- 21 Jul 2020
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, the 21st of July 2004, in Kitzbühel, Rainer Schuettler, from Germany, edged Andreas Seppi after saving no less than 10 match points (3-6 7-6 6-0). Although he did not establish a new record, it was still remarkable, as only three players in tennis history had fought off more match points. Wilmer Allison held the record of 18 match points saved before winning against Giorgio de Stefani in a 1930 Davis Cup tie, followed by Adriano Panatta, who had overcome 11 match points in Rome, in 1976, and Simon Youl, who had saved 11 match points as well in Schenectady in 1989.
The guys involved
Rainer Schuettler, from Germany, was born in 1976, and started competing on the tour in 1995. He broke into the top 100 in January 1999, after he claimed his first title in Doha as a qualifier, defeating world no.7 Tim Henman in the final (6-4 5-7 6-1). His best year on the tour was 2003, when he reached the Australian Open final (defeated by Andre Agassi, 6-2 6-2 6-1), before claiming two titles (in Tokyo and Lyon) and qualifying for the Masters Cup. Hence, Schuettler obtained his best year-end ranking as world no.6. In July 2004, although he had lost in the first round of the Australian Open, he was still ranked no.8, mainly thanks to a final reached at the Monte-Carlo Masters 1000 event (beaten by Guillermo Coria, 6-2 6-1 6-3).
Andreas Seppi, born in 1984, was no.185 on the ATP charts. At the time, the young Italian was more used to playing in Challenger events. He had only won one match so far on the main tour, in June, in Halle, where he edged Nikolay Davydenko (7-6 2-6 6-3) before losing to Fernando Verdasco (6-3 6-4).
The city of Kitzbuhel, a ski resort in the Austrian Alps, held a clay court tennis event every year since 1958, in summer, shortly after Wimbledon. Although it was not one of the biggest tournaments in terms of prize money, great players often attended the event, attracted by the possbility to spend more time on clay, and by its scenery. Amongst former champions, there were tennis stars such as Pete Sampras (1992), Thomas Muster (1993) or Guillermo Coria (2003).
In June 2004, Rainer Schuettler was still no.8 in the world, but his results were not comparable to his great 2003 season. He attended the minor clay court tournaments held in Europe before the American hard-court season, hoping to build confidence, as he had beaten only one top 10 player in 2004, Carlos Moya, at Monte-Carlo, in April.
Still, the German was by far the favourite in this second-round encounter with 20-year old Andreas Seppi, who only held the 185th spot on the ATP ranking. The two players had never faced each other yet as Seppi was making his first appearances on the main tour. However, the young Italian, relying on a huge forehand that he was not famous for at the time, took the first set, 6-3.
In the second set, when Seppi was up 5-4, and led 15-40 on Schuettler’s serve, the match was almost sealed. Schuettler bravely saved these two match points to stay in the match. Two games later, the same scenario repeated itself : down 5-6, 15-40, the German managed to push his opponent into a tie-break. In this memorable tie-break, Seppi obtained six more match points, including two on his own serve at 10-9 and 12-11, before Schuettler eventually prevailed 15-13 on his third set point.
It was too much for young Andreas, who collapsed in a third set won 6-0 by Rainer Schuettler, who commented afterwards :
“I lost the first set and then in the second set there was a very, very, close tiebreak and he had some match points. But I was starting to risking more on the big points. He had some match points and I had some set points in a long, long, tiebreak. Finally I won the tiebreak and that was very important because he then went down mentally and physically.“
Rainer Schuettler was only the fifth player in tennis history to save that many match points before winning in the end, and the first one since Alberto Marin against Adrain Voinea in 1999 at the Bucharest Open.
Rainer Schuettler would go on to reach the semi-final in Kitzbuhel, defeated by Nicolas Massu, from Chile, 6-3 6-3.
A few weeks later, in the first round of the US Open, Seppi would take his revenge against Schuettler, this time in a reverse scenario as the German would lead two sets to none before losing the three last sets (3-6 4-6 7-6 7-6 6-1).
Rainer Schuettler would play on the tour until 2012, but, after leaving the top 10 in 2004, he would not claim any new titles, and his only remarkable result would be a semi-final lost to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon in 2008 (6-1 7-6 6-4).
Andreas Seppi would break into the top 100 in 2005. The Italian would climb as high world no.18, in 2013, claiming three titles in his career.
Schuettler would remain the only player in the 21st century to have won a match after saving 10 match points until, twelve years later, Gilles Muller would save the same number of match points to edge John Isner at the 2016 Queen’s Club Championships.