By the ninth game in the fifth set, Denis Shapovalov was serving for the match. Playing against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga wasn't a new experience for the teenager. They had played each other in the second round of the US Open last year, and the talented Canadian came up with a straight sets win over a man who was once ranked fifth in the world.
But that experience would not fail Tsonga, nor would it forsake Caroline Wozniacki or Ivo Karlovic, as the three veterans squirmed out of difficult positions to secure progress into the third round of the Australian Open.
On Wednesday, Shapovalov and Tsonga met for the second time, yet again in a second round match of a Grand Slam. The major in Melbourne is not as raucous as the US Open, where Shapovalov's equally robust game thrived. Here he was though, on the verge of pulling off another upset when serving for the win at 5-3 in the fifth set.
Then the seemingly fearless teenager was gripped by nerves. Two backhand errors from the 18-year-old was followed by a double-fault — 15-40 and two break point opportunities for Tsonga. This was Shapovalov's first time playing at Melbourne Park. But for Tsonga, now a veteran at 32, it was at this very stage that he had reached his best ever Grand Slam result when he was finalist in 2008.
"I just continue to fight because ever since I'm playing tennis here I (have had) really good time here," Tsonga said at the Margaret Court Arena after the match. "It's always a big moment for me to play on these courts. I continue to enjoy it and hope it (is) going to continue this week and why not longer."
He didn't have the best of matches, since, for most of the three-hour-thirty-seven-minute match, the Frenchman's serve was a liability. He'd eventually record only 49 percent first serves in — a terrible tally for his standard. But the experience kicked in when it was needed the most.
The sight of Shapovalov faltering was cue for him to launch an impressive counter-attack, as he'd break the teenager, win the last five games of the match to record a 3-6, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6(4), 7-5 victory.
"For me, I think it was an advantage to play him for a second time because I knew he was able to do things, crazy things like he did today," Tsonga said. Despite having an off day with his service game, he served out to win the match at love.
Meanwhile at the Rod Laver Arena, former world No 1 Wozniacki was pulling off a great escape of her own against 21-year-old Croat Jana Fett.
Like Shapovalov, Fett was serving for the match. Like Shapovalov, Fett let her guard slip. Like Tsonga, Wozniacki brought her wealth of experience into play. On her first match point, serving at 5-1, 40-15 in the third set, Fett launched one down the T that was just long. A rally followed that ended with Fett hitting a backhand wide.
"Then I felt her tighten up just slightly. I thought to myself, 'you know what, at this point, make her win it, don't give it to her,'" Wozniacki said.
This was Fett's second ever main draw match at a Grand Slam. The world No 119 had another match point, but Wozniacki had already recognised a change in momentum. The 27-year-old has twice reached the final of the US Open, which was her greatest result on tour until she captured the WTA Finals title in Singapore just a few months back. Though it looked like her familiar passivity would be her downfall yet again, Wozniacki pulled off one of the best back-from-the brink heist.
The Dane won the last six games to secure a 3-6, 6-2, 7-5 win in two hours and 31 minutes.
While the show courts reveled in the tennis drama, a marathon was being played out on Court No 8.
Ivo Karlovic, just a month shy of his 39th birthday, beat 29-year-old Yuichi Sugita 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 7-5, 4-6, 12-10 in the longest match of the tournament at four hours and 33 minutes. The Croat also became the oldest man to reach the Australian Open third round.
Karlovic, whose biggest claim to fame was the first-round upset of defending champion Lleyton Hewitt at 2003 Wimbledon, rolled back the years, rushing to the net with intent to carve out an unlikely victory.
Any player at that age might not be considered a serious Grand Slam contender. But the 'gentle giant' had all the intentions of winning, as he powered on for four hours and 33 minutes in an epic that exhibited two extremes.
On one side, there was the tireless Japanese world No 41, who was ever committed to run down as many shots as possible. At the other end, was a player who stands at 6-foot-11 (14 inches taller than Sugita), who has a booming serve that he used to rain down 53 aces, and sheer attacking intent — he approached the net 180 times. After getting a break of serve in the 21st game of the long, decisive fifth set, Karlovic finished it off with a fine backhand volley.
The oldest man in the singles field underlined a vintage day at the Open.
Published Date: Jan 18, 2018 12:18 PM | Updated Date: Jan 18, 2018 12:18 PM