Wednesday, December 28, 2011

WTA Year In Review: Best Women's Matches of 2011


Here are my picks for the "best" (or most memorable) tennis matches by women in 2011. These are basically the matches that had the most impact on me while they were occurring, feature some of the best play or most amazing shots, had the most impact on the rest of the tennis season or are matches that I would most likely to watch again in the future. You can see my previous lists: Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2011Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2010Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2009 and Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2006. (There were no men's lists in 2007 and in 2008 I was too busy with post-Proposition 8 activities to produce lists for the Men or Women.) I have also compiled lists of the Best Women's Tennis Matches for 2005200620072009 and 2010. These can all be accessed at my Tennis tab which also contains my coverage of the four major tennis tournaments.

1. F. Schiavone ITA d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 6-4 1-6 16-14, 2011 Australian Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
Less than one year after the longest men's match of all time enthralled the entire world (and not just fans of tennis or sports) the longest women's grand slam match of all time occurred in the 4th round of Asia-Pacific's major tournament to very little acclaim or notice (by anyone but hardcore tennis fans). 2-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova faced the reigning French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in a mind-boggling battle of wills and fitness which lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes. Schiavone saved 6 match points in the 3-hour long final set and needed 3 match points of her own before finally prevailing to win 6-4 1-6 16-14. Kuznetsova was coming off one of her most satisfying wins by defeating her bete noire Justine Henin the round before, setting events in motion which would lead to that 7-time major champion announcing her (second) retirement soon afterwards. Anyway, back to the best women's match of 2011. The tennis (especially the last 80 minutes or so) was of an extremely high quality, with both players refusing to give an inch and pushing their bodies to their physical limits as they battled on and on and on for nearly 5 hours. Kuznetsova served for the match twice and repeatedly broke Schiavone when the Italian was serving for the match in the seemingly interminable 3rd set and although the 6 match points the Russian lost would seem to confirm her reputation for mental frailty, the reality is that the majority of these points were on Schiavone's serve and the Italian played some of her gutsiest tennis when she had her back against the wall. After multiple opportunities were squandered, the 30-year-old was able to come back from 0-30 down in the final game and execute a surprise serve-and-volley tactic to win the last point of this emotionally taut contest at the net with a crisp volley into the open court, demolishing her good friend Kuznetsova's hope for a good start to the year.

2. N. Li CHN d. F. Schiavone ITA, 6-4 7-6(0), 2011 French Open final, Paris.
The fact that a woman from a country with over 1 billion citizens was able to indelibly add her name to the tennis history books by winning her first major title is the single most important thing to happen this year that will impact the future of the sport. Amazingly, Li Na was appearing in her second consecutive major final, and ended up being the only player who was able to reach two major finals in 2011. Faced with the wily defending champion from Italy, the hard-hitting player from China was able to harness her power and control her emotions as she played the match of her life with the hopes and dreams of tens of millions of people hanging on every swing of her racquet. Schiavone showed that her win over the much-vaunted Australian Samantha Stosur the year before was no fluke by nearly repeating that feat this year. However this time Schiavone faced a player who used the experience gained from losing one major final to avoid repeating that result and instead successfully reached her goal while playing excellent, exciting tennis. Li played a tactically flawless match until she was about 2 games away from winning her first major and then she got a little nervous and let Schiavone back in the match. A controversial line call almost led to a set point for Schiavone, but instead she found herself in a tiebreak where her game completely unraveled against the Chinese barrage of pin-point accurate groundstrokes and she relinquished her major title with grace and style.

3. P. Kvitova CZE d. M. Sharapova RUS6-3 6-4, 2011 Wimbledon final, London.
Kvitova had been on the list of up-and-coming players to watch for quite awhile, having become the lowest ranked player (#143) ever to beat Venus Williams way back in 2008 and breaking through to lose a surprisingly taut 2-set semifinal encounter with eventual champion Serena Williams at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships. Just one year later, Kvitova demolished the 3-time major champion Maria Sharapova relatively easily in the young Czech's very first major final appearance. It was a glittering performance, surprising to some, but not to anyone like myself who had been closely following the trajectories of thew two players through the tournament. Sharapova was constantly having serving issues throughout the tournament, usually winning matches with double fault totals in the double digits. Kvitova, on the other hand, was playing her brand of high-stakes, go-for-broke style of tennis regardless of the score and was allowing her lefty serve and penetrating groundstrokes to sweep her opponents off the court. Sharapova was just her latest, but not her last, victim. 

