3 times when Novak Djokovic squandered match points to lose a match

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic
Modified 12 Mar 2020

Novak Djokovic is one of the most successful players in the history of men's tennis. The Serb's 17 Grand Slam titles are only behind Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19) in the all-time leaderboard while his 34 Masters 1000 titles are only shaded by Nadal (35).

The only player to win the career Grand Slam as well as the career Golden Masters (a feat of winning all 9 Masters 1000 tournaments during the course of one's career), Djokovic has had his best start to an ATP season in 2020 since going 41-0 in 2011. The Serb won all 6 of his singles matches for Serbia in the inaugural ATP Cup and followed that up with a record-extending 8th Australian Open title before winning his 5th Dubai title to go 18-0 for the season.

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During the course of his winning run, Djokovic came perilously close to his first defeat of the season when he dropped the opening set of the Dubai semi-finals against Gael Monfils and then stared down three consecutive match points, two of them consecutively.

It was where the Super Serb reprised his 'match-point' saving avatar he last donned during an epic 2019 Wimbledon final against Roger Federer where he saved consecutive matchpoints on Federer's serve to become the first champion at the grasscourt major in 71 years to have saved multiple championship points.

Monfils froze on the doorstep of his first victory over Djokovic in 17 matches, firing a nervy backhand wide and another forehand long before the Serb produced a forehand winner to erase the third. Few points later, the match was on an even keel at a set apiece. Djokovic was a man reborn in the third, winning six consecutive games to extend his perfect record against Monfils to 17-0, marking the 15th time the 17-time Grand Slam champion won a match from match points down.

One of the mentally toughest players the game has ever seen, no match is won against Djokovic till the match point is won. On that note, let us have a look at the 3 occasions Djokovic returned second-best after coming within a point from victory.

#3 Queens Final, 2018 | Lost to Marin Čilić 7-5, 6-7(4), 3-6

Djokovic lost to Cilic (right) in the 2018 Queens final
Djokovic lost to Cilic (right) in the 2018 Queens final

Looking for his first title in over 12 months, Djokovic could not hoped for a better opponent than Marin Čilić whom he had beaten 14 times in the pair's 15 tour meetings.

Exhibiting a level of play which was in sync with his dominance in the pair's lopsided rivalry, Djokovic took the opening set 7-5 and dropped only one first serve point in the second set as he saw a championship point on the Čilić serve at 5-4. But a booming serve out wide from the Croatian meant that Djokovic wouldn't come as close to victory on the day.

Despite the Serb leading 4-1 in the ensuing tie-break, Čilić clawed his way back to 4-all before Djokovic produced a nervy double fault. Two points later, it was one set apiece. In a competitive third set, Čilić converted his lone breakpoint opportunity at 4-3 and promptly served out to love to seal the 18th and most recent of his singles title of his career.

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#2 Madrid Semi-finals, 2009 | Lost to Rafael Nadal 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-7(9)

Djokovic lost to Nadal (right) in an epic Madrid Masters semifinal in 2009.
Djokovic lost to Nadal (right) in an epic Madrid Masters semifinal in 2009.

After losing each of his 8 previous clay court meetings with Nadal, Djokovic thrice came within a point of a first win on the surface against the Spaniard in an epic clash in the semi-finals of the 2009 Madrid Masters.

In the longest-ever match in Masters 1000 history, Djokovic won more points (125 to 120) on the day but came up short at 5-6, 6-7, and 9-8 in the third set tie-break as Nadal pulled off a win in a 4-hour 3-minute slugfest.

The Serb failed to convert breakpoints at 4-4 in the second after taking the opener as Nadal restored parity at a set apiece but was quick to reassert his ascendancy in the third, surging ahead 3-1, only to lose serve for the only time in the match in the very next game. In the ensuing tie-break, Djokovic saw his first two match points erased by blistering forehand winners off either flank before a third at 9-8 also went begging. Nadal won the last three points of the match to leave Djokovic deflated and winless against the Spaniard in 8 matches on clay.

Victory, though, came at a price for the Spaniard who lost to Federer in the final the next day and few weeks later saw his 31-0 unbeaten record at Roland Garros snapped by Robin Soderling.

#1 Rotterdam Semi-finals, 2007 | Lost to Mikhail Youzhny 6-3, 6-7(7), 5-7

Djokovic with Mikhail Youzhny
Djokovic with Mikhail Youzhny

Having lost to Mikhail Youzhny in the pair's first meeting in the opening round at Marseille in 2007, Djokovic had a swift opportunity for retribution when he crossed swords with the Russian a week later in the Rotterdam semi-finals.

After taking the opening set, Djokovic looked good for his first win againt Youzhny when he saw a match point at 7-6 in the second set tie-break. But the Russian managed to save that opportunity and won the set to force a decider where he found himself trailing 0-3.

Once again, Djokovic's concentration wavered as Youzhny fought his way back into the match, breaking his opponent twice to seal a 7-5 win in the third. A day later, Youzhny would beat Ivan Ljubicic in straight sets to capture the third title of his career.

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Published 12 Mar 2020
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