Thursday, December 11, 2008

ATP Matches of the Year

by Savannah

There are two ways to foist your opinions about the matches of the year on innocent readers. One is the fangirl/boy approach and pick the matches where either your fave wins or the player you love to hate loses. The other is to try and think about the matches you enjoyed over the year. I guess you know I'm going to do the latter.

What criteria am I going to use? What effect did the match have on the tennis world? Did the players involved go on to greater heights or sink to greater depths? Was the outcome foreseeable or was it a surprise? Lastly I'll look at what handicaps the players had to overcome in order to win.

That said, this is my list. The order may seem odd but I'll give my reasons.

1. Chennai Semi Final
Rafael Nadal Defeats Carlos Moya

This match took place early in the year and I consider myself fortunate to have seen it. To channel my inner "Sofia Petrillo" picture this, Southern India, 2008. Oppressive heat and humidity. Mentor and student going after each other with the student seemingly coming out on top. Instead the mentor pulls himself together and fights his protege tooth and nail extending the match to five hours and the student comes out on top. It's a great match and if you can get your hands on a copy of it do so. Many tennisheads who did not see this match look at the one that took place the next day when Rafael, who couldn't even move and would've gotten a pass from fans if he'd thrown in the towel, lost to Mikhail Youzhny love and one and say Rafael started his year badly. I disagree. Without this match you don't have the next one on my list.

2. Wimbledon Final
Rafael Nadal Defeats Roger Federer

This match will go down as one of the greatest ever if not the greatest in mens tennis history. It had it all. Rain delays and darkness, herculean efforts by both players. Rumors of pep talks by significant other/coach during one delay. And just before they would have had to call the match due to darkness Rafael Nadal rallied himself to win. If for any reason you missed any of this match find a way to get your hands on it. You'll want it as part of your collection. And I say without that earlier win in Chennai Rafael may have stumbled at the end. Instead he drew on that earlier experience and did what he had to do to win.

3. Australian Open Third Round
Roger Federer Defeats Janko Tipsarevic

I see this match on a lot of the end of year lists and I had to really think about adding it to mine. You can argue that this match set the tone for Roger's year and that he should not have needed five sets to win over a gutsy Tipsarevic 6-7 (5), 7-6 (1), 5-7, 6-1, 10-8. Roger said he was ill with the effects of mono. Did it affect his Wimbledon? No, I think the French Open and Hamburg did that. Was it great to watch? Yes. Did it affect his mental outlook? Probably. One of the greatest of the year? You can argue pro and con in my opinion. One of the most influential? I'd say yes.

4. French Open Final
Rafael Nadal Defeats Roger Federer

Many tennis "purists" want to ignore the French Open Final saying the tournament was dull and boring. I think it has more to do with the score of the final match than anything else. The then number one player not managing to take a set from the defending champion was one thing. The worst part of it was the score. Nadal beat Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. A bagel. In a Grand Slam Final. You can ignore it all you want but this is one of the best of 2008 if you want to see what it looks like when one player dominates another not only on the court but between the ears.

5. Hamburg Semi Final
Rafael Nadal Defeats Novak Djokovic

There was no hype needed for this match. Djokovic was breathing down Rafael's neck and a win here would have moved him past Rafa to number two in the rankings. Instead in another grueling match that lasted three hours Rafael defeated his rival 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 holding onto his ranking and positioning himself to move ahead of Roger Federer later in the year.
It should be noted that in the other semi final Roger Federer defeated Andreas Seppi. No knock against Seppi but give me a break here.The Final saw Rafael defeat Roger 7-5, 6-7 (3), 6-3.

6. TMC Round Robin
Andy Murray Defeats Roger Federer

After routining the first set 6-4 Roger Federer got ambushed by the man he defeated so easily in New York. Many said then that the US Open was given to Roger thanks to the shenanigans around the order of play on a Saturday when a hurricane was bearing down on the city. Murray apparently felt that way as well and in a match that has to be one of the best TMC matches ever Murray showed he was not having it and beat down the man many want to crown the best ever. Murray showed grit and played relentless tennis winning in a thrilling tie break to three in the second set and winning the third 7-5. There was no surprise that Murray lost his semi final to Nikolay Davydenko 5 and 2 but he had nothing to be ashamed of. He'd played the best match of his career the day before.