4. M. Bartoli FRA d. S. Williams USA6-3 7-6(3), 2011 Wimbledon 4th round, London.
 The 2007 Wimbledon finalist was facing the 4-time Wimbledon champion in only Serena's 3rd event back after a nearly year-long hiatus from the sport in which she nearly died due to a freak illness. Bartoli is known as one of the most unconventional players on the tour, hitting her groundstrokes with two-hands on both sides and what can only be described as a curious service motion concocted by her coach and father. However, in this showdown with the most powerful player on tour Bartoli produced flawless tennis from every aspect of her game, repeatedly out-hitting the 13-time major champion on both the forehand and backhand sides. But it was the Frenchwoman's serve that was the true weapon. She had made the decision early on to go for both her first and second serves and it paid off. Her service percentage was incredibly high and her surprisingly powerful second serve was very effective. This match was one of the rare occasions when Serena Williams was on the court but the outcome of the match was not really dependent on the American's level of play, but would be decided by the Frenchwoman continuing to play some of the best tennis of the year until she won the last point of the match. 

5. S. Stosur AUS d. S. Williams USA6-2 6-3, 2011 U.S. Open Final, New York.
This result was one of the most surprising in a major final in the last decade. Serena Williams had won 18 consecutive hard court matches in a row, racking up two titles, including one won over this very opponent during that streak. Stosur was clearly playing some of her best tennis during the tournament, displaying surprising mental toughness by surviving grueling 3-set matches with Maria Kirilenko (which featured the longest tie-breaker in women's grand slam tennis) and Nadia Petrova (which featured the most number of games in a women's match at the US Open)Stosur had learned from the experience of famously losing the 2010 French Open final to Schiavone despite being heavily favored to win. This time Stosur was not favored to win this match and I believe this freed her up to play some of the best tennis of her career. Serena obviously was not playing some of her best tennis, her total of 5 games in a Grand Slam match is her lowest total in her entire career. The reason for this performance is still unexplained and remains a mystery. Personally, I think it is because Serena re-injured her foot during her semifinal beatdown of World #1 Caroline Wozniacki the night before. Regardless of what the cause for her listless play was, the match is now famous for another reason: the ridiculous decision by the umpire to dock Serena a point (and thus a game, since the incident occurred on a break point) for a verbal outburst during play which allegedly hindered her opponent. Even without that exciting (and controversial) moment this match would be memorable for the rare result of Serena Williams losing a major final and the very popular Sam Stosur finally actualizing her talent to win a major.

6. P. Kvitova CZE d. V. Azarenka BLR, 7-5 4-6 6-3, 2011 WTA Championships, Istanbul.
The very last competitive match on tour at the year end championships is often on the list of most memorable matches of the year because by definition the winner of that match is most likely to have an impact on the following year's tennis results. This year, Petra Kvitova, the most improved player on tour this year (zooming from #34 at the end of 2010 to #2 at the end of 2011) won the year-end championship by culminating her astonishing 18-match indoor winning streak with a hard-fought 3-set win over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus. The match was also one of the more exciting encounters on tour all year long. The Czech powerhouse rolled to a quick 5-0 lead in the first set, blasting powerful winners into all four corners of the court. Then, surprisingly, Azarenka was able to slowly crawl her way back into the match as Kvitova's balls started having difficulty landing in the court. Eventually Azarenka was able to even the first set at 5-all by winning five games in a row but then ended up losing the set as Kvitova was able to rein in her errors at precisely the right moment. In the second set, Azarenka got pretty lucky when she went for broke on her first set point and painted the sideline for a winner, evening the match at 1 set each. After saving two breakpoints in the first game of the third set and eventually holding serve, Kvitova never looked back and eventually wracked up an insurmountable lead which she maintained easily to win her second million-dollar plus payday of the year, but it is very likely there will be many more such days in her future. Kvitova is "the real deal," joining Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova as one of the rare players to win the year-end championships in her debut at the tournament. Azarenka, too, should be pleased with her performance in Istanbul because she was finally able to reach the final of a very important tournament, and this should bode well for her goal of becoming a major champion in 2011.

