Sometimes the Bear Eats You

This is officially the most brutal match point in tennis history

January 23, 2023

Before we get to the video, and we know you want the video, there is some context to consider here. All of this happened in the middle of the night in Australia between Russia's Andrey Rublev and Denmark's Holger Rune, two extremely in-form, top-ten players trying to reach a slam quarterfinal. Ever heard the phrase "there's not much between them"? That cliche was tailor-made for this match, which was a brutal slugfest between two peaking players, and they split the first two sets. It was slim margins everywhere, including the fifth set, when Rublev went down 0-40 in the first game, saved himself, and then got broken at 3-4 to give Rune a chance to serve out the match...which, tightening up, Rune couldn't convert. Then Rune had two more match points at 6-5, but Rublev saved both on his serve, and suddenly they were at 6-all.

The Australian, like all slams now, uses a 10-point match tiebreaker for fifth set stalemates, and Rune proceeded to go up 5-0, which would be almost insurmountable in a classic seven-point breaker and which at least feels insurmountable even in a 10-pointer.

Unfortunately for him, the wheels came off his serve, Rublev battled back, and soon they were "on serve," which is a really inapt piece of verbiage for a tiebreaker. What it means, basically, is that if the server keeps winning his points, the match goes on indefinitely, but one little screw up and it's over. Which brings us to 9-10, Rune serving to stay in the match. They had been on court for 3 hours and 37 minutes at this point, in the extreme Australian heat, and this—this!—is how it ended:

"You have to feel for Holger Rune" might be the greatest understatement in the history of sports commentary.

We have to give credit to Rublev, who only enjoyed a millisecond of celebration before raising both hands in apology to Rune. (This, by the way, is a sportsmanship ritual that is often mocked by those who don't play tennis, but, as anyone who plays even rec tennis will tell you, is absolutely fundamental to keeping players sane in moments like these.) Credit also to Rune, who didn't smash all 19 rackets in his bag like he had every right to do.

Rublev's post-match interview on Eurosport was a masterpiece, in which he thanked god and then Santa Claus for the net cord.

What's kind of amazing is that a few hours later, American Tommy Paul was also the beneficiary of a net cord on match point. Granted, the situation wasn't quite as dramatic, but two in one night is still wild:

Rublev moves on to face Novak Djokovic in the quarters, which means he'll probably need about 50 net cord points, while Paul is taking on unseeded but extremely exciting young American Ben Shelton, meaning that someone is going to reach a very surprising quarterfinal. Clearly, weird happenings are afoot down under.