Sunday, July 28, 2013

Tennis News

Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of Andre Agassi's 1994 US Open Title Win
(By James Buddell, ATP Tennis, 09 April 2014)

Fresh off a four-hour flight from Las Vegas to Santa Barbara, Andre Agassi is seated in the clinic of Dr. Richard Scheinberg contemplating the end of his career.  Gil Reyes, his trainer, is pensive too.  “I still remember the day,” says Agassi.  “20th December 1993.”  Seven years into his pro career, 23-year-old Agassi has played a tour event Down Under twice.  The goal of competing at the Australian Open for the first time, the following month, is over for another season.  This time, it’s tendinitis in his right wrist.  “I thought my injury could be career threatening,” says Agassi.  Reyes keeps his thoughts to himself at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.  “Privately, I was worried.  Would he resume his career?  It was 50/50, yes or no. Everything was done to avoid it, but he realised he had to give in to it.  After he had won Wimbledon [in 1992], Andre realised it was mentally time to step up.  But physically the wear and tear of hitting thousands of tennis balls was damaging the wrist.”

Surgery is his only option.  Dr. Scheinberg, an orthopedic surgeon, rebuilt 38-year-old Jimmy Connors’ left wrist three years earlier.  Now it’s Agassi’s turn.  The 75-minute operation reveals greater problems.  A mass of scar tissue is removed and “structural changes to the sheath that encases the tendons were made”, says Agassi.  The injury has affected Agassi’s trademark shot — his forehand, which he executes by swinging his body to disguise the direction — over the past six months.   “Then, there were concerns of whether he would be able to return,” says Reyes.  “Whether he would struggle and come through the physical therapy.”  Unable to hit balls, Agassi dedicates himself to get super fit.  “Nothing really happens, then, once you are healthy you improve on a daily basis,” says Agassi.

The test came at Scottsdale, two months later.  Agassi would confess in his 2009 autobiography, OPEN, that, at the time, “I have a recurring nightmare about being in the middle of a match and my hand falling off.”  Reyes remembers, “I was scared for him.  We did everything to get him back.  Although he won the title, it startled us into the realisation that he might never be the same.  “We became students of the game and tried to figure out remedies.  He built up his strength and that year weighed in at 175lbs.  He taught me what he needed on court.  It was not about jogging around a track, but that tennis was a sport of stops and starts.  He taught me that the first three steps are the most important.  “Then, the switches started flipping on.”   Enter Brad Gilbert

At CafĂ© Porte Chervo, Gilbert has ordered pasta, chicken and mozzarella cheese.  Yet he is talking “meat and potatoes.”  Agassi and his agent, Perry Rogers, listen intently at a table of the Italian restaurant on Fisher Island, near Miami Beach.  “Andre destroyed me [6-1, 6-2] in the Scottsdale quarter-finals,” remembers Gilbert, who won four of his eight matches against Agassi.  “Now, I was breaking down his game [and] telling him where he was going wrong.  I tried to get Andre to think about ‘meat and potatoes’, the basics.  He always tried to beat opponents 1 & 0 and 1 & 1, but if he didn’t he would be upset.  His pursuit of perfection was all consuming.  I told him it was all right to win 6-4, 6-4.  He respected my honesty.”  For Agassi, the meeting in March 1994 was a major turning point.  “When I started to work with Brad in Key Biscayne, I started on a learning curve,” recalls Agassi.  “He made me think for myself.  I had had hard losses, but I needed to remember how to win [and] win those close matches.  There were matches when I converted one of 14 break points and lost 7-5, 7-6, when I should have won 6-2, 6-3.  Looking back, some of my best wins came when I was in third gear.  I realised that I didn’t have to play better than I had to.  If you meet your opponent where you are, you can be a half click ahead and you will beat them.  Like a Boa constrictor, you squeeze them when they breathe out.”

Twenty years on, Gilbert reveals, “My wife always said that when she watched me play I always ground out wins.  But watching Andre play was easy.  It was too difficult for him not to perform well week-in, week-out.  I helped him to be simple.  His skill level was so much more than mine.  I felt he could attack his opponents.  At the time he did not think a lot about tactics and strategy.  He would try to crush you.  What amazed me was he had a 100 per cent total recall of points he had made.  More than any player I have ever met.  He challenged me.  It amazed me, as he recalled every point and shot.  Once I knew that, I knew he could apply himself to the sport and improve.”  Reyes recalls, “The impact Brad had was amazing.  He knew his role and knew it so well.  Brad was not trying to get Andre to play his tennis.  Brad instilled hard work, insisting, ‘We want road blocks in our way.’”

