© Ella Ling

David Nalbandian

Top 10 greatest chokes of all time


Boris Becker vs. Thomas Muster – 1995 Monte Carlo Open final.
It certainly wasn’t third time lucky for Boris Becker. His two previous appearances in the Monte Carlo final had ended in defeat, meaning the German was still trying to win a first clay-court tournament. Having been two sets up, Becker then squandered two match points in a fourth-set tie break, one of which he double-faulted on. Muster then bageled Becker in a 22-minute fifth set and claimed his 23rd consecutive win on clay. “I don’t know how I won the match,” said Muster. Becker never managed to claim a clay-court title.
Result: Muster d. Becker 4-6, 5-7, 6-1, 7-6, 6-0.

Gabriela Sabatini vs. Mary Joe Fernandez – 1993 French Open quarter-final.
Sabatini had one foot in the semi-final – she was leading 6-1 5-1 – when she got the ‘yips’ on serve and the double-faults flowed. Sabatini’s five match points came and went and Fernandez won a third set 10-8. This wasn’t the first time Sabatini had choked on the big stage. She previously lost the 1991 Wimbledon final to Steffi Graf having served for the title. Twice.
Result: Fernandez d. Sabatini 1-6, 7-5, 10-8.

Jana Novotona vs. Steffi Graf – 1993 Wimbledon final.
Jana Novotna may have merged quietly in to the Wimbledon champion’s list had it not been for her heart-breaking choke on Centre Court in 1993. At 4-1, 40-30 in the third set, the Czech hit a double-fault that was closer to the service box on Court One than on Centre. Many similar serves, ground strokes and volleys followed, and soon afterwards Graf was lifting the Venus Rosewater Dish. Novotna broke down in tears when receiving the runners-up trophy from the Duchess of Kent. Novtona finally won the title in 1998: “I am just so pleased that I have won the Championship after all.”
Result: Graf d. Novotna 7-6, 1-6, 6-4.

Guillermo Coria vs. Gaston Gaudio – 2004 French Open final.
Court Phillipe Chatrier played host to a battle of Argentines in 2004. Having cruised through the first two sets, Coria lost a tight third set, and then a combination of convenient cramps and lack of belief saw him capitulate in the fourth, before magically recovering to compete in a tight fifth set which he finally succumbed 6-8. “I felt completely powerless. I couldn’t control this nervousness” said Coria. “I don’t know how I won,” admitted Gaudio.
Result: Gaudio d. Coria 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6

Roger Federer vs. Lleyton Hewitt – 2003 Davis Cup semi-Final.
The newly crowned Wimbledon champion, Roger Federer, was taking the tennis world by storm. He’d led Switzerland to the semi-final of the Davis Cup and would take the tie into a deciding rubber should he beat Hewitt. Everything was going to script for the Swiss until Hewitt broke back in the third and went on to win the tie-break. After a prolonged medical time-out, Federer returned to a crazed Rod Laver Arena, but could find no way to finish off the dogged Australian. Hewitt broke Federer’s spirit, and reduced him to tears, winning 6-1 in the fifth. “This beats the hell out of winning Wimbledon and the US Open,” an elated Hewitt said.
Result: Hewitt d. Federer 5-7, 2-6, 7-6, 7-5, 6-1

David Nalbandian vs. Marcos Baghdatis – 2006 Australian Open semi-final.
Fourth seed Nalbandian came up against the Cypriot who had rampaged his way through the draw taking out Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals. It looked to be a step too far for the unseeded Baghdatis when Nalbandian claimed the first two sets comfortably. However, Baghdatis soon discovered the sort of form that got him to that stage, to level the match. Nalbandian held a 4-2 lead in the final set, but failed to close the match out. Having reached the final, a joyous Baghdatis said: “I’ll have to wake up and check if I’m dreaming – it’s amazing.”
Result: Baghdatis d. Nalbandian 3-6, 5-7, 6-3. 6-3. 6-4

Tim Henman vs. Goran Ivanisevic – 2001 Wimbledon semi-final.
Tim Henman produced some astounding tennis to take a two-sets-to-one lead over Ivanisevic on Centre Court. The Brit had won the third set 6-0 and was on the brink of being the first man since Fred Perry to reach the second Sunday. Enter the beautiful British summer – umbrellas up, covers on, and players off. Henman lost all rhythm and the light at the end of the tunnel slowly diminished. Ivanisevic knew how fortunate he’d been: “This is destiny. God wanted me to win this game – he sent the rains.”
Result: Ivanisevic d. Henman 7-5, 6-7, 0-6, 7-6, 6-3

John McEnroe vs. Ivan Lendl – 1984 French Open final.
The American was the overwhelming favourite entering this match having not lost all year. McEnroe looked as though his streak would improve to 40-0 when he produced some ‘high heat’ tennis to take the first two sets. At 1-1 in the third, in classic ‘Superbrat’ style, McEnroe exploded at a cameraman because of a noise coming from his headset. Lendl, thriving off his opponent’s frustration, used this opportunity and went from strength-to-strength in the match to outlast McEnroe. With the win, Lendl broke his grand slam Duck and the American’s streak.
Result: Lendl d. McEnroe 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5

Todd Martin vs. MaliVai Washington – 1996 Wimbledon semi-final.
With seeds falling like flies at the 1996 Championships, the draw opened up and seemed as though it was Todd Martin’s to lose. The American faced compatriot MaliVai Washinton in the semi-final and soon took an expected lead. Washington battled for his life and Martin failed to put him away. Washington’s fighting qualities looked to have fizzled-out when Martin took a 5-1 lead in the final set, only for him to fail to serve it out, twice. Reflecting on his choke, Martin said: “The only way you don’t think about what could have been is if you are holding up the cup.”
Result: Washington d. Martin 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 10-8

Kim Clijsters vs Serena Williams – 2003 Australian Open semi-final.
It may be harsh to consider any loss to Serena Williams as a choke. However, Clijsters managed to dispose of a 5-1 lead and two match points against the American. Serena, facing a four-game deficit, reeled off six straight games and won the third set 7-5. Clijsters was surprisingly upbeat after her crumbling: “I’m not disappointed, you know, if she’s playing her best tennis, it’s very hard to beat her. That’s what she did at the end.”
Result: Williams d. Clijsters 4-6, 6-3, 7-5

  • Peter

    Roger Federer’s choke job at the 2001 US Open should be at the top of this list.

    • Anonymous

      No moron, Novotna’s epic and unforgettable flameout against Graf in the ’93 Wimbledon Final is the sports all-time choke job and is far and wide recognized as such. The fact that her redemption in raising the Dish after defeating Nathalie Tauziat five years later is often totally ignored when one discusses the Hall of Famer’s career speaks for itself. Not sure what you found so awful about Federer’s fourth-round ouster by Agassi at the 2001 US Open, but I’ll leave you to ponder what got screwed up there.

  • Gregoris Elia

    u forgot miami i thik 2007 serene beat justine after losing 6-0 and 5-1 in the second set , eventually winning it 7-5 and 6-0(i think?)

    • Anonymous

      Serena eventually won 2007 Miami over Henin 0-6, 7-5, 6-3.