The history of tennis is filled with improbable scenarios. A world number 1 leading by two sets and ending up losing to a 17 years old player, a player who was leading 5-0, 0-40 and eventually had to give in, a Grand Slam finals turning on one point, the message from a coach transcending a player on the brink... Top 10 of the greatest turnarounds of tennis.
Lendl-McEnroe, Roland Garros final 1984: 3-6 / 2-6 / 6-4 / 7-5 / 7-5
In 1984, John McEnroe was at the top of his game. Since Björn Borg's retirement, the American was dancing on the tour. When he arrived in the final of Roland Garros against Ivan Lendl, he was on a series of 42 consecutive victories. The beginning of the match was, without surprises, completely to his advantage since he quickly won the first two sets. McEnroe managed to win several break points in the third set, but when we thought the match was over, Lendl started to gather momentum and his opponent started to make mistakes. A real fight started between the two men. Less effective after his first ball, McEnroe lost his service at the worst time and saw the Czechoslovak come back to two sets all. Time played in favour of the world number 2 who gradually took over. At 5-6 and after more than three hours of match, McEnroe missed his last volley. The American would never reach the final of Roland Garros again.
Leconte-Motta, Roland Garros third round, 1986: 1-6 / 3-6 / 7-6 / 6-0 / 6-0
Henri Leconte was a very volatile player, able to switch from laughter to tears, but also from a pathetic level to the best tennis in a few seconds. In 1986, he lived a real nightmare against Cassio Motta in the third round of Roland Garros. His left arm was sending balls everywhere except where it should. At two sets-none, his coach at the time, Patrice Dominguez passed him a little note through a ball boy. On the paper was written: "We're with you, we trust you, calm down. Prepare your attacks more carefully and play at the net. Kisses." Leconte received the paper at 6-6 in the third set. He read it, turned towards his coach and told him: "You could have said it earlier, asshole." The French won the tiebreak after saving two match points and ending up winning twelve games in a row. The great Riton.
Connors–Pernfors, Wimbledon round of 16, 1987: 1-6 / 1-6 / 7-5 / 6-4 / 6-2
This is one of the worst memories of his career. In June 1987, Mikael Pernfors thought he could win a prestigious victory in the round of sixteen of Wimbledon against Jimmy Connors. The Swede was leading two sets to zero and 4-1 in the third set. The aging Connors (34), with an injured leg, seemed resigned. But then, by fear of victory or instinct of the champion, the match changed completely. Pernfors no longer focused on his shots and simply started to wait for his opponent to make faults. Faults that became increasingly rare. Connors raised the game and pocketed the third and fourth sets. Pernfors knew that he missed his chance and gave up the fight in the fifth set.
Chang-Lendl, Roland Garros round of 16, 1989: 4-6 / 4-6 / 6-3 / 6-3 / 6-3
It's a match that became legendary. First, because he saw the world number one Ivan Lendl crumble against Michael Chang, a 17 years old player, in the round of sixteen of Roland Garros. Secondly, because the American decided to serve underarm in the fifth set. Back to two sets all with a game based on a false rhythm and Chang started to have cramps. Unable to push his serve, he innovated with an unusual game. Surprised, Lendl missed his attack and Chang won the point. On the match point, Chang advanced on the courts disrupting Lendl who committed a double-fault. An incredible psychological victory.
Rubin–Novotná, Roland Garros third round, 1995: 7-6 / 4-6 / 8-6
The end of a match is always difficult in tennis. Jana Novotna experienced the bitter fruits in the third round of Roland Garros in 1995. The Czech was leading 5-0 and 0-40 on Chanda Rubin’s service in the deciding set. But at 19 years old, the American succeeded the unthinkable. After saving nine match points, she managed to get back to five all. With her destructive passing, she took Novotná's service one last time and eventually won 8-6 for what was the first great achievement of her career.
Agassi–Medvedev, Roland Garros final, 1999: 1-6 / 2-6 / 6-4 / 6-3 / 6-4
This is probably the most emotional turnaround. Beaten twice in the final of Roland Garros (against Andres Gomez in 1990 against and against Jim Courier the following year), Andre Agassi had a third chance, perhaps the last, to win the only Grand Slam missing from his prize list. In 1999, he faced Andrei Medvedev in the final of the French Open after a beautiful victory against Carlos Moya amongst others. Caught by the challenge, Agassi totally missed his start to the game. Tense, unable to hold the exchanges, he was completely dominated by Medvedev who only conceded three games in the first two sets. In the middle of the third set, the American suddenly started to accelerate. He cut short the exchanges and multiplied the winning balls from the second and third shots. At the same time, the Ukrainian started to understand that he might have missed his chance and started to make mistakes. Agassi finally had his Roland Garros. He was the first player since Rod Laver to win all four Grand Slam tournaments. The evening of his defeat, Medvedev drowned his sorrows in vodka.
