Thursday, December 31, 2009

Best (Men's) Matches of 2009

Earlier this week I posted the list of the Best Women's Matches of 2009, here now are the best men's matches of 2009. Generally, there were far more memorable matches on the ATP tour than the WTA tour this year.

Here are the most memorable tennis matches by men in 2009:

1. R. Federer SUI d. A. Roddick USA, 5-7 7-6(8) 7-6(3) 3-6 16-14,Wimbledon Championships final, London.

Roger Federer must have been pleased to see Andy Roddick was the opponent he had to beat in order to win his 6th career Wimbledon title and record 15th major title--after all he had beaten him three times before at Wimbledon and had only lost to the American twice in twenty-one matches and never in a Grand Slam. However, this was a new and improved Andy Roddick, someone who could play 5 sets of tennis and only get his service broken once. Roddick played like someone who recognized this rare opportunity and played his very best. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the match, though he did get very, very close. I'm sure that Roddick will have nightmares about the shanked volley in the second set tiebreak which would have given him set point. Instead, at the end of that 2nd set tiebreaker the match was all tied up and with Federer again winning the 3rd set in a tiebreak things looked bleak for the American. But, then, somehow, miraculously Roddick was able to break in the fourth set and serve out the set to even the match again. And the most amazing part of the match was about to begin: a 95-minute, 30 game deciding set. In the end, the entire match came down to a few points played over a few minutes, with Federer winning a mere 10 more points out of more than 400 points over nearly 5 hours. A classic tennis match for the ages, almost as venerable as the 2008 classic between Nadal and Federer from the year before.

2. R. Nadal ESP d. F. Verdasco ESP, 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(2) 6-7(1) 6-4, Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne.

Amazingly, the second most memorable match of 2009 is not one of the four Grand Slam finals. The showdown between two Spaniards in Australia under the stars and full moon was electric. During the match everyone who watched it knew it was an instant classic, one of those matches destined to be replayed and discussed for years. The match featured incredible athleticism and shotmaking from both players. The two talented lefties battled each other for more than five hours and ended up at practically a draw. After five sets, the stats say it all: Nadal 193 points, Verdasco 192. The 193rd point that Nadal won was due to a double fault by Verdasco on match point. Heartbreaking for both players that in these sporting contests of will and spirit there must be a loser and a winner, because sometimes that competition itself elevates all those who participate.

3. J. del Potro ARG d. R. Federer USA, 3-6 7-6(5) 4-6 7-6(4) 6-2, U.S. Open final, New York City.

For the fourth time of the year, the seventh consecutive Grand Slam tournament in a row and a record 21st time in his career, Roger Federer was in a major final. However, this time he was facing a genetically gifted nightmare: a 6-foot 5-inch, 21-year-old Argentine who grew up dreaming of glory on hard courts; Juan Martín del Potro. Federer was already the universally regarded Greatest of all Time, a newly married man and father of twin baby girls who had won his record 15th major title a mere 8 weeks before while del Potro was someone Federer had never lost to in 6 matches. In fact, earlier in the year at the Australian Open del Potro won a mere 3 games in a 3-set match in a quarterfinal humiliation featuring two consecutive 6-0 bagel sets versus Federer. An indication of the rapid rate of his improvement through the year was that by May in Paris, del Potro was able to extend Federer to a 5-set thriller in the French Open semifinals. So, it was not surprising that del Potro was in his first major final in New York City. Federer started off well and del Potro did not, and quickly found himself down a set and a break. But then something happened and Federer faltered, allowing del Potro to sneak away with the second set in a tie-break. Federer again won the all-important middle set, but again del Potro was able to take the 4th set to a tiebreak. This was Federer's chance, but he blinked. He played a horrible tie-break and del Potro kept on hitting 135+ mph serves and 100+ mph forehand winners. The final deciding set was a letdown, with del Potro building up a huge lead and holding it to savor his first win over the World #1 and his first major title. The King was dead, long live the King.

4. R. Soderling SWE d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-2 6-7(2) 6-4 7-6(2), Roland Garros 4th Round, Paris.

