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Take it back — an Australian Open theme

Matt Zemek

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Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

When we discuss live sporting events, we sometimes use the term “comeback” to refer to a rally from a deficit. I am an American English speaker, but I see some of my British tennis tweeps use the term “fightback” instead of comeback. I presume it means the same basic thing.

One term I don’t see anywhere on #TennisTwitter or in the larger tennis media (among English-language outlets) is the term “takeback.” On the surface, “taking something back” contains an obvious meaning: reclaiming something which had been lost, misplaced, or temporarily possessed by someone else.

We don’t, however, generally see this term used in a sports-specific sense — not in a precise or intentional way, as shown in the term “comeback.” When you see or hear the word “comeback” during a sporting event, you know you’re referring to scoreboard change and a rally. The person isn’t “coming back” in a physical, spatial sense (coming back home).

Let me then explain what a “takeback” means in a sports-specific sense. It isn’t necessarily a comeback, though there certainly can be some overlap with a comeback.

A “takeback” is not precisely the act of rallying after falling behind on the scoreboard; it is more exactly the process of going through a negative period in a match and finding a way to reset the dial, such that the flow of the match is reversed in a positive direction.

Why is this not the same as a comeback? A takeback sometimes occurs when a player starts a set well, then gets punched in the mouth, but rebounds before the set ends and is able to win the set.

This is exactly how Simona Halep beat Elise Mertens in the fourth round of the Australian Open. She started well in both sets, then went through a bad patch to get to 4-4, but then refocused and closed out each set. That is an example of losing momentum and then taking it back. We wouldn’t refer to it as a comeback, though, because Halep was very rarely behind on the scoreboard in the match.

Ashleigh Barty did this against Alison Riske, losing a third-set lead though not falling behind. When Riske tied the set, Barty responded to finish the win.

Takebacks can, of course, acquire other forms, and in this case they DO resemble a comeback.

Sofia Kenin lost a very tight first set she could have won against Coco Gauff, but she gathered herself and changed the direction of the match. She went through her bad stretch and reversed it in subsequent sets.

Petra Kvitova did essentially the same thing against Maria Sakkari.

You can fall behind on the scoreboard, but in many cases, merely losing a three- or four-game lead to fall into a tie is a negative-enough occurrence. The term “takeback” applies to those situations. We are seeing it throughout the Australian Open, especially on the WTA side.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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