Saturday, January 01, 2011

Best (Men's) Tennis Matches of 2010

Here are my picks for the "best" (or most memorable) tennis matches by men in 2010. These are basically the matches that had the most impact on me while they were occurring, feature some of the best play, had the most impact on the rest of the tennis world 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 2009 and Best Men's Tennis Matches of 2006. (There were no men's lists in 2007 or 2008.) I also have posted the Best Women's Tennis Matches of 2010.

1. J. Isner USA d. N. Mahut FRA6-4 3-6 6-7(7) 7-6(3) 70-68, Wimbledon 1st Round, London.
A match for the ages. A tennis match that transcends tennis, and possibly sport itself. Two relatively unheralded players played a match which lasted 11 hours and 5 minutes, by far the longest match ever. The final set itself is a marvel, shattering the record for the longest match--in terms of time (8 hours,11 minutes) and number of games (138) played. The list of records broken is a litany of exceptionalism which is unlikely ever to be matched. When the rest of the tennis of 2010 is long-forgotten Isner-Mahut will still be referred to. What was most remarkable that despite playing so long, there was still brilliant tennis for vast portions of the match. This was truly an example of the cliche where it is sad that in every game there has to be a winner.
2.  R. Nadal ESP d. A. Murray GBR, 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(6), ATP World Tour Finals semifinal, London.
The penultimate match of the 2010 season was one of the most exciting, well-played matches of the year. Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray had met three times before in 2010, with the Briton leading 2-1. However, this semifinal match at the Year-Ending Championships was being held before a British crowd which was considered to be a disadvantage for Murray. Many people do not like Murray's game, feeling that he plays too defensively given the talent, power and mobility he possesses (Gael Monfils suffers from similar complaints), but in this match Murray confounded his critics by being as aggressive as I have ever seen him play. The match was probably decided in the first set. There, both players  played well, with Murray serving exceedingly well but after his serve failed him in the tiebreaker Nadal was able to tuck the set away on his first and only set point. In the second set, things were pretty even until Nadal went through a very bad patch at 3-all and basically donated the second set to Murray. In the third set Nadal got an early break which he was able to nurse into a 5-3 lead. Murray was able to hold serve and when Nadal served for the match at 5-4 he was broken despite holding a match point. In the inevitable tiebreak Murray continued his aggressive play but was rewarded with errors instead of winners. He can take heart that he at least went down slugging away and if he can apply this mentality to future matchups with his higher ranked rivals the results may be different.

3.  N. Djokovic SRB d. R. Federer SUI5-7 6-1 5-7 6-2 7-5, U.S. Open semifinal, New York.
The greatest Grand Slam match played this year was the second men's semifinal at Super Saturday at the U.S. Open in New York. For the fourth year in a row Roger Federer faced Novak Djokovic at the last major of the year, having beaten him the first three times in one final and two semifinals. This time, history seemed prepared to repeat itself when Federer earned double match point at 15-40, 4-5 in the final set. The number of times Federer had lost a grand slam match after holding a match point in his career can be counted on one hand (without using all of the fingers). However, the young Serb was able to be very aggressive on these match points and after getting past that near-death experience was able to use the mental momentum gained to immediately break Federer in the very next service game and serve out the win. The match featured long streaks of very high-quality tennis from both sides, with both players displaying impeccable defense and offense. After winning 5 U.S. Opens in a row, Federer has now lost in the last two to younger challengers. Is this a sign of things to come? Only time will tell.
4.  R. Federer SUI d. A. Murray GBR6-3 6-4 7-6(11), Australian Open final, Melbourne.
The highest quality grand slam final of the year featured yet another historic performance by Roger Federer as he was able to beat a player who has a career head-to-head edge against him in straight sets. Murray did not play badly, Federer was simply on fire for exactly the optimal time which allowed him to win each set. The third set in particular Federer should have lost but he was able to finally earn the break back and set up one of the classic tie-breaks of all time--a 24-point thriller that ended with Federer winning the match and his record 16th grand slam singles title.
5.  G. Monfils FRA d. R. Federer SUI, 7-6(7) 6-7(1) 7-6(4), Paris ATP Masters semifinal, Paris. 
Gael Monfils is a 6' 4", 180 pound Frenchman of African descent with size 15 feet who has long been predicted to do great things in tennis. He is one of the most dynamic players on tour and easily one of the fleetest of foot. He often responds well to a supportive crowd and has had some of his best results in front of Parisian crowds. Federer had never lost to Monfils and was probably not worried when he somehow lost the first set in a close tie-break. However, even Federer must have been surprised by the Frenchman's tenacity and will-to-win despite being down 4-1 in the 3rd set. Somehow, Monfils was able to save (count 'em) five match points at 4-5 through tremendous defense (his mighty serve basically deserted him on match points down so Monfils had to win those points the hard way). This was the fourth example of a match in 2010 where Federer had a match point and went on to lose the match (l. Djokovic US Open semifinals, l. Berdych Miami Masters 4th Round, l. Baghdatis Indian Wells 3rd Round, l. Monfils Paris Masters semifinals). Hopefully, Federer's new coach Paul Annacone will try to work on raising the level of his charge's aggression on big points (his often-atrocious break-point conversion rate should be another focus of improvement for the Swiss great) and we look forward to seeing the results in 2011. For Monfils, this was an amazing result which hopefully will spur him on to greater results next year and beyond.

