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Breaking new ground: Classic AO tiebreaks

  • Ravi Ubha

The day after playing in the longest singles tiebreak in Grand Slam history, would Elena Rybakina feel proud about hanging in there or disappointed at falling short?

“I’m not going to wait until tomorrow,” said Rybakina. “I’m already proud that I could fight until the end.”

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That she did but Rybakina was bettered by Anna Blinkova 22-20 in Thursday’s electrifying night session at Rod Laver Arena.

Blink (pardon the pun) and… you would not have missed it since the tiebreak lasted half an hour.

Adding to the drama? Being a third set, it decided the outing.

Blinkova brought up the first four match points in the extended climax – her first two came before the tiebreak – and converted on her 10th attempt. 

Even though Rybakina only had six, one of those, at 18-17, seemed like it would complete the job for the 2022 Wimbledon champion.

Her 57th ranked opponent, though, strung together four remarkable pick-ups, then forced a volley error.

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“I had a lot of great moments, but I also had many frustrating moments. For example, all the match points that I couldn't convert,” Blinkova said. 

It seems the perfect time to look back on five other eventful, protracted tiebreaks at the Australian Open this century.

Rookie Tsonga and Roddick go deep in 2007

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s all-out attack took tennis by storm at AO 2008. But in 2007, the Frenchman was lesser known.

He entered that Australian Open – only his second Grand Slam main draw – as a wildcard ranked 212.

Tsonga drew seventh-ranked Andy Roddick – as he did on his Grand Slam debut at the French Open – and his play foreshadowed what was to come. 

Tsonga edged a first-set tiebreak 20-18, the joint longest singles tiebreak at a Grand Slam before Blinkova and Rybakina’s battle.

“I thought he served great in the first set especially, even in the breaker,” said Roddick that day. “I had four set points where I didn't touch a serve. But at the same time, I don't know if I was hitting the ball very deep.”

Tsonga couldn’t serve out the second set, which also went to a tiebreak, and Roddick advanced in four. 

Capriati and Hingis sequel in 2002

The last time a women’s final featured the same duo for two consecutive years? In 2001 and 2002 when Jennifer Capriati met Martina Hingis.

As a teen, Hingis won four out of five Grand Slams played from 1997-1998, becoming the youngest Grand Slam champion, at AO 1997 aged 16.

Capriati beat Hingis in Melbourne to open her Grand Slam account in 2001 and landed a second title at Roland-Garros months later. 

Ahead of the 2002 final, Capriati turned the tables in their rivalry, winning three consecutive encounters.

In the final, Capriati fell behind by a set and 4-0. Holding three match points ahead of the tiebreak and one more in it, Hingis rested on the cusp of snapping her three-year title drought at majors.

But Capriati clung on, taking the tiebreak 9-7 – the longest in an Australian Open women’s final in the Open Era – and securing the third set more comfortably, 6-2.

Federer betters Murray in 2010 final

Andy Murray won arguably one of the most memorable matches in tournament history last year against home hope Thanasi Kokkinakis in a rousing comeback that finished past 4am.

Unfortunately for Murray, he has also lost five Australian Open finals. 

Roger Federer and Andy Murray at AO 2010

The last four came against Djokovic and in the first, in 2010, Murray played Roger Federer.

The pair engaged in the longest tiebreak in an Australian Open men’s final in the Open Era, with the Swiss sealing the championship by prevailing 13-11 after Murray let slip five set points in the third set.

Nadal overcomes fellow lefty in 2022

Rafael Nadal finally got his hands on a second Australian Open trophy in 2022, having been so close on several other occasions.

Along the way, the Spaniard faced fellow left-hander Adrian Mannarino, who remains in the draw at AO 2024. 

Mannarino’s ability to take the ball early has troubled the game’s elite, most notably on hard courts or grass, and Nadal had his hands full in an opener that stretched to a bruising 81 minutes.

The 16-14 opening-set ‘breaker took up nearly 30 minutes of that time and remains the longest tiebreak of Nadal's career.

“Have been a crazy one, chances for both,” said Nadal. “And, yeah, lucky to win that tiebreak at the end, no?”

Safarova’s great escape in 2017

Lucie Safarova was nearling the end of her career at AO 2017 as illness took a toll on the lefty who packed a punch from the baseline.

The 2015 Roland-Garros finalist saved nine match points against Yanina Wickmayer in the first round. 

Four came in the second-set tiebreak that finished 9-7 to the Czech.

Safarova saved seven of the match points with winners and forced Wickmayer – a Grand Slam semifinalist – into an error on another.

Safarova cruised in the third – to set up a second-round clash with the player who beat her during her dream Roland-Garros fortnight, Serena Williams.