Four weeks prior to the US Open, memories of surgery had vanished.  In an ESPN interview with Vitas Gerulaitis, Agassi was buzzing.  “I really want to get my feet moving.  I want to have that enthusiasm that enables me to play my best tennis.  I also want to execute my shots and for a year now, I don’t feel that guys have been on their heels when I wind up for my forehand and baseline shots.  I want to start punishing the ball and make them feel some pressure.”  Agassi and Gilbert both cite a third-round victory over David Wheaton at the 1994 Players LTD. International Canadian Open in Toronto, as a pivotal match.  By saving two match points in a dramatic third-set tie-break, it transformed his fortunes.  Gilbert recalls, “When you look back, you pick out key matches in your career and this win was pivotal for Andre.  Afterwards I told him, ‘Good things are coming.  You found a way to win and you’re still in the draw.  You gave yourself an opponent for tomorrow.’  There was a time, when he would have lost and simply left the tournament, thinking nothing more of it.” 

“With Brad I really started to learn how to contain my game, although stubbornly,” says Agassi. “Winning a close match, as I did in Toronto, relieves pressure.  If I ran into a tough situation again, I knew I could execute.  “Getting through the match, I realised that I did not have to stress, as I had so much to offer.  It gave me a feeling of a sense of confidence.  It helped me to trust myself.  I started to understand what Brad meant.  “Clarity on court is so important as a tennis player.”  Agassi went on to lift the trophy, the 21st of his career.  It is his first title with Gilbert, just four weeks before the start of THE OPEN.  Coming out of Toronto, Agassi was ready.  “Andre was never over confident,” says Reyes.  “But he was ready.  Ready for that moment, the surgery had been harnessed.” 

It’s Labor Day — 5 September 1994.  His performance timeline at the US Open reads: 1986-first round; 1987-first round; 1988-semi-finals; 1989-semi-finals; 1990-finalist; 1991-first round; 1992-quarter-finals; 1993-first round.  Unseeded at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 1987, Agassi has worked his way into the draw by casting aside Robert Eriksson, Guy Forget and Wayne Ferreira.  New Yorkers have turned out in force for a marquee fourth round match-up on Louis Armstrong Stadium.  Agassi versus Michael Chang, an all-American clash broadcast nationally on CBS.  “I was worried about Chang in the round of 16, because he had a knack of playing great when he wanted it,” remembers Agassi.  “If he didn’t, his level would drop off.”  Today, in the mid-afternoon sun, Chang is driven.  Andre is all smiles, killing the ball.  Chang is punching holes in his opponent’s game.  They are both in it for the long haul.  The pair’s ninth meeting (Agassi 5-3) goes the distance.  At 1-1, 0/30, in the decider, Chang is in trouble.  Agassi senses blood. 

Chang slices a serve out wide to Agassi’s forehand, which is struck back mid-court.  Chang hits a forehand into space, into the corner, which Agassi scrambles back four feet behind the baseline.  Chang’s half volley is spinning into the deuce-side doubles alley.  Agassi anticipates well, bending down to fire a forehand around the net post to win the point for 0/40.  In the next game, Agassi is serving at 40/30 for a 3-1 lead.  It’s Chang’s turn to run into the deuce alley.  This time, Agassi’s wrists are firm and he blocks a volley.  It’s the shot that breaks the camel’s back.  Chang’s resistance ends.  Agassi, who had a 6-11 record in fifth sets coming into the match, immediately realises the enormity of the 6-1, 6-7(3), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory.  Post-match, Agassi commented, “This is the best I have ever hit the tennis ball, absolutely.  This is the culmination of a lot of things.  I've hit the ball pretty good before, but it wasn't balanced with that competitive spirit, that focused concentration.”

There had been enormous pressure coming into the Open.  Says Reyes, “Doing well at the US Open always mattered so much to Andre.  He wanted it to go well.  It was not a pressure you hate.  It was the pressure you feel when you love something so much.  The kind of pressure you feel when your family comes over.  You want everything to go well.  He always used to say he wanted ‘people to be glad when they come to see me play’.  That pressure is a pleasure.”  But, as Gilbert recalls, “The Chang win was the determining factor of the event.  It was a tough match.  Andre played very well and fed off the crowd.  After that we had a good feeling about the tournament.”  Agassi went on to win a ‘grudge’ match against Thomas Muster — avenging his five-set loss in the Roland Garros second round, four months earlier — and overcame his pre-match jitters to beat Todd Martin in four sets in the semi-finals.  Agassi admits, “I knew I could take care of Muster, but Todd was a little scary as he could take his game to another level.  By the semi-finals, I knew I had a chance as I could see Stich and Karel Novacek in the other half.”

Less than 24 hours after beating Martin, on 11 September, Agassi walked out onto court to face Michael Stich in front of 21,063 fans.  Frank Shields, the grandfather of Agassi’s then girlfriend, Brooke Shields, who watched from the players’ box, had been the first unseeded player to reach the US Championships final in 1930.  Gilbert, sporting a black cap and denim jacket, was quietly confident.  He could not see how Stich could win. “This is not possible,” says Gilbert.  “I had beaten Stich in 1992 [in five sets], so I could not see that there was any chance that Andre could lose.  Stich was a great opponent.  The key was not to game plan for three sets, Andre just needed to go out and win.  He did not have any nerves. He was ready for the journey and tried not think what round he was.  Andre executed the game plan to win [6-1, 7-6(5), 7-5].”  He had become the first unseeded champion since Fred Stolle in 1966 and the first titlist in the US Open history to beat five seeds.