Youzhny–Mathieu, Davis Cup by BNP Paribas final, 2002: 3-6 / 2-6 / 6-3 / 7-5 / 6-4
This defeat, Paul-Henri Mathieu never really got over it. In 2002, France was facing Russia in the final of the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas in Paris Bercy. At 2-2, Guy Forget sent the young Paul-Henri Mathieu to play the decisive point against Mikhail Youzhny. PHM, 20, was full of confidence. He had successfully completed the best season of his career, including a match in the round of 16 at Roland Garros that he lost in five sets against Agassi. His start to the game was perfect. Aggressive, he multiplied the winner shots with his devastating forehand and took off. The loss of the third set didn't distract him, on the contrary, as Mathieu was leading 5-4, 30A on his service at this point. Victory was just two points away when he broke down. His arm started trembling and Youzhny ran into the breach. The Russian successfully made the break and kept going until the end. Russia won the Davis Cup by BNP Paribas and PHM collapsed in his chair.
Gaudio–Coria, Roland Garros final, 2004: 0-6 / 3-6 / 6-4 / 6-1 / 8-6
In the history of Roland Garros, only two players have won the final by saving two match points: René Lacoste against Bill Tilden in 1927, and Gaston Gaudio against Guillermo Coria in 2004. A particularly strange final. Gaudio completely missed the first two sets that Coria won in just one hour. Up to 4-3 in the third set, the world number three was in tennis heaven. But everything fell apart. After losing the third set, he collapsed. Complaining about cramps, he stopped running and let the fourth set slip away. As if by magic, Coria found his legs in the deciding set and ended up leading 4-3, service to follow. But his irregularity allowed his opponent to return and finally win 8-6 after an incredible match in terms of suspense but with an extremely low level of play.
Murray-Gasquet, Wimbledon round of 16, 2008: 5-7 / 3-6 / 7-6 / 6-2 / 6-4
Gasquet and the matches in five sets, it’s a painful story. Three times the French led 2-0 before getting caught and losing. Twice against Andy Murray. The first, in the round of sixteen at Wimbledon in 2008. Gasquet seemed unbeatable for two sets against the crowd favourite. He even served for the match at 5-4 in the third set. But the little prince of French tennis, who would later be mocked for his mental fragility, stumbled and allowed Murray to come back in the tiebreak. Tired, he lost logically the two following sets and the match. The same scenario was repeated in the first round of Roland Garros in 2010. Returning from injury, Gasquet wasn't a huge favourite but managed an incredible start to the match and quickly led two sets to none. But as in 2008, he broke down at the end of the third set before collapsing physically against Murray (4-6 / 6-7 / 6-4 / 6-2 / 6-1) Finally, in 2013, Gasquet lived this nightmare again, this time against Wawrinka in the round of sixteen of Roland Garros. Crippled with cramps in the final set, he fought but eventually relented against the Swiss (6-7 / 4-6 / 6-4 / 7-5 / 8-6) A bad habit for Richie
Tsonga–Federer, Wimbledon quarterfinals, 2011: 3-6 / 6-7 / 6-4 / 6-4 / 6-4
Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Murray… Tsonga have defeated them at least three times each. But his greatest victory against one of the four best players in the world is probably the one against Roger Federer in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon in 2011. For beating King Roger on his London lawn, moreover after losing two sets to zero, is a unique feat. Dominated in the first set, the French was at the same level than the Swiss in the second but lost the tiebreak. He had to wait for the third set to take the lead. With more and more precise serves and a powerful forehand, he didn't give in his commitment. Less radiant than in the past, Federer was quickly under water. He lost his turn to serve right away in the fifth set and seemed unable to find a solution to return the first ball of the French who won on yet another service winner. Federer had never lost after leading 2-0 in a Grand Slam. Staggering.
- Borg-Orantes, Roland Garros final, 1974: 2-6 / 6-7 / 6-0 / 6-1 / 6-1
- Connors-Caujolle, Roland-Garros second round, 1980: 3-6 / 2-6 / 7-5 / 6-1 / 6-1 (Caujolle was leading 5-2 in the 3rd set)
- Connors-Patrick McEnroe, US Open first round, 1991: 4-6 / 6-7 / 6-4 / 6-2 / 6-4 (in the third set, he was losing 3-0 et 0-40).
- Capriati-Hingis, Australian Open final, 2002: 4-6 / 7-6 / 6-2 (Hingis was leading 4-0 in the 2nd set)
- Federer-Nadal, Miami Masters final, 2005: 2-6 / 6-7 / 7-6 / 6-3 / 6-1 (Nadal was leading 4-1 double break in the third, and 5-2 at the tie-break)
- Federer-Haas, Roland Garros round of sixteen, 2009: 6-7 / 5-7 / 6-4 / 6-0 / 6-2 (break ball at 4-3 in the third for Haas, saved by a Roger’s forehand on the line).