Top 10 Grand Slam Matches of 2017: #6 - Svetlana Kuznetsova's incredible marathon thriller against Jelena Jankovic

Starting this week, VAVEL USA’s Don Han will be counting down the top 10 best WTA Grand Slam matches of 2017. Number 6: Svetlana Kuznetsova's impressive hustle against fellow veteran Jelena Jankovic in the third round of the Australian Open, triumphing 9-7 in the deciding set.

Top 10 Grand Slam Matches of 2017: #6 - Svetlana Kuznetsova's incredible marathon thriller against Jelena Jankovic
Svetlana Kuznetsova applauds the crowd after her marathon victory against Jelena Jankovic | Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images AsiaPac
Svetlana Kuznetsova
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Jelena Jankovic

One of the most memorable Grand Slam matches of the year is no other than the third round epic at the Australian Open between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic, the two veterans who battled for over 200 minutes in the match. This match had numerous momentum shifts, from Kuznetsova leading by a set and a double break to Jankovic leading by three games in the final game, causing this encounter to be filled with twists and turns.

Kuznetsova takes the first set

It seemed like a tight affair from the start as Jankovic came out firing, clinching a fast service hold to start the match with. Nevertheless, Kuznetsova soon earned the early service break after she triumphed in a very tight game which saw her miss four break point opportunities, and she took full advantage of the breakthrough as she consolidated the break and have a 3-1 lead. Bringing up a break point opportunity off an excellent down the line winner, Kuznetsova missed her chance to take a huge lead as Jankovic kept herself in the first set by barely holding onto her service game to lessen the deficit.

Svetlana Kuznetsova made a bright start to the encounter, taking the first set 6-4 | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac
Svetlana Kuznetsova made a bright start to the encounter, taking the first set 6-4 | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac

With the momentum running in her, the Russian finally broke serve once more in the sixth game, earning the golden opportunity to serve out the set. Infamous for her troubles in closing out sets and matches, Kuznetsova earned a set point on her serve before throwing one of the breaks away off a double fault, giving the former world number one a lifeline. Saving two more set points on her serve to lessen the deficit to just one game, Jankovic failed to save the fourth one as Kuznetsova stepped up her game and maintained her composure to finally seal up the first set 6-4.

Jankovic mounts incredible comeback

Similar to the first set, Jankovic earned a comfortable service hold to start the set with. Nevertheless, Kuznetsova still managed to break serve early despite with the Serbian looking to send the match into a deciding set, leading by a set and a break which allowed her to look on course for a straight sets victory.

Svetlana Kuznetsova's verbal celebrations seemed to have spured her on during the match | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac
Svetlana Kuznetsova's verbal celebrations seemed to have spured her on during the match | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac

Earning yet another break of service, Kuznetsova led by a scoreline of 6-4, 4-1 which certainly placed her in an advantageous position of closing out the match easily. What happened next was definitely unexpected as Jankovic fought straight back, getting one of the breaks back and fending off a break point in the process of holding her serve in a nervy game.

The Russian finally stopped the rout when she held serve to be just a game away from the victory, leading 5-3 in the set. Serving out the match, Kuznetsova showed some signs of nerves as she threw in a double fault just at the most crucial moment on break point, gifting back the break and allowed Jankovic to return level all of a sudden. Serving two double faults in a row, Kuznetsova was broken to love when serving to stay in the match, with the match leveled at one set all despite the Russian being up 6-3, *4-1.

Jelena Jankovic completes the impossible, and seals the second set out of nowhere | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac
Jelena Jankovic completes the impossible, and seals the second set out of nowhere | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac

Kuznetsova recovers from huge deficit

With the momentum running in her, Jankovic jumped out to an early lead as she finally was the one who made the first breakthrough in the set, breaking serve in the second game for a 2-0 lead. The Serbian affirmed the lead with a tough hold of service, fending off a break point opportunity in the process to prevent Kuznetsova from making an immediate reply. With the risk of going down a double break deficit, Kuznetsova maintained her composure and played her best tennis to hold onto her service game and lessen the deficit.

It proved to be ultra-encouraging for the Russian as she broke straight back in the next game, which lasted 10 minutes, to return on serve having looked down and out just moments ago. Kuznetsova failed to keep up the momentum though, as she wasted two game points in the following game to gift Jankovic the advantage once again, who looked the favorite to close out the match.

