5 most memorable choking encounters in Women's Tennis
Women’s tennis performances are a plethora of contradictions. Where on one hand we have wondrous displays of tennis playing acumen that are full of confidence and sureness, on the other we also have performances where victory has been snatched from the brink of defeat. Though not always because the player on the verge of defeat has rebounded from her slump, to regain her momentum and overcome her lapses.
While these matches do make for an exciting finish, the intensity never mellowing down but turning over to the other side at the most critical of junctures, it’s the plight of the losing opponent that’s hard to absorb. To have played a well synchronised game, only to lose it in the end, is never easy to forget. Yet many of these ‘chokers’, as they are referred to, have gone on to put their loss firmly behind them. Some even went on to win the tournament where they had to face such a demoralising outcome, a fitting retribution to their earlier angst. Here’s a recount of five such palpably tantalising matches:
5. Mary Jo Fernandez def. Gabriela Sabatini, 1993 French Open Quarter-final
Gabriela Sabatini, the Argentine golden girl, had somewhat of an infamous reputation; that of being a choker. Looking at her performance against American Mary Jo Fernandez in the 1993 French Open quarter-finals, one can garner why. Serving for the match at 6-1, 5-1, Sabatini surprisingly – or not so surprisingly – went on to lose the match 6-1, 5-7, 8-10 after three-and-a-half hours of gruelling effort on the part of the American.
Fernandez eventually went on to notch her first and only final appearance at the French Open, bowing down to Steffi Graf in yet another hard fought three setter.
4. Steffi Graf def. Martina Hingis, 1999 French Open Final
Hingis’ loss in this match has solely been credited to her arrogance. Though already up a set and a break in the second set, the Swiss world no. 1 displayed unnecessary and unwanted rudeness towards the match officials. Her melodrama irritated one and all, even the generally unruffled Graf, prompting an already Graf-biased crowd to screech even louder against the Swiss. As the match progressed, Hingis’ concentration started to waver, impacting her game. Graf stayed poised, collected her last French Open title and consquently her last Grand Slam title.
Hingis’ run at the French Open however ran out as she never managed to reach the finals at Roland Garros ever again.
3. Serena Williams def. Lindsay Davenport, 2005 Australian Open Final
When one plays against Serena Williams, there’s not a single moment where the opponent cannot expect the American to swing the match around to her advantage. Lindsay Davenport held it together quite well, taking the first set 6-2. But it when it came to crunch time in the second and the third set, she was unable to face Serena’s onslaught – as injured as Serena was – and surrendered the match with a disappointing score-line of 0-6 in the third set.
The key to Serena’s success was methodical deconstruction of Davenport’s game without allowing her to take advantage of her fitness vulnerabilities.
2. Serena Williams def. Kim Clijsters, 2003 Australian Open Semi-finals
There are exciting matches and there are nerve-wracking matches. This match indeed falls under the latter specification. Bidding to reach her first Australian Open finals, Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams were one set apiece with Clijsters leading with a break in the third set. Her movement visibly hindered because of a foot blister, Serena ended up trailing the Belgian in the set 1-5. But that’s when it all changed. Or rather, the American made it change. Kim Clijsters failed to convert two crucial match points on Serena’s serve, allowed the American to break twice and consequentially level the set at 5-games apiece. Two games later, Serena had done what would have otherwise been perceived as impossible.
The score-line read 4-6, 6-3, 7-5 in Williams’ favour, who then concluded her spectacular run-up to the final by defeating sister Venus to win her fifth Grand Slam title and the first of her five Australian Open singles titles.
1. Steffi Graf def. Jana Novotna, 1993 Wimbledon Final
Regarded to be an all-time classic, the 1993 Wimbledon final was memorable for various reasons. But mostly, it was memorable for the way Graf found her way back into the match, to claim her fifth Wimbledon singles title. After losing the first set in the tie-break, Novotna secured a convincing 6-1 win in the second set and was comfortably leading 4-1 in the third set. And that’s when she lost her composure. Her serve seemingly let her down and she failed to win a single game thereafter, thus allowing Graf to wrap the match in the 10th game.
Four years later, her maiden Grand Slam victory couldn’t have been any sweeter for Novotna as she finally etched her name in the Wimbledon silverware, defeating Frenchwoman Nathalie Tauziat in a comparatively sedate fashion, in her third finals’ appearance at Wimbledon.