7. S. Lisicki GER d. N. Li CHN, 3-6 6-4 8-6, 2011 Wimbledon 3rd Round, London.
This match featured some of the most dramatic moments and best tennis at Wimbledon this year. Lisicki had won one of the grass-court warm-up tournaments and received a wild card entry into Wimbledon by the All-England Lawn Tennis Club's seeding committee after she handwrote a personal plea to the committee because her ranking had plummeted due to a serious injury. Li was a newly crowned Grand Slam champion and has often had good results on this surface as well. She won the first set relatively easily and had 2 match points on Lisicki's serve at 4-5 in the third set when an astonishing thing happened: the German player served 4 consecutive service winners (including two aces) to hold serve and completely even the match at 5-all. It was one of the gutsiest serving performances of the year and immediately hurtled this match into the top tier for the year. Wimbledon, famously, does not have a tie-break in the deciding set and so the match would have to end after a service break. What followed was a tense contest of will and nerve which Li lost when she lost her serve and Lisicki was able to call upon her excellent nerves (and serves) again to serve out the match and eventually reach the semifinals (where she would lose to Sharapova).

8. S. Williams USA d. V. Azarenka BLR, 6-1 7-6(5), 2011 U.S. Open 3rd Round, New York. 
When the draw for the 2011 US Open came out this showdown between the recovering 13-time major champion and the World's #4 ranked player was quickly identified as likely to be one of the best matches of the tournament. Surprisingly, the actual contest easily matched (and perhaps surpassed) these mouth-watering expectations. What resulted was a clinic on "Big Babe" tennis as both players pounded the balls into the far reaches of the court and demonstrated their spectacular defensive and offensive skills to produce extended rallies. In the first set there was really not much that Vika could do to get the ball past Serena and she was actually pretty lucky to win the one game she did. In the second set it was pretty much a lot of the same, with Serena managing to break in the seventh game and hold in the 8th to go up 6-1 5-3 when suddenly things started to get verrry interesting. Azarenka was able to hold her serve in that game despite looking straight into the jaws of defeat at triple match point at 0-40, forcing Serena to try to serve out the match at 5-4. Amazingly, despite having a match point on her own serve, Serena was broken and suddenly the 2nd set was completely even and the momentum had completely shifted to the higher ranked player. Despite needing 3 deuces, Azarenka was able to hold her service game, pushing her nose ahead in the set for the first time to 6-5. A quick hold by Serena resulted in a tiebreaker which was a must win for Azarenka. Unfortunately for her, Serena was able to reach her 5th match point at 6-5 in the tiebreak and win the match due to one more error by her opponent.

9. K. Clijsters BEL d. N. Li CHN, 3-6 6-3 6-3, 2011 Australian Open final, Melbourne.
Kim Clijsters had won three U.S. Open titles (2005, 2009 and 2010) and appeared in 4 other major finals but had never been able to actually win the title at any other major except for in New York. This was always somewhat surprising since she is almost universally loved in Australia due to her longtime (ended) relationship with Lleyton Hewitt where the locals have taken to calling her "Aussie Kim." With defending champion Serena Williams unable to defend her 2010 title due to illness, Clijsters was the favorite to finally claim her first Australian Open title, despite her #3 seeding. Li, on the other hand, was finally able to break through to her first Grand Slam final after reaching four quarterfinals and one semifinal in her illustrious career to date. She had had to get past the #1 ranked player in the world to do so, and she did it in a tough 3-set match while saving a match point. No one really gave the Chinese player much of a chance in this final  even though she had beaten Clijsters a few weeks before in Sydney (by coming back from a 0-5 deficit). So it was quite surprising when Li won the first set relatively easily and stayed even for the early part of he second set by trading service breaks. Clijsters calmed down in the last two sets and dug in, determined to get as much balls back in the court as possible and reduced her unforced errors, eventually leading to her first win in Australia. Unfortunately for her, Aussie Kim's brilliant start to the year was the best part of her 2011 as she did not win any other tournaments for the rest of the year and ended up skipping Wimbledon and the U.S. Open completely.