6.  R. Nadal ESP d. N. Djokovic SRB6-4 5-7 6-4 6-2, U.S. Open final, New York.
 After the fireworks of the men's semifinal between Federer and Djokovic, this final was something of an afterthought, especially since  for the third year in a row it was played on Monday instead of Sunday due to inclement weather (get a roof already, New York!). The tennis quality was reasonably high but Nadal secured his inevitable date with destiny by achieving the career grand slam at the tender age of 24 years old, just 15 months after his great rival had achieved the same feat in Paris. Nadal and Federer both have claims to be the greatest of all time, with Nadal at 9 majors to Federer's 16 but is 5 years younger (and further along at comparable ages). The GOAT question will not be decided until after both men have retired, but without doubt this match was a seminal moment in tennis history, one to be remembered for a long time as Nadal joined the small select group of career grand slam holders.
7.  R. Federer SUI d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-3 3-6 6-1, ATP World Tour Finals final, London.
 Any match between Federer and Nadal is a marquee event, but this contest, following the best match of the year between top players (Nadal-Murray semifinal) was the culmination of the season in which Nadal won 3 consecutive grand slam tournaments. With Nadal sporting a gaudy 14-7 career head-to-head record against Federer some people thought he would cement his dominance with a win here. They were incorrect, however, because on hard courts the two greats are more evenly matched, with a very slight edge to Federer. The actual tennis was high quality, but the sets were somewhat lopsided in score. Even small lapses can be converted into 6-3 sets and a large lapse results in a 6-1 blowout between these two rivals who know each other's games so well. In the end Federer was better on the day and postponed the discussion of which of the two men will be at the top of the heap in history's final estimation.
8.  R. Soderling SWE d. R. Federer SUI, 3-6 6-3 7-5 6-4, French Open quarterfinal, Paris.
One year after engineering the upset of the decade by handing 4-time defending champion Nadal his sole defeat (ever!) at Roland Garros, the tall, strong Robin Soderling repeated the effort by ending Federer's incredible streak of grand slam semifinals at 23 with a 4-set win over the defending champion. History was repeated again a few days later, when, after reaching the French Open final, Soderling lost in a surprisingly non-competitive fashion. However, this match, like last year's defeat of the defending champion will be long remembered by tennis fans. It should be noted that Federer hasn't forgotten either, and hasn't lost to the Swede since (but Nadal has).

