In the following article, we will have a look at some of the most remarkable tennis comebacks ever. Maybe you think tennis players are used to injuries, as they are part of the sport, but it’s definitely not easy to return after you have spent months or even years away from professional competitions. A lot of tremendous qualities are required, in order to be able to come back even stronger than before. We will speak about some of the greatest tennis players and tell you their astonishing comeback stories, filled with passion, love, regret and dedication.
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Roger Federer – The Swiss Maestro
It’s impossible for us to discuss any tennis-related theme and not speak about Roger Federer. After all, he is the greatest tennis player ever. The list of his personal achievements and records is so long, it’s ridiculous. He has spent a total of 310 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings, including 237 consecutive weeks. He has been dominating the tennis world for nearly 20 years now. He has won more Grand Slam tournaments titles (20) than any other player.
He is the first men’s singles player to have reached 10 consecutive Grand Slam tournament finals and a total of 31 Grand Slam finals. He earned gold and silver medals in the Olympics in 2008 and 2012 and was branded a “living legend in his own time”. We can go on and on about Federer’s achievements, but as this article is concentrated on the best tennis comebacks, we will concentrate on his time away from the tennis courts, his recovery and his return to the top.
Federer was ranked among the top 8 players in the world continuously for a little more than 14 years – from the end of 2002 until the end of 2016. In early 2016, Federer reached the 2016 Australian Open semi-finals where he lost to Novac Djokovic. On the next day, he suffered a freak injury when he twisted his knee.
The strange thing was that he didn’t pick up the injury on the tennis court or while training, but while he was spending time at home. He was running a bath for his kids when he heard a click in his knee. For those of you who don’t know, Federer has two sets of twins – 2 identical twin girls, born in 2009 and two identical twin boys, born in 2014. We can’t imagine what is like to prepare a bath for such a dynamic group, but we bet it’s quite a challenge.
Federer learned from the MRI that he had broken his meniscus and needed surgery. He was forced to take some time off tennis until he recovers completely and feels ready and healthy enough to come back. He missed much of the 2016 season. That was the first season since 2000, in which the Swiss Maestro failed to win a title and he dropped out of the top ten for the first time in 14 years. Many analysts believed that his remarkable career was finally coming to an end and claimed that he would never win any major titles again.
“I couldn’t believe it. I was actually quite emotional, especially after the surgery, looking down at my foot and understanding that maybe this leg or this knee will never be the same.” – Federer stated.
After enjoying around 6 months out with his lovely family and recovering from the injury, Federer felt very optimistic about his return to tennis in January 2017. The season officially commenced on 2 January with the start of the Hopman Cup, which was an ideal way for the Federer Express (another popular nickname of Roger) to get ready for the upcoming Australian Open. It was the first major tournament of the year and the first major tournament after his time out. Bearing in mind that he had not won a Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2012, with almost none match practice having just returned from the injury, no one expected him to even come close to winning.
He was 20/1 at most bookies to win the Australian Open, regardless of his stature as an all-time great. That is how much everyone had written him off. But the Maestro prove everybody wrong. He progressed all the way to the final, winning over top 10 players Tomas Berdych, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka. And for the sensational comeback to be complete, he had to win against his most likely greatest rival Rafael Nadal. Since the Wimbledon final in 2007, Nadal had won all six matches between the two in major tournaments.
After a heart-stopping 5-set game, Federer claimed the title, winning a record-extending and historic 18th men’s singles Grand Slam title. It was his first Grand Slam in 4 years. He became the first men in history to win at least five singles titles at three different major tournaments each. His ATP ranking rose from No. 17 to No. 10. At 35 years and 174 days, Federer became the oldest major since Ken Rosewall in 1971. After the win, Federer said:
” I couldn’t believe it myself because I actually thought it was going to take me at least almost half of a season to get into the swing of things. But this fairytale ended very nicely by winning the Australian Open in my comeback in a final against Rafa, where I was down 1-3 in the fifth. So maybe it was one of the most special moments in my entire tennis career.”
The win acted like a trampoline for Federer’s confidence, motivation and hunger for success. He managed to win 6 more titles in 2017 – the Indian Wells Masters, Miami Open, Halle Open, Wimbledon Championships, Shanghai Masters and Swiss Indoors. The season is regarded as one of the greatest comeback seasons of all time. It marked a renaissance and a return to excellence for Federer, winning a total of 7 titles throughout the year, with a win-loss record of 54-5. It was the most successful season for the Maestro in over a decade.
Roger Federer is also considered one of the main people who helped the revival of tennis, known by many as the Golden Age. His impressive style of play, his fair play attitude, his undeniable charm, his remarkable will and of course, his one of a kind dedication and talent, helped to popularise the tennis sport around the world. And not only people love to watch him play and watch tennis games as a whole, but they also like to bet on tennis games a lot more nowadays. Each one of the top online sportsbooks provide tennis markets, so you can bet on your favourites in nearly every single tennis event. We personally think one of the best sites for tennis bets is Ladbrokes. The site offers a great diversity of tennis games, very high odds, live streams and many bonus offers.
