The brilliant aspect of the tennis scoring system means you always have to win the last point to claim victory. Until you do that, your opponent is always in with a chance, even if they are heavily trailing.
With the margins in the sport so small, the tempo of matches can quickly change, especially in front of a raucous crowd, who can drag a player back into a clash when all seems lost.
The past week, ATPTour.com has looked at the best ATP Tour rivalries of the season. Now, continuing our review of the 2021 season, we will reflect on the most memorable ATP Tour match comebacks of 2021, before turning attention to the best Grand Slam comebacks of 2021 from Wednesday.
5) Miami Open presented by Itau, QF, Hubert Hurkacz d. Stefanos Tsitsipas 2-6, 6-3, 6-4
Earlier this season, Hubert Hurkacz captured his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the Miami Open presented by Itau, soaring past Jannik Sinner in the final.
However, just three days earlier, the Pole looked down and out as he trailed Stefanos Tsitsipas 2-6, 0-2, 15/40 in the quarter-finals, struggling to find consistency from the baseline against the Greek, who had won seven of his past eight matches.
Hurkacz entered the clash trailing Tsitsipas 1-6 in their ATP Head2Head series and seemed on the verge of yet another defeat against the World No. 4. However, the 24-year-old crucially fended off two break points to hold at 0-2 in the second set as he served with more power and closed the net effectively to halt Tsitsipas’ momentum.
The Pole then began to return with greater aggression, forcing Tsitsipas back and into errors, winning six of seven games to level the match. With renewed confidence and belief, Hurkacz continued to go on the attack in the decider and broke at 2-2 after firing multiple passing shots past Tsitsipas. Hurkacz then sealed his two-hour, 20-minute victory with an ace.
“I was trying to keep fighting and that’s what I did,” Hurkacz said. “[I am] super pumped and happy that I was able to turn this match around.”
4) Rolex Paris Masters, Round of 16, Hugo Gaston d. Carlos Alcaraz 6-4, 7-6
Hugo Gaston and Paris is a match made in heaven. The Frenchman enjoyed a sensational run to the fourth round at Roland Garros in 2020 as a wild card and entered his third-round match against Carlos Alcaraz at the 2021 Rolex Paris Masters high on confidence, after coming through qualifying and defeating Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
The 21-year-old made an impressive start in front of a raucous Paris crowd, clinching the first set 6-4. However, Alcaraz, who has defeated Top 10 stars Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini this year, quickly shook off his setback and began to impose his aggressive game on Gaston.
Alcaraz raced 5-0 ahead and looked set to force a decider. But Gaston produced a jaw-dropping comeback to advance in straight sets, winning 20 of the last 21 points of the match to stun the Spaniard, who the following week would win the Intesa Sanpaolo Next Gen ATP Finals. The lefty used his flamboyant game to disrupt Alcaraz, deploying his trademark drop shots and slow balling the Spaniard to force errors to reach his first ATP Masters 1000 quarter-final.
“I was drifting off at that point [0-5], and he started to have a letdown, as well,” Gaston said. “He made a lot of mistakes, because I managed to have fast balls, slow balls, to have high balls. He started to lose his groove, and I stayed focused. This is why I managed to turn the match in my favour.”
3) Rolex Paris Masters, First Round, Dominik Koepfer d. Andy Murray 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(9)
Dominik Kopefer was handed a lifeline in Paris when he received a lucky loser spot, having fallen in the final round of qualifying, and the 27-year-old certainly made the most of it. In an epic clash, Koepfer continued to live on the edge as he saved not one, but seven match points against Andy Murray, before eventually overcoming the former World No. 1 in three hours and one minute.
The German had looked in control of the match at 6-4, 5-3, but was broken to love when serving for the match and from there the clash was a rollercoaster. Murray clinched the second set 7-5 and then had two match points on Koepfer’s serve at 5-4 in the decider. But the German played consistently to fend off the Scot, with the pair moving to a third-set tie-break.
In an epic tie-break, Murray had five further chances to close out the match and he threw everything at Koepfer, hammering his groundstrokes and throwing in lobs and drop shots. However, the 27-year-old refused to cave, producing his best tennis under pressure to find the answers and eventually advance, converting his first match point.
“It was unbelievable. I thought I had it in my hands in the second set serving for it at 5-4. He just made a lot of balls, I didn’t make a lot of balls. That was the difference, and it was just a great fight in the third set,” Koepfer said. “I just tried to stay in the moment and tried to play every point.”
Coming Tuesday: The top two ATP Tour comebacks of 2021
Coming Wednesday: The best Grand Slam comebacks of 2021 – Part 1