10. S. Kuznetsova RUS d  J. Henin BEL, 6-4 7-6(8), 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.
The 2-time major champion from Russia had always had difficulty winning matches against the 7-time major champion from Belgium; Henin lead their career head-to-head rivalry 16 to 2 when they met in the 2011 Australian Open 3rd round where Henin had reached the final the year before. It was the first time the two  had met since Henin had "unretired" and in the interim Kuznetsova had picked up her second major title (the 2009 French Open). Henin did not play her best tennis in this encounter, but Henin had beaten Kuznetsova over a dozen times without always playing her best tennis so I'm sure she very much expected to win this match. Kuznetsova came out strong early and secured the break in the first set and nursed it to take the set without much complication. In the second set, Kuznetsova served for the match (twice!) but was broken both times and was forced to save multiple set points in the tiebreaker, which was one of nerviest and drama-filled affairs of the year. Losing this match was a huge contributing factor to  Henin announcing her second (and presumably last) retirement from competitive tennis. The departure of the 7-time major champion and the absence of the 13-time major champion Serena Williams led to the occurrence of four individual winners of the four majors this year.

A. Petkovic GER d. C. Wozniacki DEN, 7-5 3-6 6-3, 2011 Sony Erisson Open 4th Round, Miami.
N. Li CHN d. C. Wozniacki DEN3-6 7-5 6-3, 2011 Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne.
K.Clijsters BEL d. A. Ivanovic SRB, 7-6(4) 3-6 7-6(5), 2011 Sony Ericssno Open 4th Round.
M. Sharapova RUS d. A. Dulgheru ROU, 3-6 7-6(6) 7-6(5), 2011 Sony Ericsson Open quarterfinal.
F. Schiavone ITA d. A. Pavlyuchenkova RUS, 1-6 7-5 7-5, 2011 French Open quarterfinal, Paris.

S. Stosur AUS d. N. Petrova RUS, 7-6(5) 6-7(5) 7-5, 2011 U.S. Open 3rd Round, New York
S. Stosur AUS d. M. Kirilenko RUS, 6-2 6-7(15) 6-3, 2011 U.S. Open 4th Round, New York.
C. Wozniacki DEN d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 6-7(6) 7-5 6-1, U.S. Open 4th Round, New York.
M. Bartoli FRA d. V. Azarenka BLR, 5-7 6-4 6-4 , WTA Championships, Istanbul.
E. Makarova RUS  d  A. Ivanovic SRB, 3-6 6-4 10-8, 2011 Australian Open 1st Round, Melbourne.
K. Clijsters BEL d  D. Safina RUS, 6-0 6-0, 2011 Australian Open 1st Round, Melbourne.
M. Sharapova RUS d  J. Georges GER, 4-6 6-4 6-4, 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.
A. Petkovic GER d  V. Williams USA, 1-0 (retired), 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.
C. Wozniacki DEN d  F. Schiavone ITA, 3-6 6-3 6-3, 2011 Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.
N. Li CHN d. K. Clijsters BEL, 7-6(3) 6-3, 2011 Sydney final, Sydney.
A. Petkovic GER d  M. Sharapova RUS, 6-3 6-2, 2011 Australian Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
P. Kvitova CZE d  S. Stosur AUS, 7-6(5) 6-3, 2011 Australian Open 3rd Round, Melbourne.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

ATP Year In Review: Best Men's Matches of 2011


Here are my picks for the "best" (or most memorable) tennis matches by men in 2011. These are basically the matches that had the most impact on me while they were occurring, feature some of the best play or most amazing shots, had the most impact on the rest of the tennis season or are matches that I would most likely to watch again in the future. You can see my previous lists: Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2010Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2009 and Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2006. (There were no men's lists in 2007 or 2008 for some reason.) I have also compiled lists of the Best Women's Tennis Matches for 2005200620072009 and 2010. These can all be accessed at my Tennis tab.

1.  N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-2 6-4 6-7(3) 6-3, 2011 U.S. Open final, New York.
For the sixth time in 2011 the World #1 and World #2 met in tournament final, this time at the last grand slam of the year (with the ranking positions reversed from the 5 previous meetings), in New York where Rafael Nadal had had his career defining success the year before, completing the career slam by defeating this same opponent at this very same tournament.  After surviving a double match point against the Greatest Player of All Time in the previous round Novak Djokovic was playing with "house money" in the final. Surely the new #1 player from Serbia would be unable to snatch another major tournament title from the Spanish defending champion? The most amazing part of this match was that in my estimation Nadal played better tennis than Djokovic for the majority of the first two sets but somehow managed to lose them both. Djokovic seemed impervious to the score and just refused to go away in the first two sets, repeatedly responding to ridiculous shots and enervating rallies from Nadal with one more clear strike of the ball on or near the lines. The mental stakes of this match were even more important than the physical impact. By winning this match Djokovic showed that there was no question that he was the best player in the world, and that he had truly demolished the Federer-Nadal duopoly at the pinnacle of tennis, and was in the process of filling new pages in the tennis record books with the name of the new kid on the block, Novak Djokovic.