As we all know, Roger Federer continues to play tennis and continues to win tournaments to this day. His unbelievable abilities and unmatched passion keep inspiring kids all around the world. Regardless of when he will decide to put an end on his brilliant career, he will forever be one of the greatest sports athletes. We will leave you with how Jimmy Connors (often considered among the greatest tennis players ever) described Federer’s versatility:
” In an era of specialists, you’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist… or you’re Roger Federer.”
Andre Agassi – The Punisher
Andre Agassi “rocked” the tennis world. He broke into the scene in 1986. His colourful clothes and unique hairstyle attracted a whole new generation of advertises and he became the face of the sport. The Las Vegas-born player was inspired by his father to start training tennis from a very early age and at 13 he was sent to a Tennis Academy in Florida and dropped out of school. At the end of 1987, at the age of 17, Agassi was ranked as No. 25 in the world.
By the end of 1988, he became the fastest player to surpass $1 million in career prize money after playing in just 43 tournaments. He finished the year ranked as the third-best tennis player in the world. In the following couple of years, Agassi, nicknamed “the Punisher” reached three Grand Slam finals, but he lost all of them. His Grand Slam breakthrough came at Wimbledon in 1992 when he lifted the title. In 1993, he failed to defend his Wimbledon title as he lost to the eventual champion Pete Sampras.
Due to injuries, he required wrist surgery at the end of the year. He took some time off to recover and the next two years were very successful, as he managed to win the US Open and Australian Open. He reached the world No. 1 for the first time in his career in April 1995. He held that ranking for a total of 30 weeks. His win-loss rate was 73-9 and he also was a key player for United States’ Davis Cup-winning team for the third time. Sadly, 1997 was the lowest point of his career. His problems with his wrist re-emerged and kept him out of action for large chunks of the year.
His marriage with the actress and supermodel Brooke Shields was failing and he started to use crystal meth (he admitted it himself later in his autobiography). He also shared that he had lost his love for the game. Rarely playing matches, winning zero titles and obviously suffering mental problems, Agassi dropped to world No. 141. He ended up having to lie to the ATP about why he tested positive for drug use, claiming at the time it was accidental. At this point, most of the world wrote off Agassi’s chances to return to the top.
But Agassi managed to get back into the right path and swore to himself to clean up his act and continue to play tennis. He was so ashamed of his lie for using crystal meth that he rejected any wild card invitations to compete in any Grand Slam or major tennis tournaments upon his return. Instead, he wanted to start from the bottom again, playing in the Challenger Series of Tournaments where he picked his own balls. He was playing in front of 100 people, instead of 20,000. Agassi was prepared to “walk the walk” and fight his way back the hard way, make his own opportunities, rather than being handed to him.
That was a clear sign of a big man, who acknowledged his mistakes, embraced them, learned from them and was able to start again. His story is used for an example to this day for determination, strong will and self-belief. Agassi went through the lower tournaments to reclaim his self-respect and reputation. He put himself through a severe physical conditioning program. He worked so hard that within a year he managed to come back from 141st in the world to number 6. After returning to top mental and physical shape he was able to go for the No. 1 spot in tennis once again. He won 5 titles and made a further five finals. The culmination was in 1999 when he won the final Grand Slam that was eluding him, the French Open.
The scenes after the final game, when Agassi realizes that he won the title, are examples of sheer emotions. Sometimes a man cannot hide his feelings. And why should he? His remarkable comeback was complete and the impression on his face said it all. How much he’d been through, how much he had suffered, how much he regretted his mistakes and what it meant to him to achieve something so unique, after such a bad and difficult period. Agassi re-claimed the No. 1 spot in the world. In the following years, he managed to win 3 more Grand Slams and continued to be the main contender in every tournament he participated in. Because of multiple injuries, he decided to retire and put an end to his extraordinary career in 2006. In 2010, Sports Illustrated named him the 7th greatest male player of all time and in 2011 he was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. A true tennis legend, a man who to this day is involved with charities and helps children all over the world.
Kim Clijsters – The Comeback Queen
After those two examples for big tennis comebacks by strong and determined men, it is time to give an example for a great comeback by a strong woman. Kim Clijsters, often regarded as “the friendliest person in tennis”, is a Belgian professional tennis player with a total of 41 career singles titles and 11 doubles titles. She grew up in an athletic household – her father had been a professional football player and her mother was a national gymnastics champion. Her parents’ prowess in these sports helped Kim to learn a lot about commitment, sportsmanship and some fundamental sports concepts as footwork and balance, including perhaps her trademark spits move, that she would employ throughout her playing career. Tennis, a solitary effort for so many, was to Clijsters very much a communal activity, bound up in the values she had learned on a daily basis.
