Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin saved five match points and didn’t have a single break point in the match but still prevailed in a thrilling, come-from-behind win, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 12-10 over the sixth seeds Michael Venus and John Peers at the Nitto ATP Finals Wednesday.
Both teams came into the match sitting in the basement of Group Bob Bryan and hungry for a win, after having lost their first round-robin matches. And with the result, all four teams are still alive for a semi-final berth in what’s turned out to be a remarkably even and entertaining group.
Venus—a Kiwi who lives in London and went to college in the United States—wore a black top with neon green flames on his arms and torso, bounced around in between points like a boxer with his shorts on fire, waiting to land some blows. And indeed he was on fire early, using his lethal forehand and strong net play to inflict damage on the Austrian/French pair.
A doubles match wouldn’t be much fun without plenty of body blows and in this match there were plenty. Venus blasted an overhead at Melzer’s feet on the first point of the match, and a few points later, his partner hit Roger-Vasselin in the torso with a mishit overhead and won the point anyways.
Peers, the son of former pro tennis player Elizabeth Little and the brother of tennis player Sally Peers, mixed his serve beautifully and held comfortably in the first set.
Venus hopped out of the way of a tough body serve from Melzer up 2-1 in the first set on a deciding-point break chance and spun a crafty forehand winner into the tram lines for the match’s first service break. The wrecking crew from the Antipodes then cinched the double break and the first set, 6-2, in 25 minutes when Melzer, 39, double faulted on break point down.
Neither team faced a break point in the second set until the 60-minute mark of the match, when Roger-Vasselin staved one off with a well-placed 112 mile per hour serve out wide that induced a Peers’ backhand error, levelling the score at 5-5.
The match then headed into the tournament’s ninth (doubles) tie-break in eight matches. (Last year there were also nine tie-breaks in the doubles draw’s 15 matches.)
The match’s momentum shifted on the first point as Venus double faulted, giving the French-Austrian team a mini-break. Venus then netted a volley at 1-3 for a second mini-break but his quick hands helped them take that mini-break right back at 2-4. Down 2-5, Venus let a Melzer forehand passing shot go while at the net and it dropped well in to give the opposition a commanding 6-2 advantage. Suddenly the man who had been the most dominant player on the court had gone cold. Melzer sealed the comeback set 7-4 in the tie-break, with a cracking forehand volley winner to send the match into a Match Tie-break. Five of the eight doubles contests so far at this tournament have required a Match Tie-break.
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The French-Austrian pair had only won three of 11 match tie-breaks this season, compared to three of five for Peers and Venus, but Melzer and Roger-Vasselin seemed to have the wind at their backs on this moment until Peers and Venus seized that momentum back at 2-2, capturing the first mini-break off a booming overhead smash from Peers. Then at 5-3 up, Venus hit a brilliant topspin lob over Melzer’s head that landed just inside the line for a clean winner that gave them a second mini-break and a 6-3 lead. Roger Vasselin hit a brilliant backhand service return though at 3-7 down to get that mini-break right back in a see-saw affair.
Roger-Vasselin saved a set point with some brilliant net play at 6-9. Then on match point number three, he fired an ace to bring his team to 8-9. On match point number four, Melzer blasted a forehand winner up the line and passed Venus to level the match at 9-9. A sharp backhand volley winner from Venus on the next point set up match point number five, which Melzer coolly staved off with a big first serve.
At 10-10 Roger-Vasselin tagged Peers on the leg with a nice volley, giving his team its first match point at 11-10. Peers then netted a routine bouncing overhead smash, giving Melzer and Roger Vasselin an improbable victory.
“I picked up my game after the first set; that was the key,” Melzer said in an on-court interview after the match. “I couldn’t have played worse in the first set. We said we’re going to stick together no matter what and it paid off.”
His partner said the key was staying positive while down essentially the entire match.
“We just tried our best and fought till the last point and are so happy we got the win,” he said. “In doubles, every point counts.”