2.  R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic, 7-6(5) 6-3 3-6 7-6(5), 2011 Roland Garros Semifinal, Paris. This match was the only result standing between Novak Djokovic's astonishing 2011 season of three major titles, 5 Masters series shields, a record $12.6 million dollars and 70 tour wins and the rare, sheer perfection of a calendar year slam, which only a handful of male or female tennis players have ever accomplished. After all, Roger Federer has thrice won 3 of the 4 major tournaments in a year (2004, 2006 and 2007) while Nadal did it last year in 2010. Players like Mats Wilander (1988) and Jimmy Connors (1974), who are superb champions but arguably not indelible names in the tennis pantheon, have been able to win 3 major titles in a calendar year. But no man sincethe great Rod Laver has been able to win 4 in a year or 4 in a row. In this match, Federer demonstrated, for the umpteenth time, that he is the second-best clay court player of his generation, behind Rafael Nadal who is the Greatest Clay Court player of all-time, when he faced off against a Djokovic who had not lost a match for the entire year and who had dismissed Federer relatively easily (3 times!) in his 42-match winning streak through the first 5 months of the year. Djokovic's confidence was at its peak and he (and most observers) believed that he would win this match to face Nadal in the final. I sincerely believe that if Djokovic had won this match he would have beaten Nadal in the Roland Garros final and won the elusive calendar Grand Slam to cement his superlative year in the record books for ever. 2011 was the first year since 2002 that Federer did not win a major title but handing Djokovic his only defeat in a Grand Slam match all year long is something the Swiss will long remember and treasure even if his total remains stuck at 16 major singles titles.

3. N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Federer SUI, 6-7(7) 4-6 6-3 6-2 7-5, 2011 U.S. Open semifinal, New York.
Just to get to the final of the U.S. Open for the second year in a row, Djokovic had to face the best hard-court player of his generation, Roger Federer. Amazingly, for the second year in a row Federer held two match points against Djokovic and managed to lose! For Djokovic he had the added mental pressure that he was also facing the only player who had beaten him at a major tournament all year long. However, in the fifth set, having made the herculean effort to overcome a 2-set deficit to even the match, Djokovic faced a match point with Roger Federer serving at 5-3, 40-15. On a pretty good first serve Djokovic hit a forehand go-for-broke service return winner, smacking away a match point in jaw-dropping, history-making fashion. The second match point was lost on a difficult half-volley by Federer (caused by another Djokovic excellent service return) which hit the net and bounced out of bounds. It was this point, 5-3, Deuce in the5th set of the 2011 US Open semifinals that Federer will remember for decades. He should have been able to regroup and serve out the game by finding a way to win two points in a row on his serve but instead he lost the next two points and before he knew it Djokovic had held serve and the match was dead even at 5-all with a complete momentum switch and soon it slipped away completely. It is precisely these very small moments and individual points which extremely close matches can be decided on, and these kinds of matches often decide major championships which are remembered forever.

4. J-W Tsonga FRA d. R. Federer SUI, 3-6 6-7(3) 6-4 6-4 6-4, 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinal, London. 
Roger Federer had won 178 Grand Slam matches in a row when he had won the first two sets of a 5-set match at a major tournament, never losing a match with such a huge lead. He was playing at Wimbledon, in the quarterfinals, on a surface he had dominated for the better part of a decade, collecting 6 titles (2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009). On the other side of the net was the wildly talented Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who had lost to Federer the last three times they had played but who had acquitted himself well in the Queen's Club warm-up tournament, losing a hard-fought final to Andy Murray. Somehow, after facing a breakpoint in the 1st set Tsonga was able to raise his service effectiveness to stratospheric levels and never even faced a break point in the subsequent 4 sets, managing to break Federer three times, once each time in the three final sets, which was enough to win the match. Federer did not play badly, but he did not play aggressively enough to jar the Frenchman from his self-conceived (and self-confident) game plan once he gained that 2-0 set lead. I believe that Federer was hurt by the fact that he had won so many times due to his opponent basically giving up at the thought of trying to win 3 consecutive sets against The Greatest Player of all Time that he was unprepared for the stiff resistance put up by Tsonga. It was literally a very unfamiliar position for Federer to be in. This match was critical to demonstrate to the rest of the field that Federer, like everyone else, can lose a match despite holding a commanding a lead, and providing a reminder that a match is ot ove runtil the final point is played. Tsonga also exposed the truth that Federer was no longer at the very top of the game, and that there were other players besides former and reigning Grand Slam champions, who could defeat the Swiss Maestro.