9.  T. Berdych CZE d. R. Federer4-6 6-3 6-1 6-4, Wimbledon quarterfinal, London.
A few weeks after losing his hold on the #1 ranking and his famous semifinal streak, Federer had his dominance on grass ripped from his grasp as Tomas Berdych showed that his inaugural win over the Swiss player in Miami was not a fluke but a harbinger. The 6' 5", 200 pound Czech simply played a near-perfect match on Federer's home turf of Wimbledon's Centre Court, dismissing the defending champion in 4 crisp sets. Although Berdych was able to follow up his win with a victory over Novak Djokovic in the semifinal, he was unable to compete effectively against Nadal in the final, succumbing in straight sets to the Spaniard while I watched in the stands. Unsuccessfully defending his title in two consecutive grand slams, failing to reach the semifinals twice in a row must have been a dreadful blow to Federer, but he can seek solace in his quarterfinal streak, which now stands at 26 and counting.
10 F. Verdasco ESP d. D. Ferrer ESP, 5-7 6-7(8) 6-3 6-3 7-6(4), U.S. Open 4th Round, New York.
The only other match on this list besides the Isner-Mahut classic which does not feature a grand slam champion was this all-Spaniard showdown between two of the fittest (and best-looking) players on the men's tour in the 4th round of the 2010 US Open. It also happens to feature one of the most amazing match points in the history of Open tennis. It should be noted that this fifth-set tiebreak occurred after nearly 4 1/2 hours of grinding, extended-rally play, after Verdasco had already been down two(!) breaks in the deciding set and fought back to even the match. What happens on match point deserves no words, just your admiration:

Absolutely amazing!

R. Soderling SWE d. T. Berdych CZE, 6-3 6-3 3-6 5-7 6-3, French Open semifinal, Paris.
A. Murray GBR d. R. Nadal ESP, 6-3 7-6(2) 3-0 ret., Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.
R. Soderling SWE d. M. Llodra FRA, 6-7(0) 7-5 7-6(6), ATP Paris Masters semifinal, Paris.
A. Murray GBR d. R. Federer SUI, 7-5 7-5, Canadian ATP Masters final, Toronto, Canada.
A. Murray GBR d. R. Federer SUI, 6-3 6-2, Shanghai ATP Masters final, Shanghai, China.
R. Nadal ESP d. T. Berdych CZE, 6-3 7-5 6-4, Wimbledon final, London.
R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic SRB, 6-4 3-6 6-1, Swiss Indoors final, Basel, Switzerland.
R. Nadal ESP d. R. Soderling SWE, 6-3 7-5 6-4, French Open final, Paris.
R. Nadal ESP d. A. Murray, 6-4 7-6(6) 6-4, Wimbledon semifinal, London.
Y-H. Lu TPE d. A. Roddick USA, 4-6 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 6-7(5) 9-7, Wimbledon 4th Round, London.
T. Berdych CZE d. R. Federer SUI, 6-4 6-7(3) 7-6(6), Miami ATP Masters 4th Round, Miami.
R. Federer SUI d. N. Djokovic SRB, 6-1 6-4, ATP World Tour Finals semifinal, London.
S. Wawrinka SUI d. A. Murray GBR, 6-7(3) 7-6(4) 6-3 6-3, U.S. Open 3rd Round, New York.
J. Melzer AUT d. N. Djokovic SRB, 6-4 3-6 2-6 6-2 7-6(3), French Open quarterfinal, New York.
J-M. Del Potro ARG d. J. Blake USA, 6-4 6-7(3) 5-7 6-3 10-8, Australian Open 2nd Round, Melbourne.
M. Cilic CRO d. J-M Del Potro ARG, 5-7 6-4 5-7 7-5 6-3, Australian Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
L. Hewitt AUS d. R. Federer SUI, 3-6 7-6(4) 6-4, Gerry Weber Open final, Halle, Germany.
J-W. Tsonga FRA d. N. Djokovic SRB7-6(8) 6-7(5) 1-6 6-3 6-1, Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.

1 comment:

carter said...

That Isner-Mahut match will never be forgotten by anyone who saw it.
Truly amazing tenacity by both players.
I would quibble a bit on the placing of the Berdych-Federer match as low as you did.
Otherwise, great list as usual.


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