when Djokovic got the decisive break. “We had so many rallies in three and a half hours; for a best-of-three set match it is a very long time. It could have easily gone the other way. But I have got used to it. Whenever I play Andy, I know it’s going to be a gruelling fight with a lot of long rallies.” Murray had defeated the Serb just a month earlier in a five-set US Open final to lift his first Grand Slam trophy. “It was a top-quality match,” said Murray. “It was literally the difference of one, two centimetres [between] winning the match and losing it.”

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Seppi, Rome1. Andreas Seppi d. Stanislas Wawrinka, 6-7(1), 7-6(6), 7-6(6) – Saved 6 M.P., Internazionali BNL d'Italia, Rome, Third Round
Under a full moon, with temperatures plummeting and the floodlights blazing down on the fabled, marble Pietrangeli Court, 3,500-seated spectators and what seemed like every fan at the Foro Italico huddled together to witness one of the great comebacks by an Italian player. The chants of “Seppi, Seppi…” grew louder as Romans, glued to the marble steps surrounding the sunken show court, witnessed Andreas Seppi save six match points against Stanislas Wawrinka for a place in the quarter-finals for the first time.

World No. 30 Seppi served at 5-4 in the first set, 3-1 in the second and 2-1 in the third. Each time Wawrinka roused himself with a response. Holding match points at 6-5 in the second set tie-break and at 5-3, 40/15 in the deciding set, the Swiss looked set for victory. "When I was down 2-5, I had a lot of energy, but the audience gave me a huge boost,” said Seppi. “And so, I had the strength to try until the end."

Even when Wawrinka won six straight points for a 6-3 lead in the tie-break, local fans and Seppi, most importantly, never gave up hope of a great escape. Competing on the back of a 2-6, 7-6(5), 7-5 second-round win over World No. 10 John Isner, Seppi won the next five points, completing a famous victory in three hours and 21 minutes to ensure delirious celebrations and a place in Italian tennis-lore. It was the match of the tournament and, remarkably, the first time that all three sets had been decided in tie-breaks since the tie-break rule was introduced in Rome in 1971. Seppi went onto compile a career-best year, including two ATP World Tour titles from three finals.

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