Kim Clijsters played her first professional match of her career at the ITF Circuit in 1997 and made her WTA debut at the age of 15 in 1999. She was ranked as No. 420 in the world at the beginning of 1999 and at the end of the season, she was named WTA Newcomer of the Year, having risen to No. 47. Her movement and fluid all-court game instantly earned praise and she became a fans’ favourite from the moment she first came out on the big stage. One week after Clijsters turned sixteen, she entered Wimbledon as the youngest player in the top 200. Even though she failed to win any major singles titles in her first tournaments, she continued to go up the WTA ranking and at the end of 2001, she was No. 5 in the world. In the next couple of years, Clijsters continued with her successful performances and she managed to claim the no. 1 spot in WTA. With a record of 90-12 in 2003 in singles, she also won seven titles in thirteen events in doubles, partnering with Ai Sugiyama.
She became the first Belgian world No. 1 in singles and doubles, achieving both feats in August 2003. But in early 2004, Clijsters suffered a left wrist injury that eventually required surgery and she had to withdraw from the following Grand Slam tournaments. Her 2005 comeback year was exceptionally productive. She won nine singles titles, including her first Grand Slam title at the US Open (she had lost her previous 4 Grand Slam singles finals). The 2006 season saw a variety of injury issues for the Belgian athlete and less than two years after her Grand Slam triumph, Clijsters announced in a shocking statement that she will step away from tennis and retire in 2007 at the age of 23.
She got married in July 2007 to the former basketball player Brian Lynch. In February 2008, the world was delighted to learn that she had given birth to a daughter, named Jada. Sadly, 10 months later her dad passed away. Nearly two months later, while still figuring out how to be a good mom and mourning her late father, Clijsters announced that she is planning to come out of retirement. Motivated and claiming that she was taking a different approach to tennis, Kim Clijsters started her tennis comeback.
“I don’t need to be number 1 again,” said Clijsters. “I have done that and I don’t need to do it again… I am looking at this as a second career, not as a comeback, as I am now in a situation where not everything resolves around tennis 24 hours a day.”
In July 2009, after 26 months away from the courts and giving birth to a daughter, Kim Clijsters returned. The whole world was anxious to see how far this ambitious mother will go. And she didn’t disappoint anyone. In just her third tournament after coming back, Kim won the US Open to become the first mother to win a Grand Slam title since Evonne Goolagong at Wimbledon, back in 1980. She defended the Flushing Meadows crown in 2010, before going on to capture a third WTA Finals title at Doha. At the beginning of 2011, she won her first Australian Open. A fabulous win in Melbourne, which helped her return to the words’ No. 1 for a 20th career week in February 2011.
This completed her great tennis comeback, even though she stated multiple times that she returned because of her love for the game, and not because she wanted to claim the No. 1 spot one more time. But Clijsters was unable to stay healthy after the triumph and suffered multiple injuries, forcing her to announce her retirement again. She hung up her racket for the second time in 2012, with a trophy cabinet of 41 singles titles and 11 doubles titles.
Since then she has had two more children – Jack, born in 2013 and Blake, born in 2016 and she was inducted into the International Hall of Fame in 2017. And just a few months ago, she made a shocking announcement that she is planning another tennis comeback, at the age of 36, with a return to the WTA Tour in 2020. Well, that deserves great admiration. The chairman and CEO of the WTA Steve Simon welcomed her return, saying:
“Kim Clijsters ranks among the greats of the game and her return to the Tour is exciting news for the WTA family and tennis fans around the world. Driven by her love for the sport, this wonderful champion continues to inspire women and men in all walks of life – and she only adds to the compelling wealth of talent in women’s tennis. I wish Kim all the best in this next chapter of her playing career.”
It definitely won’t be easy to turn from a full-time mom to a competing professional tennis player even with years of experience. After all, it’s been 7 years since the last time Clijsters competed professionally. The top sportsbooks already make Kim Clijsters Grand Slam predictions, weighing in her chances for the singles titles in the upcoming season. One of the biggest online betting sites William Hill is giving 8/1 odds for Kim Clijsters to reach top 20 in the WTA singles ranking by the end of 2021. The odds for her to win a Grand Slam title in 2020 are the stunning 80/1. We certainly recommend trying this bet, at least with a smaller amount. After all, Clijsters already knows what it takes to make a comeback and how to surprise people who underestimate her.
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In case you are interested in learning more about some unbelievable comebacks, not only in tennis but in other sports too, then check out our article about the The Greatest Sports Comebacks. Among the names of some of the greatest athletes ever lived and their inspiring stories, you can read about the terrifying story of Monica Seles and her astonishing tennis comeback.