Honorable Mention

Australian Open Final
Novak Djokovic Defeats Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Why this match? For this viewer this match had in ugliness what the first two matches had in valor. Tsonga was going to be nervous, his first Slam final after so many years marked by injury. Djokovic had a chance to show the world what a champion he is and erase doubts in many minds that he has the character to be number one.
Instead we saw some of the worst gamesmanship I've ever seen on a tennis court. Only Jelena Jankovic's antics in Zurich topped this spectacle. The behavior of Djokovic's family and entourage set new lows and in a way set the stage for what came later in New York where tennis fans showed their dislike for up to then media and commentator favorite Djokovic. To say his schtick wore thin is an understatement.
Djokovic went on to win TMS shields at Indian Wells over Mardy Fish and at Rome over Stan Wawrinka as well as the TMC over Nikolay Davydenko but did not win another Slam to hold on to his number three ranking.

Wimbledon Round of 16
Andy Murray Defeats Richard Gasquet

He did it in five sets coming from two sets down. He did it in England where they eat their athletes alive. Another one of those must see matches for 2008.

Davis Cup Final Round 2
Feliciano Lopez Defeats Juan Martin del Potro

This was the match that cinched Spain's 2008 dominance of mens tennis this year. On paper there is no way Feliciano, one of the more notorious head cases on the ATP tour should have won this match. Del Potro had a fantastic second half of the year and despite a nagging toe injury was still thought to be the favorite here. Instead we saw Lopez play the way many observers thought he could play on the fast indoor court and fight his way to a 4-6 7-6(2) 7-6(4) 6-3 victory. A great match to watch


tristann said...

Hi, Savannah. I want to thank you for your previous posts on tennis coaches. I'm always learning new things reading your blog.

About the matches of the year, I am so pleased to see that you included the Roland Garros final. So many pundits have swept that one match under the rug. In my opinion it was pivotal, and I do not say that as a fan girl.

That match altered the prevailing narrative in men's tennis for the last three plus years. It was always a given that Fed would someday beat Rafa at RG, it was just a matter of when and how. And every pundit and expert was willing to give advice to Roger as to how to accomplish the deed. Instead we saw Rafa this year at his most Borgesque throughout the tournament wipe that narrative practically out of existence.

It was amazing obseving many of the same people who would not even name Nadal as the favorite at the FO until this year, suddenly pick him as the favorite to win Wimbledon, even as Roger was tearing up his side of the draw.

The FO final changed many perceptions, not only in the two participants, but in the tennis world. I believe it is also the reason behind Roger's pared down clay-court calendar next year.

I do not see how a match that had so many far reaching effects, could be ignored when listing top matches of 2008.

I also agree with your other selections and your reasons for choosing them.

love40 said...

Savannah, great post as usual! So true about Hamburg. This was the catalyst for Rafa's amazing 2008 run. It also showed his character and attributes during an extremely pressure filled situation with number 2 on the line. Also, after Queen's club, Novak's season took a nose dive. He did win TMC but did not go through number 1,2 or 3.

Savannah said...

Tristann, Love40, I've read and reread your posts because I think they're great.

Tristann you hit the nail on the head when you say the FO final changed the narrative in men's tennis. Roger was supposed to win that match and yet he was never in it. Rafa didn't allow him any space to breathe. The gift of the US Open had to be made so that the pundits could save face. A fair order of play based on the weather and a Monday final probably would have yielded a result the grand poobahs couldn't stand.

Loves40 you point out the result of the Hamburg semi perfectly. Djokovic did not have the glorious season many predicted for him after that match but it started with that nonsense in Australia.

Thank you both for your words of wisdom.

Savannah said...

Love40 sorry for misspelling your screen name. :(

HWarn said...

Awesome post, Savannah!

I'm glad you included the Chennai semi in your list. As you rightly point out, many people quote the score in the final to discount Rafa, forgetting the astonishing match that preceded it.

As for the FO, it is worth repeating that Federer received the worst drubbing of a No 1 player in a slam final since the open era began. After that, many of the self-styled pundits stopped offering their advice to Roger as to what he could do, and started admitting that maybe Rafa is a problem with no solution for Roger on clay. Only the most diehard of The Worshipful still believe that Roger can beat Rafa at RG. Many have changed their game plan, to have Rafa not fit/healthy, or to have someone else take him out so that Roger can finally win the FO.

I see Roger's much-reduced clay season as a tacit admission that he has given up the struggle for the FO.

oddman said...

I see that too, HWarn. Savannah, great post! I love your choices, mine are much the same. My fave was that Chennai semi as well - I saw something that day in Rafa that told me he was going to win Wimbledon. Never mind that he played poorly in the final. That absolute dogfight with his mentor, who played the best tennis he's played for years, was simply jaw-dropping. I would have been just as thrilled had Carlos won, that's how good that match was.

I also loved Monte Carlo - what an amazing fight-back from Rafa each set, to defeat Federer in straight sets and finally make people realize just how very tough he is on his beloved clay. I felt so much better about Rafa's chances in Paris after that final, despite the talk of Fedfans and pundits.

