In one of the most exciting first round matches at Wimbledon in 2012 Denis Istomin defeated Andreas Seppi 6-7(2), 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 8-6. The pair met again in the second round of this year's Australian Open where another five-set epic unfolded in Seppi's favor this time 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-7(3), 7-6(3), 6-2. Now, the two will square off again in another first round match at Wimbledon in what has quickly become the best rivalry of any pair of players ranked outside the top 20.
Prior to their most recent five-set matches, they had met three times before. All three matches were in the first round of the event, and Seppi came out on top each time. It is rare in tennis for two players to draw each other in a first round twice in their career. Wimbledon 2013 marks the fifth time however that these two have drawn each other in the first round of an event.
Last year, both players came into Wimbledon playing the best tennis of their career. Seppi won in Belgrade, reached the quarters in Rome, finished runner-up in Eastbourne, and had a two-set lead over Novak Djokovic in the fourth round of Roland Garros in the months leading up to the third slam of the year. Istomin was coming off of a rough clay court season, but was dominant on the hard courts. He came up through qualifying to reach the semifinals at Sydney, defeated Andy Roddick to reach the final in San Jose, and knocked out David Ferrer at Indian Wells for his first top ten win.
This year, both players have struggled to regain their form from 2012. Istomin has lost eight of his last 12 matches, while Seppi lost in the first round of all three of the master series events on clay as well as at Bucharest and Nice. Seppi reached a career-high ranking of 18 earlier this year, but is in danger of finishing the year outside the top 30 if he doesn't get another big result before December.
When making predictions for this match, one thing is certain. This match is going the distance. John Isner has been nicknamed the "Marathon Man," but that name could easily be applied to Seppi as well.
The Italian has already played five five-set matches this year, and been victorious on each occasion. After defeating Istomin in Melbourne, Seppi played another five-set match two days later, defeating Marin Cilic. Seppi then defeated Canada's Vasek Pospisil as he came back from a two-set deficit in Davis Cup action. At Roland Garros, Seppi won both of his first two matches in five sets before losing to Nicolas Almagro. Even last year, Seppi played three consecutive five-set matches in Roland Garros.
This is the best rivalry in tennis of any two players outside the top 20, and it is sure to be another epic encounter in the first round at SW19.