“Champions aren’t made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them: A desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have late minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.” – Muhammad Ali.
The greatest comebacks in men’s tennis have one thing in common.
The winners start by losing. And losing.
Being down two sets to none can bring out the very best in a player. At the same time, being up two sets to love can often bring out the very worst in a player.
Here are 10 of the greatest comebacks in the modern men’s game. To qualify, matches must have been played at a Masters 1000-level tournament or higher. The bigger the stage, the better the ranking. Certain comebacks score higher because of special conditions for the match, tournament or players.
The best of the best are a mix of all the above.
And remember – you can become part of such a list in future. Just believe in yourself and never give up!!
David Ferrer defeats Nicolas Almagro:
- 2013 Australian Open quarterfinals
- 4-6, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(4), 6-2
- Ferrer moves record against Almagro to 13-0.
Notable quote: “I try to fight every point, every game”—Ferrer.
Why it is ranked No. 10: Although the match took place at the Australian Open, there are certain problems with ranking this one higher. First of all, it was only a quarterfinal. Second, despite being an admirable victory the sheer fact that Ferrer had won the previous 12 matches took at least a bit of the surprise out of the result.
Roger Federer defeats Juan Martin Del Potro:
- 2012 French Open quarterfinals
- 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-0, 6-3
- Federer’s win ties Jimmy Connors’ record of 31 Grand Slam semifinal appearances.
Why it is ranked No. 9: The matchup is more compelling than the David Ferrer vs. Nicolas Almagro one, which left the result up in the air for much of the encounter. However, it is also only a quarterfinal, and Federer was already a 16-time Grand Slam winner.
Additionally, Del Potro struggled with a bad knee that season, giving the Swiss a bit of an edge.
Andy Murray defeats Fernando Verdasco:
- 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinals
- 4-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-5
Notable quote: “When you play more and more matches, and gain more experience, you understand how to turn matches around and how to change the momentum of games”—Murray.
Why it is ranked No. 8: One of the only problems with this match is that it took place in the quarterfinals. One could also make the argument that sets three and four weren’t especially competitive. However, what pushed it up to this rank is the circumstances of the match.
Murray was attempting to become the first British man in 77 years to win Wimbledon, and he was only two matches away from the goal. Each and every point during the third set was met with absolute delight and frustration by the fans who dreaded their man being down two sets and facing elimination.
His win under duress adds value to this comeback.
Stefan Edberg defeats Miloslav Mecir:
- 1988 Wimbledon semifinals
- 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4
Notable quote: “And I wouldn’t have won today if I didn’t have guts”—Edberg.
Why it is ranked No. 7: Perhaps, the one drawback of this match is the slight mental edge that Edberg had going in. Prior to this meeting, he had defeated Mecir in Davis Cup play. That had gone five sets as well.
There are many positives that helped move this up the ranks. The biggest one, that stands out over the lower comebacks, is that it took place on Centre Court in the semifinals of Wimbledon.
Aaron Krickstein defeats Stefan Edberg:
- 1995 Australian Open fourth round
- 6-7 (6-8), 5-7, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4
Last beat the Swede in 1989
Notable quote: “Maybe they’re magic rackets”—Krickstein.
Why it is ranked No. 6: Even though this match took place in the fourth round, there are many positives that more than make up for that. To begin with, Krickstein was unseeded and plummeting, while Edberg was No. 6. Also, the Michigan-born player hadn’t made a Grand Slam quarterfinal for five years.
No one could blame him for digging up his old rackets to gain some mojo.
Richard Gasquet defeats Andy Roddick:
- 2007 Wimbledon quarterfinals
- 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 8-6
Why it is ranked No. 5: Any five-setter that includes a tiebreak in the third set automatically moves itself right up any list. To add another tiebreaker and a “go-the-distance” fifth set only helps things. It even beats “magic rackets.”
It gets better, though. Gasquet was known for losing five-set matches. He also had a history of getting cramped up when the going got tough. This was a great victory for the Frenchman and wonderful theater for the fans.
The only thing that could have made it greater would have been a match deeper in the tourney.
Roger Federer defeats Rafael Nadal:
- 2005 Miami Masters Final
- 2-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 6-1
- Second clash of the future rivalry
Why it is ranked No. 4: Sadly, this comeback occurred outside of a Grand Slam. That pulls the match out of the top three. At least it was a final.
Like the No. 5 matchup, though, the score line adds tremendously to its status. Not only was Federer down two sets to none, he was behind 3-5 in the breaker. The match was truly Nadal’s to win. What makes the “FedEx” victory even more memorable?
In the 2004 Miami Masters third round, Nadal had soundly beaten the Swiss, 6-3, 6-3, in only 69 minutes.
Pete Sampras defeats Jim Courier:
- 1995 Australian Open quarterfinals
- 6-7 (4), 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3
- Second comeback in three days for Sampras
Notable quote: “We can do this tomorrow, you know”—Courier.
Why it is ranked No. 3: It would seem silly to rank a quarterfinal match as the greatest comeback in men’s tennis, but it is awfully close. The dramatic spectacle alone puts it among the best.
Just when it looked like Courier had Sampras heading to the locker room, a fan tried to help “Pistol Pete.” However, the call for him to win for his coach who had a brain tumor only broke him down in tears.
To everyone’s surprise, Courier offered Sampras an out.
The rest is history.
Andre Agassi defeats Andrei Medvedev:
- 1999 French Open final
- 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4
Notable quote: No quote, just silence—John McEnroe.
Why it is ranked No. 2: As a rule, anything that can silence McEnroe is automatically worthy of a top spot on a list. That is exactly what happened. When the final shot was struck, the ovation, the absolute excitement and joy of the French crowd was so overwhelming that Mac was speechless in the commentators’ booth.
With this tour de force, Agassi joined the career Grand Slam club.
Ivan Lendl defeats John McEnroe:
- 1984 French Open final
- 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
Notable quote: ”I felt that once I could break him, I could do it again”—Lendl.
Why it is ranked No. 1: Fifteen years before McEnroe’s stunned silence in the booth, he was speechless at Roland Garros. During the first two sets, his serve was dominating the match. He was clearly and easily on his way to being the first American champion in Paris since 1955.
Then, Lendl broke him, and the match turned around.
Two facts make this comeback the greatest: First, McEnroe would end the year an astounding 82-3. Second, he had arrived on the court that day in the midst of a 39-match winning streak.
Unluckily for him, the streak ended at 39 matches and two sets.