Australians Max Purcell and Matthew Ebden created history when edging out Croatia’s Mate Pavic and Nikola Mektic in an enthralling Wimbledon men’s doubles final on Saturday.
The pair became the first Wimbledon champions in any discipline to save match points in two different clashes on the way to winning a title at the All England Club and spent more than 20 hours on the court together over The Fortnight.
They also launched a comeback twice in a thrilling decider against Mektic and the courageous Pavic, who broke his right hand in their semi-final, in a final that lasted 4 hours and 11 minutes.
Purcell and Ebden rallied from two sets to one down, and again from 2-4 in the deciding set, to claim an exceptional triumph 7-6(5), 6-7(3), 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(2).
They saved three match points against Andre Goransson and Ben McLachlan in the first round and a further five match points against Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram in the semi-final.
Purcell, who qualified for the Wimbledon singles for the first time before falling in five sets to Adrian Mannarino, was convinced the pair were heading for an early exit in the opening week.
“I thought we were out of here in the first round. We (faced three match points) and we just won Wimbledon. How good is that?” he said.
Ebden, who also partnered Samantha Stosur to the final of the Mixed Doubles, praised the effort of Pavic and Mektic, the reigning champions who were on a 23-match winning streak on grass.
“They have been the number one guys for the last year, the last two years, and they almost beat us with an injury,” Ebden said.
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“We were very lucky to win. That just shows how great a team they are. With a big problem, they almost won Wimbledon. Incredible, you guys.”
Both Pavic and Mektic were understandably proud of how close they came to defending the title, given the former’s injury.
Pavic was unable to grip the racket with his right hand at all, as his wrist was tightly strapped, yet improvised remarkably well and was arguably the player of the final.
“We gave it one hell of a fight,” he said. “I think we can be incredibly proud of ourselves in those two matches. We have had some of the best moments of our career, last year and this year, so we are very proud.”
The triumph for Ebden and Purcell, branded the “Super M and Ms”, comes after a heartbreaking loss earlier this year to their compatriots the “Special Ks”, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, in the Australian Open final in Melbourne in January.
EBDEN / PURCELL VS. MEKTIC / PAVIC: FINAL HIGHLIGHTS
They are the first all-Australian combination since “The Woodies” in 2000 to win the Wimbledon crown and Purcell said they channelled the combination in their triumph.
Mark Woodforde shared the practice court with the pair earlier on Saturday, while Todd Woodbridge offered them advice and good luck prior to a final that concluded late in the evening.
Their ability to twice overcome two-set deficits on the way to their first Grand Slam men’s doubles title also places them in the company of Australian legends.
John Newcombe and Tony Roche managed the same feat on the way to the 1974 Wimbledon title, while Americans Jim Pugh and Rick Leach did the same in Australia in 1989.
Very little split the rivals throughout a tense final. Tie-breaks were required in the first two sets, with the serves of all four competitors proving impregnable.
The Croatians broke at the start of the third set. Purcell and Ebden returned brilliantly to seize Mektic’s serve in the final game of the fourth set to force a decider.
Pavic and Mektic made the first move in the fifth set when breaking Purcell at 2-all. However, the Australians rallied to break Mektic again to level at 4-all.
Shortly after the match passed four hours, it was time for a deciding tie-break. Given the evenness of the final, it was a fitting conclusion.
Purcell rose to the occasion with some beautiful points, including a forehand return winner that clipped the sideline to give the Australians a 5-2 lead with two points to come on his serve. With their confidence rising, they surged away, Ebden clinching the title with an ace.