I also think Rafa defeating Djokovic, not to mention Andy Roddick and hard-serving Ivo Karlovic, at Queen's, was a defining win this year for him. He had a tough tough draw there, and came through on the quick grass like the champ he is.

One other of my faves, the semi's of the Beijing Olympics, against Nole, another dog fight, but somehow I just knew Rafa would be triumphant.

What a fabulous year he has had! I hope he can stay fit and healthy, and give us all many more wonderful moments in 2009 - Vamos, Rafael!

rabbit said...

OK, I am one of those who still believes Roger has a chance of winning RG in 2009, over Rafa :) Call me deluded, but I think he has enough in his arsenal to beat Rafa on clay on a good day. Just as Rafa can beat Roger in the AO finals (see the Doha 2006 final).

I agree with most of Savannah's choices, including the FO final, which was one of the most astonishing displays on clay ever. Federer has lost only four bagel sets in his career, three in 1999 (to Rafter, Byron Black and Vince Spadea) and one in 2008. I might not be his fan, but nobody can deny that Rafa was just supreme that day. Also, I agree that the Chennai match set the stage for Rafa's domination in the rest of the year.

I would actually put the Andreev match in equal footing with the Tipsarevic match in terms of importance for Roger. Both were nervous five-set victories but they held such different implications for Roger's future in the tournament. Also, not to be offensive, but I don't at all understand the comments made above that Roger was gifted the USO. Wasn't Roger supposed to lose in the semifinals to the best hardcourter of 2008, Djokovic? He rarely gets the praise he deserves for that impressive win. That lob smash shot in that match was the shot of the year. And when did playing 1.5 sets the day before become such a burden for a (self-proclaimed) ripped 21 year old? Roger played in much more difficult conditions in the wind against Agassi and a totally partisan crowd over two days, earlier in his career. In order to win your first GS, one has to overcome difficulties and Andy failed to, simple as that.

(Also, unrelated to the topic, but it grates me to see these totally unnecessary barbs against Federer. Re: the Hamburg comment, there have been plenty of instances where Roger has played a more difficult opponent than Rafa in the same round, like Wimby SF against Schuettler; that's why there's a draw.)

Mad Professah said...

Thanks Savannah....after my grades are due (early next week) I will have my postof best matches of 2008. Needless to say, we will not be agreeing with the #1 match.

I do agree with putting the French Open final on the list---it was a very significant match. My criteria for BESt matches are

1) did BOTH players play well (at the same time)
2) were the stakes high?
3) intangibles....

GREAT POST...(although clearly from a RafaFan perspective...)

MMT said...

I can't understand how if you include Rafa's destruction of Federer in Paris, how you can leave of Tsonga's masterful domination of Rafa in Australia. And to place some match in Inida before the Wimbledon final is ridiculous - that was probably the match of the century (so far) never mind the year.

Savannah said...

Mad, MMT your comments are welcome.

Mad Prof I think my matches are also the ones that influenced men's tennis the most this year. This gets to your concerns MMT.

Chennai set the tone for Rafa for the entire year. If he had wavered, if he'd lost that match things may not have worked out the way they did. That is why the Tsonga/Nadal match at the AO is not on the list. In the grand scheme of things it meant nothing whereas the FO final, to quote Tristann, changed the entire dialogue in tennis. So many had invested so much brain power and written so many words about how that match was going to turn out that for it to go down the way it did was nothing short of breath taking.

The Federer/Tipsarevic match at the AO was significant since Roger was said to be suffering the after effects of mono. Despite that he won a grueling five setter against a man he should've had no problem with. Wimbledon Final anyone?

As I say in my piece by hook or by crook try and see that Chennai match. Then we can talk.

I don't do fangirl when I do something like this. Rafa dominated mens tennis in 2008. I didn't pick all of his matches, I picked the most significant. I didn't put Monte Carlo in the mix for example although I could have.

I always read your posts Professah even if we don't always agree.

rabbit said...

Sorry, I meant Dubai 2006, not Doha 2006, in my comment.

Pamela said...

Great post. I thought it was just me, but it was the AO final that really turned me off to Djokovic. I could have learned to like him (I might still, one day) but that match he and his family were sickening to me.

The Rafa-Moya match was an unbelievable display of "I will not let you win" by both players. Even Mikhail said that he didn't play Rafa the next day.

I'm also in agreement about the Roland Garros final. The fact that Rafa managed to give Fed a bagel in a Grand Slam final speaks to how the narrative has changed, and also as scary as it is - Rafa has gotten better on clay. He didn't drop a set.