5. N. Djokovic SRB d. A. Murray GBR6-1 3-6 7-6(2), 2011 Italian Open semifinal, Rome.
Clay court tennis is almost a completely different sport from tennis played on harder, faster surfaces. It requires more patience, more guile and (often), more physical tenacity than hard court tennis. Amazingly, the best clay court match of the year did not feature the presence of the King of Clay Rafael Nadal, but instead was a brutal, brilliant 3-hour slugfest between the 3rd and 4th best clay court players in the world. Some observers call this semifinal clash between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic the best match of the year but I would disagree. For pure tennis entertainment, it probably is the best match of the year, featuring some of the longest rallies of the year but as for overall significance on the future of tennis or impact on me while I was watching it, matches that occur at majors have an inherent advantage of historical significance. I would also argue that the matches higher on the list may not have as many ridiculously long rallies (although the #1 match does) but they each have more eye-popping shots attempted (and frequently made) with tennis posterity on the line. That being said, this was a heck of a match, clearly the best non-final, non-major match of the year. Murray served for the match in the third set and his play throughout was able to partially erase his disappointing performance(s) in major finals and show why he belongs to be in the conversation when discussing the best players in tennis, but in the end, he again fell heart-wrendlingly short of the win, which is all most people will ever remember.

 6N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal, 4-6 6-3 7-6(4), 2011 Sony Ericsson Open final, Miami.
This match was played a mere few weeks after Indian Wells where Djokovic had beaten Nadal for the first time in a final, after losing to him in the five previous finals they had contested. However, it was this match that really cemented in my mind that Djokovic had reached a brand new level of tennis.  Djokovic had a bad (16 losses 8 wins) head-to-head record overall with Nadal but all his 8 wins against the Spaniard had come on hard courts (but never in an important final). Nadal was the defending US Open champion and had shown that he could find a way to win on all surfaces, against anyone when it really counted, even the reigning Australian Open champion who was on a 24 match winning streak. The result was a very physical, tactical war of attrition played on a tennis court. And at the end of it all the tennis world was stunned to see Novak Djokovic standing victoriously while the indomitable Rafael Nadal looked exhausted and defeated. This was the match (along with the US Open semifinal win against Federer) that gave Djokovic the confidence to know that he could beat Nadal even if he was not playing his best tennis. After this match it was clear that would only be a matter of when, not if, Djokovic would shatter the Federer-Nadal duopoly at the pinnacle of tennis.

7. R. Nadal ESP d. R. Federer SUI, 7-5 7-6(3) 5-7 6-1, Roland Garros final, Paris.
This was the 25th career meeting between Federer and Nadal, two of the greatest players of all time. It was the 4th time they met in the final of Roland Garros and their 8th major final showdown (Nadal winning 5 times.). Nadal  had never lost a final at Roland Garros (in fact so far in his career he has only ever lost one match there!) and thus no one really expected this match to be close. Nadal lead their career head-to-head with 16 wins to 8 losses and had won all 3 previous clay court major finals, their only hard court final in Australia and also won their greatest match (which many people call the greatest match of all time), the 2008 Wimbledon final. There's no question that the physical match up between Nadal's lefty spin and power on both wings with Federer's shot-making and serving prowess is a bad one for the Swiss, but the mental challenge is even more devastating. No one else on tour wins 2/3rds  (and expects to win that many) of their matches against the 16-time major champion. So it was quite surprising for everyone watching this match when the first set was clearly on Federer's racquet after he played 40 minutes of crisp, aggressive clay court tennis to blunt and thwart Nadal's many advantages on the surface. An attempted drop shot winner from the baseline on set point which just bounced centimetres wide is what separated the two gladiators this time. Realizing that he had played better than Nadal for large stretches of the first set but had still lost it sapped Federer's mental resolve and he meekly succumbed to the inevitable defeat in four sets of elegant but futile tennis.

