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7 Unforgettable Comebacks Ever to Happen at the Australian Open

| December 19, 2021 7:18 am PDT

Nicknamed the Happy Slam, the Australian Open is loved by players and tennis fans alike. Players love it for being the first Grand Slam tournament in the calendar, taking place when it’s summer in the Southern hemisphere.

They also love it for the fact that the winner gets a prize measured in millions of dollars, as well as 2,000 ranking points.

With so much at stake, every single participant is willing to go far and beyond to get a win, even if things aren’t looking good for them. This explains why the Australian Open has seen so many incredible comebacks over the years.

Speaking of which, I’ve picked out the seven most unforgettable comeback stories ever to happen at the Australian Open.

Novak Djokovic Beats Rafael Nadal in the 2012 Final

Many fans consider this one to be the best tennis match in history. The 2012 Australian Open took the Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal rivalry to the next level.

Their battle for the trophy was the third straight time the two met in the final of a major tournament.

Djokovic won the previous two meetings (Wimbledon and US Open) and was favored to do it again. The odds on Novak were around -152 (1.66), suggesting a field day for the Serbian player. However, the match turned out to be one of the most difficult of his career.

It lasted for nearly six hours (five hours and 53 minutes, to be precise), which broke the record for the longest Grand Slam final match in history.

The reason why this match fits in the category of most memorable comebacks is because of what happened in the fifth set. The two were 2-2 and Nadal had a 4-2 game lead in the final set. He then lost a serve but bounced back straight away, getting to 5-4 and having a chance to finish it off on Novak’s serve. 

Djokovic didn’t let him do it. Instead, Novak went on a three-game win rally, setting the score to 7-5 in his favor. It was 1:37 in the morning when he scored the match point.

Completely drained of energy, both men had to defy tradition and take a seat during the trophy ceremony.

Stefanos Tsitsipas Defeats Rafael Nadal in 2021

Rafa Nadal was a heavy favorite ahead of the quarterfinal due with Stefanos Tsitsipas at the 2021 Australian Open. Oddsmakers were giving just -227 (1.44) on the Spanish player ahead of the match.

When the match started, live odds moved even more in Nadal’s favor. Why? Because he won the first two sets easily – 6-3 and 6-2.

Then, in the third set, the Greek player started to put on some resistance. And it worked! After the score was tied 6-6, the set was to be decided by a tiebreaker.

Tsitsipas did well, but what’s even more important is that Nadal didn’t. In fact, he made some strange errors, losing the serve three times. I say “strange” because before making those errors, we saw him winning 24 of his 25 points on serve.

The win in the third set gave Tsitsipas a major confidence boost. He was the one to dominate the next two sets, eventually winning 3-2. His comeback marked only the second time someone won against Nadal after being 2-0 down at a major tournament.

Rafael Nadal Defeats Roger Federer in 2009

Once again, it’s Rafael Nadal who’s in the spotlight. This time, however, it’s his comeback, not that of his opponent. The feat I’m talking about is the one that happened in the final of the 2009 Australian Open when he defeated Roger Federer 3-2.

Marathon man Rafa Nadal booked a ticked in the final after an exhausting five-set semifinal with his fellow countryman Fernando Verdasco. That match lasted five hours and 14 minutes, which made everyone think Nadal would be running on fumes in the final.

It sure did look like that throughout the match. After winning a tiebreaker to get to 2-1, Nadal lost the next set 6-3 in games. It looked as if Federer was going to smash him quickly in the fifth set. However, just the opposite happened.

Nadal came back from the dead, winning the set 6-2, thus getting his first Australian Open trophy. By doing that, he became the first Spanish player in history to win the title in Melbourne.

Pete Sampras Beats Jim Courier in 1995

Sampras was 2-0 down but then went on to win the following three sets against Jim Courier and book himself a place in the 1995 Australian Open semifinal.

It’s an impressive comeback on its own, but the main reason why it’s stayed in the memory of tennis fans is that it took an emotional turn.

It was 2-2 on the scoreboard and Sampras had a serve in the final set. However, instead of hitting the ball, we saw him breaking down in tears. Courier approached his fellow American, suggesting the two take a break.