The upset of the decade? The biggest upset ever? Prior to this fourth round meeting between the agile, indomitable Spanish World #1 and the tall, powerful Swede, Rafael Nadal had never lost a match at Roland Garros, and was the 4-time defending champion who had won 3 of the last 4 major championships played in the last year. But Robin Soderling didn't care. He simply doesn't care what anyone thinks. He knew he had worked hard to be in the best shape of his life and knew that his game could cause anyone difficulty. It is true that Nadal did not play his best tennis, but it is also true that Soderling did, and it was enough so that the result, no matter how shocking was never in doubt: a Soderling victory over Nadal on clay in Paris.

5. R. Nadal ESP d. R. Federer SUI, 7-5 3-6 7-6(3) 3-6 6-2, Australian Open final, Melbourne.

After the incredible semifinal Nadal played to get past Verdasco while Federer had a relatively routine straight-set dismissal of Andy Roddick, most observers felt that Federer would have an edge in this first meeting between the two great rivals on hard courts, since Federer already owned 3 Australian Open titles and 5 U.S. Opens. However, Federer again started off a major final against Nadal playing badly and by failing to win the middle set tie-break he lost the match not with a whimper but in a drizzle of tears. Several people felt that Federer's outburst during the trophy ceremony was disrespectful to Nadal but it is important to note that it was his great rival himself who did the most comforting, allowing the Swiss star to bury his face in the Spaniards shoulder.

6. R. Nadal ESP d. N. Djokovic SRB, 3-6 7-6(5) 7-6(9), Madrid Masters semifinal, Madrid.

The most exciting clay court match of the year was this 3-set, 4-hour showdown between the King of Clay Rafael Nadal and the heir-apparent Novak Djokovic. Djokovic was the better player on the day and deserved to win this match, but Nadal just refused to lose. Despite losing the first set relatively easily in a 3-set match and being behind in both of the remaining sets, somehow Nadal was able to claw both sets back to tie-breaks and somehow win both of them. The points were agonizingly long, with ridiculous saves and amazing retrievals from both players, but in the end the Nadal (again!) proved why he is the Greatest Clay Court Player of all Time. After battling Djokovic for nearly four hours it is not surprising that Nadal lost one of his rare clay court finals against Federer the next day, 6-4 6-4.

7. R. Stepanek CZE USA d. I. Karlovic CRO, 6-7(5), 7-6(5), 7-6(6), 6-7(2), 16-14, Davis Cup semifinal tie, Croatia.

Absolutely insane. Davis Cup matches are usually intense due to the national prestige on the line, but this was insane. Everyone knows that Ivo Karlovic is a freak of nature: a 6-foot, 10-inch behemoth who has a serve like a lightning bolt that leaves his opponents constantly leaning the wrong way and shaking their head in disbelief having completely missed touching the ball. In this match "Dr. Evil" hit 78 aces. That's 23 more than his previous record of 55! There were exactly three breaks of serve in the 5 hour, 59 minute contest. Unfortunately, I was not able to see this match, but after reading about it, it clearly belongs in the most memorable matches of the year.

8. T. Dent USA d. I. Navarro ESP, 6-4 5-7 6-7(1) 7-5 7-6(9), U.S. Open 2nd Round, New York City.

Taylor Dent had been told repeatedly that his tennis career was over after two back surgeries in 2007 and 2008. The American serve-and-volleyer met his match in the form of Spaniard Ivan Nvarro who was also a rare serve-and-volleyer. This match was not expected to be anything special, it was just an early round match at the US Open played on the intimate Grandstand Court. However, it turned into a scorcher: a 5-set, knock-down, drag-out street brawl between two punch-drunk prize fighters. Both players had the same game plan: serve and rush the net. In the end, Dent had more control over the result than his opponent, hitting a garish 121 winners (mostly volleys) compared to 50 errors (+71!) as opposed to Navarro's 70 winners to a mere 22 unforced errors. Tennis like it used to be played and will most likely not be played in the future.

