Marinko Matosevic goes down in epic battle

It took more than four hours. It took a 70th unforced error from Marinko Matosevic to decide, after two match points had already been saved. It was a dramatic, emotional, crazy-at-times five-set marathon against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy at Wimbledon. And it will take the 28-year-old Victorian some time to get over.
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Having already equalled his best grand slam result, achieved at the French Open last month after failed attempts at his first 12 majors, Matosevic fell agonisingly short of bettering his breakthrough effort in Paris. There is never a dull moment with Matosevic, but this one would have been devastating.

Chardy, the world No.42, won 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (11-9) 4-6 7-5 in four hours, 15 minutes. The 58th-ranked Matosevic hit 83 winners to 71, but 70 unforced errors to 43. Both players broke serve six times, but Chardy from 21 chances, and Matosevic from 10. The Australian charged the net 95 times, winning more than half of them. Of the total points won, the Frenchman claimed 201 and Matosevic 188. That’s how close it was.

Way back when it began, Matosevic took some time to awake from the half-slumber that he said accounted for the bizarre press conference that followed his opening round upset of 18th seed Fernando Verdasco. The Victorian was broken to 30 in his first service game, and Chardy untroubled on his until Matosevic struck back for 4-4, with further breaks traded before Matosevic claimed the tiebreak.

He was fortunate not to fall behind again early in the second set, as the beneficiary of a fortunate baseline overrule when facing one of a handful of break points, but then surrendered a 4-2 advantage, as he became increasingly animated and demonstrative, before a noisy court 17 crowd urging him on. The set was eventually lost, anyway, but there were to be so many many twists and turns.

Indeed, watching Matosevic can be a frustrating exercise, with the pain or ecstasy of almost every point shouted by his often-tormented body language – as well as via some verbal bellowing. His shoulders slump almost as often as he metaphorically beats his broad chest. He keeps a running commentary – “not a bad second serve”, or “everything’s a fault” – when his racquet might better be left to do the talking. As much as that is Marinko’s way, the emotional expenditure must be colossal.

But nor is there any doubt that Matosevic has come through the hard way, the child of Bosnian immigrants but never a favoured son of the Australian tennis establishment. He is not just a late bloomer, but almost as late as they come, and the Australian No.2 behind Lleyton Hewitt, who arrived so early as to be a phenomenon, and at 33 is still not done.

Matosevic is 28, but seemingly with his best ahead of him, for there is not question over his work ethic, or hunger, even if emotional stability and discipline may be another matter. He is strong and fit, with a world-class backhand, and the skills to adapt to the serve-and-volley game Woodforde has convinced him to play on grass – this year, with considerable success.

Chardy, too was admirable. He has twice before been in the third round at Wimbledon, including last year, where he lost to Novak Djokovic, and has been ranked as high as 25th, his most notable recent result an upset of Roger Federer from match point down in the second round in Rome.

That was clay, this is grass, where – Sam Stosur aside – Australian expectations are generally higher. Seven Australians had reached the second round; Matosevic was the third of those to lose on an eventful Wednesday, with Bernard Tomic and Jarmila Gajdosova to follow.