8.  N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal ESP6-4 6-1 1-6 6-3, Wimbledon final, London.
This was the match that really reflected the fact that the changing of the guard was complete at the top of men's tennis and the new #1 was not named Federer or Nadal but Djokovic. This was Djokovic's first match after clinching his lifetime goal of being universally (and officially) acclaimed the best tennis player in the world. He was facing a 2-time Wimbledon defending champion who had not lost since the 2007 Men's final (having skipped the 2009 tournament due to injury). Did Djokovic really have the ability to take away a major title from a defending champion on that champion's turf? The answer was clearly yes as Djokovic showed how his game with an improved serve, flawless groundstrokes combined with unmatched confidence and stunning movement were a much more problematic match-up for Nadal than what he was used to facing against his arch-rival Roger Federer.  Surely having previously lost five finals in a row to Nadal in his career, Djokovic would not be able to beat Nadal in five finals in the same year? Again, the Serbian responded to the question in the affirmative and marked the official beginning of the Djokovic era by winning the most prestigious title in tennis in a convincing fashion.

9. N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal ESP7-5 6-4, 2011 Madrid Masters final, Madrid.
Rafael Nadal has gone through entire clay court seasons (2006, 2010) without losing a match on the surface in which he is almost universally acclaimed as the greatest of all time. So, when earlier this year Nadal faced a still undefeated Novak Djokovic it was a canonical example of an unmovable object facing an irresistible force. Most observers felt that Nadal's clay court magic would carry him to victory in this match as it had in the 10 previous times the two had met on clay. This final is most important for the significance of the result: The first time Nadal was beaten by Djokovic in a clay court final.

10. A. Roddick USA d. M. Raonic CAN7-6 (7), 6-7 (11), 7-5Regions Morgan Keegan Championships final, Memphis.
 This match is the only one not featuring any of the Top 4 players in the world, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer or Murray. However, it does feature one of the most incredible shots on match points ever (although I would still argue the 2010 US Open Fernando Verdasco-David Ferrer match has the best match point of all time). It also features Milos Raonic, who is almost certainly going to be joining the Top 4 within the next few years. The 21-year-old 6'5" hard-serving Canadian ended the year at #31 and reached a career high of #25 during the year. In this match he faced off against Andy Roddick, a player who was unlucky to be playing in the era of two of the greatest players of all time (Federer and Nadal), in the throes of a hot streak which included winning his first ATP Tour title the week before in San Jose. Roddick's performance in the 2009 Wimbledon men's final is still fresh in a lot of people's memories, where Federer finally broke Sampras's record of 14 major singles titles by outlasting a determined challenge from the American. After his one major win in New York in 2003, Roddick has amassed an impressively consistent record of winning at least one ATP tour title for the last 9 years, a record he shares with Federer thanks to his amazingly gutsy effort on the final point of his match against Raonic.