9. F. Gonzalez CHI d. R. Gasquet FRA, 3-6 3-6 7-6(10) 6-2 12-10, Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.

Fernando Gonzalez and Richard Gasquet are two of the flashiest players on the ATP Tour and it was expected that this early-round showdown would be a non-stop highlight reel. The two did not disappoint. Both players hit far more winners than errors, with Gasquet at +22 (80 winners, 58 errors) and Gonzalez at +34 (85 winners, 51 errors). Gasquet has one of the most beautiful one-handed backhands on the tour and Gonzalez has a hugely powerful forehand. The battle was intense but even though each competitor won the same number of points, Gonzalez won more games and the match. This showdown would have been more widely celebrated if the Nadal-Verdasco semifinal had not cleared the decks of superlatives used to describe matches at the 2009 Austraian Open.

10. N. Davydenko RUS d. R. Federer SUI 6-2 4-6 7-5, Barclays ATP World Tour Finals semifinal, London.

Nikolay Davydenko was nearly run out of tennis at the end of a stick in 2008 after being caught up in a betting scandal. He professed his innocence but tennis fans have looked at him with a jaundiced eye ever since. Davydenko is often viewed as the invisible man, because although he has been in the Top 5 since 2005 he has racked up a slew of losses to both Federer and Nadal and was widely regarded as being unable to breakthrough in a major tournament. This win over Federer was his very first and followed a week in which he demolished a weakened Nadal, outlasted the powerful Robin Soderling and ended the year by dismissing the new wunderkind Juan Martín del Potro to win the ATP year end championships, the biggest title of his career. However, he ended the year at #6, out of the top 5 for the first time in 5 years. Perhaps 2010 will be the year that Davydenko is able to make through at a major title, now that he has shown that he can beat Mr. Major, Roger Federer.

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

Here are some honorable mentions for memorable matches of the year by men

N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Federer, 6-4 4-6 6-2, Swiss Open final.
R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic SRB, 6-1 7-5, Cincinnati Masters final.
R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic SRB, 7-6(3) 7-5 7-5, U.S. Open semifinal.
J-M. del Potro ARG d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-2 6-2 6-2, U.S. Open semifinal.
R. Federer SUI d. R. Soderling SWE, 6-1 7-6(1) 6-4, Roland Garros final.
R. Federer SUI d. T. Haas GER, 6-7(4) 5-7 6-4 6-0 6-2, Roland Garros 4th Round.
R. Federer SUI d. J-M. del Potro ARG, 3-6 7-6(2) 2-6 6-1 6-4, Roland Garros semifinal.
R. Soderling SWE d. F. Gonzalez CHI, 6-3 7-5 5-7 4-6 6-4, Roland Garros semifinal.
N. Djokovic SRB d. G. Monfils FRA, 6-2 5-7 7-6(3), Paris Masters final.
A. Roddick USA d. L. Hewitt AUS, 6-3 6-7(10) 7-6(1) 4-6 6-4, Wimbledon quarterfinal.
A. Roddick USA d. A. Murray GBR, 6-4 4-6 7-6(7) 7-6(5), Wimbledon semifinal.
F. Verdasco ESP d. A. Murray GBR, 2-6 6-1 1-6 6-3 6-4, Australian Open 4th Round.
J-W. Tsonga FRA d. R. Federer SUI, 7-6(5) 1-6 7-6(3), Montreal Masters quarterfinal.
J-M. del Potro ARG d. R. Soderling SWE, 6-7(1) 6-3 7-6(3), Barclays ATP World Tour Final semifinal.
J-M. del Potro ARG d. R. Federer SUI, 6-2 6-7(5) 6-3, Barclays ATP World Tour Finals round-robin.

5 comments:

Beth said...

Fantastic rundown and commentary. Bravo!

oddman said...

I agree with Beth - nice rundown, MadProf.

Let's hope there's more of that good stuff in store for us in 2010 - and Happy New Year to everyone!

MMT said...

Fully agree with the entire list. Great year of matches in men's tennis. With any luck, we'll get another year like it in 2010.

Mad Professah said...

Thanks!

Interestingly, a lot of these best matches were from the Australian Open--some commentators think its because everyone is still really fresh from a month off from competition...

we'll see if 2010 turns out to be as good...!

Göpfi said...

Great Review.
Loved it.
Keep it going!