While five setters take a lot out of the players and even the spectators, they make tennis exhilarating and exciting. Be it the script of an epic comeback or the never-give-up attitude, every five setter has a story to tell.
The fifth set, in particular, truly puts viewers at the edge of their seats. The players use every ounce of their physical strength and their mental resolution. The last few years have been witness to some nerve-wracking five set encounters.
Let us take a look the 5 Grand Slam matches that had the most epic fifth sets.
#1 Ivo Karlovic v Horacio Zeballos
Tournament – Australian Open 2017Score – 6-7(6-8) 3-6 7-5 6-2 22-20Winner – Ivo KarlovicTime – 5 hours 15 minutes
The marathon between the Croatian and the Argentine proved to be the most electric match of this year's Australian Open so far. Karlovic, who fired 75 aces in the match, came back from 2 sets down to win the thrilling encounter.
The 5 hour 15 minutes marathon is the longest match at the Australian Open in terms of the number of games. The 20th seed had to work hard for his victory against Zeballos.
The fifth set continued for a long time and it seemed like both the players would not be able to stand after the match. Finally, Karlovic earned two break points at 15-40 in the 84th game of the match and managed to convert the second into a break.
#2 Rafael Nadal v Novak Djokovic
Tournament – French Open 2013Score – 6-4 3-6 6-1 6-7 9-7Winner – Rafael NadalTime – 4 hours 37 minutes
Novak Djokovic's repeated failure to conquer Roland Garros and finally victory on clay might just be the most enchanting story of the past 5 years. This semifinal loss against the ‘King of Clay’ is an example of the challenges he had to go through to achieve his career Grand Slam.
The match had everything that an encounter between the world no. 1 and world no. 2 should entail. It had passion, power, emotions and expression.
After battling through four ruthless sets, Djokovic had an early break and a 2-0 lead in the last. It felt as though he would finally be the 'Clay Kingslayer'. However, if Nadal can be characterised by one thing, it is his ability to fight till the end. With his crucial hold at 3-1 in the set, he denied the Serb a double break and allowed himself to stay in the match. He went from 4-2 to 4-4 after converting his third break point on a quivering Djokovic serve. The Serbian’s smash and consequent fall on the net remains a distinct memory even today.
His smash woes weren't done for the day. When Nadal, desperate to stay in the game, barely put a tweener across the court at 6-7, Djokovic crashed a routine smash into the net. At 8-7, Nadal got three break points and thus, match points on the Djokovic serve. Toni Nadal was out of his seat by then.
Novak's forehand went long and the French Open remained Rafa's.
The commentator said: “We hope you are enjoying this. These are not just the best athletes in tennis. The best athletes in all sport are on display.”
#3 John Isner v Nicolas Mahut
Tournament – Wimbledon 2010Score – 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-6 70-68Winner – John IsnerTime – 11 hours 5 minutes
We can’t forget this match, can we?
American John Isner and Frenchman Nicholas Mahut hold the record for the longest match in tennis history. This match in itself is the greatest advocate for tennis and for the vigour of its players.
The match, which lasted for three days due to bad lighting, is fondly remembered by tennis enthusiasts even today. Mahut, a qualifier then, pushed the then world no. 23 to his ultimate limit throughout the length of the match.
The fifth set alone lasted for 8 hours and 11 minutes, a fact that truly is incomprehensible, to say the least. At the end of it all, Isner took advantage of the Frenchman serving behind and pulled out a ravenous passing shot to earn the championship point.
It was his fifth match point. He converted it to put an end to the Herculean encounter.
The match turned Mahut's career around. Today, he is not known for this match that he lost, but his world no. 1 ranking in doubles tennis. It is this loss that inspired him to come back to Wimbledon last year and win the men's doubles trophy.
#4 Roger Federer v Rafael Nadal
Tournament – Wimbledon 2008Score – 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 9-7Winner – Rafael NadalTime- 4 hours 48 minutes
Whether it's a list of the greatest matches of all time, greatest Grand Slam finals of all time or the greatest five setters of all time - this match will feature in every list. It felt as though two demigods were going at each other with every weapon in their possession, in pursuit of the ultimate glory.
The fifth set especially, was extraordinary. Federer's majestic serve and impeccable ground-strokes, Nadal's ferocious forehands and implausible power – it seemed almost cruel that one of them had to lose at the end of it all.
A delicious cross-court forehand gave Rafa, the then world no. 2, the opportunity to win the match with two championship points. Federer saved those though. He also went on to save the third with a delicious return. The Spaniard earned a fourth match point and Uncle Toni again, was out of his seat. Finally, Federer netted a forehand and Nadal become the Wimbledon champion.
He broke Federer's ridiculous streak of winning the Wimbledon for five consecutive years from 2003 to 2007.
#5 Novak Djokovic v Rafael Nadal
Tournament – Australian Open 2012Score – 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 7-5Winner – Novak Djokovic'sTime – 5 hours 53 minutes
This longest Grand Slam final of the open era can also be regarded as the best Grand Slam final of the open era. It is still the longest match played at the Australian Open, with respect to the number of hours it lasted.
The final set, which lasted for 74 minutes, is still considered to be one of the best fifth sets in tennis. It showcased a tremendous comeback from the Serbian. At 4-2, he was down and out, but he found a way to break back. A 25 shot rally was the highlight of this set, which was also the longest of the match.
Riveting forehands coupled with delicious serving. Incredible returns were paired with breathtaking backhands. Both players were minting gold in almost every shot they played. Novak, who was serving behind, had the pressure of fighting not only Nadal but 80% of the audience in the Rod Laver arena.
The commentator even said, “Nadal is the most loved player of all time. Federer, most admired but Nadal, most loved.”
The Serbian however, found a way to overpower it all when he broke Nadal on the second of his two break points at 5-5. When he finally got his one and only match point, he looked up at the sky and said “one more.” The skies answered and Djokovic slammed a forehand winner to clinch his 3rd Australian Open title.
Nadal said that it was the toughest loss of his career and yet, the best match he ever played. Djokovic remembered how he ate one slab of chocolate after 18 months to celebrate this special win.
His shirt-tearing at the end of the match remains as one of the most popular celebrations in tennis and is remembered fondly by tennis enthusiasts around the world.