(Reuters) – Australia’s Matthew Ebden and Max Purcell prevented the Croatian duo of Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic from winning back-to-back men’s doubles titles at Wimbledon with a 7-6(5) 6-7(3) 4-6 6-4 7-6(10-2) victory in the final on Saturday.
It was a long and arduous journey to the final for the Australians, with five of their six matches going to five sets while they saved a total of eight match points along the way.It was also a first Grand Slam crown for the duo, who became the first all-Australian team in 22 years to win the men’s doubles at the All England Club since the famous Woodies — Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde — won their last title.
“Mark Woodforde was actually out on the warm-up court with us this morning,” said Ebden, who lost the mixed doubles final on Thursday.
“Todd Woodbridge has been chatting with us as well, so we definitely channelled the Woodies. They are great mentors.”Pavic, a left-hander playing with a fractured bone on his right wrist, had it taped up and was trying his best to play with one hand, subconsciously tucking his right arm in during rallies and not opting for two-handed returns.
“It was tough to play, it was close. Obviously we were close, so it’s a bit frustrating. You’re not a 100%,” he said.
“They deserved to win. We gave our best, we gave them a fight. I think we can be very proud of ourselves.”
SETTLED BY TIEBREAKS
With almost nothing to separate the pairs in two tight sets settled by tiebreaks, the Croatians gained the upper hand with the first break of serve in the match in the opening game of the third when Purcell double-faulted and they took the set.The Australians, however, pounced at 5-4 in the fourth, switching tactics and going hard on their returns to fire a series of winners, clinching the set and forcing a decider as they encouraged the crowd to raise the volume at Centre Court.
“Something kind of changed towards the end of the third set. We thought, ‘Let’s just play on Centre Court and enjoy ourselves’,” Purcell said.
But the Croatians returned the favour, breaking to lead 3-2 in the final set, with Pavic dancing around the court with his arms raised even as Mektic looked on with his mouth hanging open in disbelief after his team mate’s pinpoint returns.
With tensions running high, players from both sides got their wires crossed on crucial points, but it was the Australians who kept their nerve and broke back to make it 4-4 before the match went into a tiebreak.
The final marked the first time in Wimbledon doubles history that the match, and the championship, was decided by a 10-point tiebreak and it was the Australians who stepped up to claim victory after an epic four hours and 11 minutes battle.
“They almost beat us with an injury, we were very lucky to win,” Ebden said of the second-seeded Croatian pair who also won Olympic gold last year.
“That just shows how big a team they are. With a big problem like that, they almost won Wimbledon.”