The following matches are ones that should not be forgotten, but because of mathematical limitations, could not be in the Top 10 matches of the year. However each one either featured some amazing shots or extended periods of high-quality tennis or were entertaining or important to me as a tennis fan. (They are provided here, in no ranked order, for your perusal, and to jog your memory.)
J.-C. Ferrero ESP  d. G. Monfils FRA, 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4, 2011 U.S. Open 2nd Round, New York
D. Nalbandian ARG d  L. Hewitt AUS, 3-6 6-4 3-6 7-6(1) 9-7 , 2011 Australian Open 1st Round, Melbourne.
R. Federer SUI d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-3 6-0, Barclays ATP World Tour Finals round-robin, London.
A. Dolgopolov UKR d  R. Soderling SWE, 1-6 6-3 6-1 4-6 6-2, 2011 Australian Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
N. Djokovic SRB d. A. Murray GBR6-4 6-2 6-3, 2011 Australian Open final, Melbourne.
N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Federer SUI6-4 6-2 6-3, 2011 Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne.
A. Murray GBR d  A. Dolgopolov UKR, 7-5 6-3 6-7(3) 6-3, 2011 Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.
N. Djokovic SRB d. T. Berdych CZE6-1 7-6(5) 6-1, 2011 Australian Open semifinal, Melbourne.
F. Lopez ESP d. A. Roddick USA, 7-6(2) 7-6(2) 6-4, Wimbledon 3rd Round, London.
K. Nishikori JPN d. N. Djokovic SRB, 3-6 7-6(4) 6-0, Swiss Indoors semi-final, Basel.
N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal, 4-6 6-3 6-2, BNP Paribas Open final, Indian Wells.
D. Ferrer ESP d. R. Nadal ESP6-4 6-2 6-3, 2011 Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.
R. Federer SUI d. F. Lopez ESP, 7-6(13) 6-7(1) 7-6(7), 2011 Madrid Open 3rd Round, Madrid.
N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Nadal ESP, 7-5 6-4, 2011 Madrid Open final, Madrid.
R. Gasquet FRA d. R. Federer SUI, 4-6 7-6(2) 7-6(4), Italian Open 3rd Round, Rome.
R. Nadal ESP d. J. Isner USA, 6-4 6-7(2) 6-7(2) 6-2 6-3, Roland Garros 1st Round, Paris.
A. Murray GBR d. J-W. Tsonga FRA, 2-6 7-6(2) 6-4, Queen's Club final, London.
J. Isner USA d. N. Mahut FRA 7-6(4) 6-4 7-6(6), Wimbledon 1st Round, London.
R. Nadal ESP d. J-M. Del Potro ARG7-6(6) 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4, Wimbledon 4th Round, London.
D. Young USA d. S. Wawrinka SUI, 7-6(7) 3-6 2-6 6-3 7-6(1), U.S. Open 2nd Round, New York. 
R. Federer SUI d. J-W Tsonga FRA, 6-4 6-3 6-3, U.S. Open quarterfinal, New York.
A. Murray GBR d. J. Isner USA, 7-5 6-4 3-6 7-6(2), U.S. Open quarterfinal, New York.
J-W Tsonga FRA d. M. Fish USA,6-4 6-7(3) 3-6 6-4 6-2, U.S. Open 4th round, New York.
J-W Tsonga FRA d. J. Isner USA, 3-6 7-6(1) 7-6(3), BNP Paribas Paris Masters semi-final, Bercy.
R. Federer SUI d. J-W. Tsonga FRA, 6-3 6-7(6) 6-3, Barclays ATP World Tour Finals final, London.
R. Nadal ESP d. J-M del Potro ARG, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(0), Davis Cup Final.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Djokovic Won A Record $12,619,803 In 2011


Novak Djokovic won a record $12.6 million in 2011, as a result of winning 70 ATP tour matches (and losing only 6 times all year) along with 10 titles including 3 majors (2011 Australian Open2011 Wimbledon and 2011 U.S. Open) and a record 5 Masters Series shields (Indian WellsMiamiMadridRome, and Montreal). He beat former World #1 Rafael Nadal in 4 of those 5 Masters series finals, beating Mardy Fish in the other and losing to World #4 Andy Murray in the finals of Cincinnati. He also beat Nadal in two of those major finals, beating Murray in the Australian Open final.

Djokovic's financial haul in 2011 moved him up to #4 on the all-time career list, with career earning of $32.4 million, eclipsing Andre Agassi's $31.1 million. World #3 Roger Federer still tops this list with $67.4 million, with Nadal second at $45 million and Pete Sampras now at #3 with $43.2 million. Djokovic's 2011 was the 3rd time in history a player had won more than $10 million in a year, following Federer's $10.13 million in 2007 and Nadal's $10.17 million in 2010.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Spain Reigns

Spain's team celebrates with the Davis Cup trophy after defeating Argentina at their Davis Cup final reverse singles rubber at the Olympic Stadium in Seville December 4, 2011. Rafael Nadal mounted a thrilling comeback back from a set down to beat Argentina's Juan Martin Del Potro and clinched Spain's fifth Davis Cup tennis title on Sunday.

Spain's team celebrates with the Davis Cup trophy after defeating Argentina at their Davis Cup final reverse singles rubber at the Olympic Stadium in Seville December 4, 2011. Rafael Nadal mounted a thrilling comeback back from a set down to beat Argentina's Juan Martín del Potro and clinched Spain's fifth Davis Cup tennis title on Sunday.


The 2011 tennis season is officially over. Finally.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Davis Cup Final Open Thread

Spain vs. Argentina in Seville, Spain, on the slippery red stuff.

Right now, Juan Martín del Potro is serving for a two set to one lead on David Ferrer. Rafael Nadal made quick work of Juan Mónaco in the opener.

Have at it.