“Are you alright Pete? We can do this tomorrow, you know.”

The reason behind Sampras’ burst of emotions was that his coach Tim Gullikson had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Sampras knew it for weeks, but what really shook him was that the coach suffered a seizure just before the match with Courier.

Instead of leaving it for the next day, Pete declined Jim’s offer and decided to stay on the court. It proved to be the right decision. Doing it for the coach, Sampras went on to win the decisive set 6-3.

David Ferrer Defeats Nicolas Almagro in 2013

In the quarterfinal of the 2013 tournament, David Ferrer went toe-to-toe with his fellow Spaniard, Nicolas Almagro.

Ferrer was expected to have a difficult job on his hands, although no one probably thought that the match would turn out so exciting.

What we saw was David Ferrer snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Actually, it was the other way around – Nicolas Almagro’s mistakes cost him the win.

Almagro was 2-0 up in sets and had a 5-3 lead at one point in Set 3. But that was it from him. He failed to do anything in the remainder of the set, eventually losing 7-5 in games.

Okay, he still had a 2-1 lead overall, which meant another chance for victory. Unfortunately for him, he gambled it away. In Set 4, he was 5-4 at one point with a chance to seal the deal on his serve. It’s needless to say that he lost the serve, allowing Ferrer to take the set to a tiebreaker.

Shaken Almagro lost three serves in the tiebreaker, which was enough for Ferrer to win 7-4. With his confidence high up, Ferrer had no problems winning the final set 6-2.

Serena Williams Wins Her First Australian Open in 2003

With 23 Grand Slam titles, Serena Williams is the most successful player in the Open Era. However, back in 2003, she was still a legend in the making.

Serena was the #1 player in the WTA Rankings at the time, but she still had zero trophies won at the Australian Open. Until the very last match of the tournament, it looked like she was going to leave Melbourne empty-handed.

It’s because everyone thought Kim Clijsters was going to win it. The Belgian superstar started the tournament in top gear, losing only fifteen games on the road to the semifinal. That is where she locked horns with Serena.

After a real on-court battle in the first two sets, the match was to be decided in Set 3. At the start of the final set, it looked as Clijsters would get no resistance from her opponent – the Belgian got to a 5-1 lead.

She had a match point but failed to cash in on it. She then had another shot but failed again. Not only did Serena save two match points, but she then turned on a killing mode, winning the next six games for a historical comeback.

Her rally didn’t end in the semifinal. Serena then went on to win the trophy, beating her sister Venus in the final.

Monica Seles’ 1996 Comeback

Monica Seles’ story isn’t a single-match comeback but one that took nearly three years.

Back in 1993, she was the top-ranked player in women’s singles in the world. The year started very well for her with a trophy in Melbourne – she defeated Steffi Graf in the final of the Australian Open.

Fast-forward to April 1993 and Seles is playing against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg. It was supposed to be a routine win for Seles, but then something horrible happened – a guy run onto the court and stabbed her in the back.

Gunter Parche was his name and his motive was to stop Seles from taking another trophy from the hands of his favorite player Steffi Graff. The assailant shoved the knife some 1.5 inches deep causing life-threatening injuries to Seles.

Luckily, she survived, but she then had to go through a long period of convalescence. As a result, she had spent more than two years off the court before finally making her comeback in the second half of 1995.

Considering what she’s been through, her return to the tennis elite was pretty swift. Some six months after her first post-attack match, Seles won a Grand Slam title. It happened at the 1996 Australian Open when she defeated Anke Huber in the final in straight sets.

She did, however, have a Herculean task a match before. In the semifinal, she played with Chanda Rubin who won the first set after a tiebreaker. Seles equalized in the second, then went on to win the third 7-5 in games.

With the Grand Slam just a month away, be sure to check out our guide to betting on the Australian Open.

Zarko Naric

Zarko Naric – the World's Greatest Sportswriter, according to his grandma.

Zarko started writing for GamblingSites.com in 2019, covering sports like soccer, tennis, and basketball,  as well as some more niche sports like cycling, for example.

In addition to writing news, picks, and blog pieces focused on sports, Zarko’s also been covering politics, TV/music contests, and so on.

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