Jelena Jankovic's everlasting fighting spirit saw her produce a comeback from 3-6, 1-4 down to take a 3-0 lead in the final set | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac
Jelena Jankovic's everlasting fighting spirit saw her produce a comeback from 3-6, 1-4 down to take a 3-0 lead in the final set | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac

Nevertheless, Kuznetsova displayed her champion’s mindset as she made the best reply possible, coming from 30-15 down to break serve and return level on serve once more. Three consecutive booming winners finally allowed the Russian to go back level on the scoreboard, with the score at 4-4. Kuznetsova took the lead in the final set for the first time when she triumphed in the physically-draining 10 minutes game, saving two game points before breaking serve off an unfortunate double fault by the Serbian.

Similar to the second set, Kuznetsova failed to serve out the match at 5-4, with Jankovic not letting Kuznetsova have an easy time as she broke straight back to level the match once more. Serving to stay in the match for the first time at 5-6 down, Kuznetsova overcame some nerves as she narrowly held her serve with Jankovic bringing the score to deuce twice in the game, threatening to earn a hard-fought match point.

Svetlana Kuznetsova celebrates her stunning win over Jelena Jankovic, triumphing in three thrilling sets | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac
Svetlana Kuznetsova celebrates her stunning win over Jelena Jankovic, triumphing in three thrilling sets | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images AsiaPac

After a rare exchange of comfortable service holds, Kuznetsova made the next breakthrough as three unforced errors cost Jankovic greatly, causing her to lose her serve and gave Kuznetsova her third chance to serve out the match. This time, it was third time lucky as the Russian successfully served out the match to love comfortably, clinching the thrilling match after a marathon 3 hours and 36 minutes.  

Stats Corner: Kuznetsova the more solid player on the court

Both players had 7 double faults to their names, but Kuznetsova had 4 aces while Jankovic only had one throughout the whole match. There was nothing really separating both of them in the statistics, but Kuznetsova’s main factor to victory was her second serve. She put in more consistent second serves in, winning 44 percent of those points, a little higher than Jankovic’s 41 percent.

Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova meet for a warm handshake at the net after the three-hour, 36-minute thriller | Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images AsiaPac
Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova meet for a warm handshake at the net after the three-hour, 36-minute thriller | Photo: Scott Barbour/Getty Images AsiaPac

It was a high-quality match played by both with their booming backhands, with 102 winners being shared between them. However, those winners came with an abundance of unforced errors as Jankovic ended the match with a -9 difference in the winners and unforced errors, while Kuznetsova hit just two more winners than unforced errors, with a total of 108 errors being hit.

Reaction from the victor

Having lost a huge lead in the second set before being on the brink of defeat, Kuznetsova was happy to have prevailed in this thrilling encounter. She mentioned in her press conference, “It's been a bit insane, but it's a tennis match, anything can happen. I was just, in the third set, I felt like Jelena was in total control of the game, but, you know, it's never done until you shake the hand.” Without a doubt, Kuznetsova showed absolute determination to get past Jankovic, a fellow veteran. “I was trying to fight and stay in there. I was not playing my best, but I fight hard and in the end I won. So I'm pretty happy with that,” the Russian claimed.

Svetlana Kuznetsova was able to come back from the brink, defeats Jelena Jankovic from 0-3 down in the final set | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac
Svetlana Kuznetsova was able to come back from the brink, defeats Jelena Jankovic from 0-3 down in the final set | Photo: Jack Thomas/Getty Images AsiaPac

Aftermath: Kuznetsova continues to soar while Jankovic struggles and falls in the rankings

With this win, Svetlana Kuznetsova progressed to the second week at the Australian Open for the first time since 2013. However, she lost to compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for the second time in the year in straight sets, showing some signs of fatigue from this match. Also, the Australian Open turned out to be the only tournament in January that saw Jelena Jankovic winning any matches, causing her to continue falling in the rankings.

By the end of the year, Kuznetsova managed to end the year inside the top-15 despite a wrist injury towards the conclusion of 2017 whereas Jankovic had to endure through a disappointing season with several injury issues as well. The Serbian, a former world number one, ended the year at the 160th spot in the rankings, her lowest since 2003.