Fed-Andreev would go on my list because it was the first time in a while that I'd seen Fed really fired up and determined to win. (not that he doesn't always want to win, but he rarely emotes) It was great seeing him fist pumping and yelling "come on!"

I used to not like Murray but I really think he's going to be a force to reckoned with in 2009. He works unbelievably hard in his training and it's paying huge dividends.

I would have to include Tsonga decimating Rafa at the AO. That was stunning tennis and what can happen when you're having a magical run. I was already a Ali Tsonga fan and I'm a HUGE HUGE Rafa fan, but even I had to shrug my shoulders and say "too good."

I can't wait for 2009!

Savannah said...

Don't get me wrong. Tsonga/Rafa was a great match but it didn't affect mens tennis the way it might have. That could have to do with the chronic injury issues Tsonga has but that's another post.

There were lots of very good matches this past year. To list them all would make the list very long. Maybe I should've called this the "Most Influential" ATP matches.

tangerine said...

I like your list Savannah. In regards to matches that changed the course of things during the year, I think Murray's defeat of Gasquet at Wimbledon is more than an honorable mention: it is the match that started Murraymania in earnest. And right after that, he defeated Djokovic for the first time at the Canada masters. He's been on a roll ever since, and some in the media even went so far as to dub him as being part of the "big four", even though he hasn't a slam yet but I think most tennis fans realize that it's only a matter of time before he nabs one. I will predict that Murray wins the AO. He'll do what Novak did last year: lose to Federer in the USO final, learn from his first-timer slam finalist mistakes, and then go on to beat Federer to win AO. Mark it down!

Nadal beating Karlovic in Queens should also be included because that was the moment Nadal believed he would win his first grass title. Ask yourself this: if he hadn't won Queens, would he have won Wimbledon? It's interesting to think about. But I distinctly remember seeing it written plain as day right on Nadal's face, it was like a lightbulb went off over his head: he no longer thought of Queens as just a warmup, he knew it right then that he could win it and that it could advance his chances of winning Wimbledon.

Queens was also significant because I think this was the moment Djokovic truly fell into his slump. His confidence took a huge beating here. It's one thing to lose to Rafa on clay, but on grass? Novak didn't recover from that loss and he ended up losing to Safin in the second round at Wimbledon. He no longer believed in himself. Rafa had crushed another spirit.

Another significant win was Federer's gold medal for doubles at the Olympics. This was huge for him. He cried after he lost the singles to Blake and this may have been his last Olympics to win one. I think Wawrinka played harder and smarter in doubles order to help Roger achieve his gold medal dream. When they beat the Wonder Twins and then went on to win gold, it appeared that Roger had been rejuvenated and Wawrinka had given Roger some new life. Roger's whole demeanor seemed to change after that. Maybe he's not back to his "old self" but it was still enough to help him win the USO for a record fifth time.

As an aside, Davydenko beating Nadal to win Miami is unique in that Davydenko had not been able to build on that huge success for the entire year. Most other top five players would have taken that ticket to ride but Davydenko's subsequent playing afterwards was less than stellar and anti-climatic. It's no wonder people still don't think of him as a big match player. Because Davydenko was unable to follow up that big win with another one, or any significant win since, I'm inclined to believe that Miami was a total fluke on his part.

I'm tempted to put Tsonga's win over Nadal at AO in the same flukey boat as Davydenko except that Tsonga has an injury excuse, plus he did win Paris masters, and also Bankok, beating a medley of talented players. There's no question in my mind that Tsonga has far more ability than Davydenko.

Karen Flax-Jardine said...

Great post and I agree with Chennai being a top 3 choice! I would not have ranked it #1. However, it was a terrific match that people seemed to have overlooked.


lynn said...

I absolutely love your blog and check it everyday for the latest tennis "stuff". You picked all the right matches for the "best"....I might throw in the Beijing Olympics Djokivic/Rafa match as another great "Rafa triumph" to cap off the attainment of the #1 ranking and to show Rafa's love of the Olympic experience ( a fan/like opinion, I guess). Looking forward to following your blog throughout the great upcoming season!

Krystle Lee said...

Great post. I do think your choice of Nadal's win over Moya as the best match, is slightly strange, as you said. Not that it wasn't a great match, but the magnitude of the Wimbledon final and the drama/tension involved gave it a big edge over all of the other matches.

I like that you have the Federer-Tipsarevic match as third. I personally really enjoyed the match, and Tipsarevic put in a great performance that day and was tactically spot on. Even without the significance of that being the first sign of 2008 being a different year for Federer, it was a great match in its own right. The same could be said for the Nadal-Djokovic match, which would have just been as amazing without the number 2 ranking being on the line.

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