Reunited in the locker room, Agassi and Gilbert both realised it was time to take his game to another level.  Says Gilbert, “The title was something to savour.  You can get too satisfied, but we both realised more was to come.”  The following day, Agassi returned to the Top 10 for the first time in 18 months — at No. 9 in the IBM ATP Tour Rankings [now named Emirates ATP Rankings].  Agassi remembers, “I never thought about the short period between my wrist surgery and winning the US Open title. I just remember that I immediately got to work, unbelievably hard, with Gil for the European swing.”  The journey continued. 

ATP Best Grand Slam Matches Of 2013
(By ATP Staff, 23 November 2013)

5. Tommy Haas d. John Isner 7-5, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-7(10), 10-8, Roland Garros third round

Tommy Haas needed four hours and 37 minutes and a Grand Slam record 13 match points to thwart a stern challenge from John Isner in the third round at Roland Garros. The Bullring was electric as Isner steadily began plotting a comeback from down two sets to none, seeking his second such win in three days. The American was sensationally clutch in the big moments, aggressively attacking Haas’s serve to deny match point after match point. He also turned in an impressive serving display of his own, firing 27 aces and 92 winners while powering through 20 of 23 break points faced.

Despite being down a break in the deciding set, following a marathon tie-break won by Isner 12-10, Haas remained calm and staved off the hard-charging 19th seed. A Roland Garros remembered for its inspirational performances from its elder statesmen, from Tommy Robredo reaching the quarter-finals after three consecutive comebacks to David Ferrer advancing to his first Grand Slam final, the 35 year old Haas demonstrated incredible fortitude and stamina.  The German would save a match point of his own and, as Isner’s body began to succumb to the rigours of over nine combined hours on court in consecutive matches, Haas made the deciding breakthrough in the 17th game of the fifth set.  Haas would improve to 21-20 in five-setters in his career and it would be Isner’s fifth straight five-set defeat at a Grand Slam. It was the second match of the year to feature a victory on a 13th match point, after Tomas Berdych and Lukas Rosol defeated Stanislas Wawrinka and Marco Chiudinelli 24-22 in a fifth set in the first round of Davis Cup World Group action. 
Even more remarkably, Haas would show no ill-effects of his marathon battle with Isner in the fourth round, proceeding to rout Mikhail Youzhny 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 to advance to his first quarter-final at Roland Garros in his 12th appearance.  “It's crazy,” said a relieved Haas. “It was a big roller coaster with not many thoughts in between. He had match point at 4-5, and somehow I saved that one. It went back and forth. It's definitely going to be one of the best matches to look back on, for sure.”

4. Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, US Open Final
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal met for an Open Era record 37th time as they squared off for the US Open crown. Djokovic entered Arthur Ashe Stadium on a chilly Monday evening with a point to prove, having dropped five of the previous six meetings with his Spanish rival. Nadal had claimed their two most recent encounters by the slimmest of margins, defeating Djokovic 9-7 in a fifth set at Roland Garros earlier in the year, and ousting the Serb in a third set tie-break in the Coupe Rogers semi-finals.

Despite holding the hard court advantage, Djokovic struggled to penetrate Nadal’s defenses and found himself behind from the onset, with the Mallorca native breaking in the third game of the opening set. Djokovic was unable to sustain the momentum from stealing the second set and securing an early break in the third as Nadal rose to the occasion, rediscovering the recipe to his success from the first set. He would continue to frustrate Djokovic with great depth on his returns, opening the court with his kicking forehand and discovering sensational angles. After failing to convert on a trio of break points at 0/40 in the ninth game of the third set, the match began to unravel rapidly for the Belgrade native. Nadal would claim eight of the next nine games for the victory in three hours and 21 minutes.
Nadal had missed last year’s US Open due to a knee injury and called it “very, very emotional” to return and win the title. “Probably only my team knows how much [today’s match] means for me,” he said during the trophy presentation. “Playing against Novak always is a very special feeling. Probably nobody brings my game to that limit like Novak did.”  Djokovic remained atop the Emirates ATP Rankings despite the defeat, but his hold on the World No. 1 mantle loosened considerably, and it would only be a matter of time before Nadal usurped his throne. Nadal celebrated his 13th major crown with the victory, and second in Flushing Meadows, extending his winning streak on hard courts in 2013 to 22 straight.

3. Novak Djokovic d. Stanislas Wawrinka 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10, Australian Open fourth round

Novak Djokovic and Stanislas Wawrinka opened the 2013 Grand Slam season with one for the ages. An intense, high-octane battle from first ball to match point, Wawrinka’s breakout performance would prove to be a harbinger of a career year to follow.  This duel Down Under had the makings of a one-way affair on paper. Djokovic had won the previous 10 FedEx ATP Head2Head encounters, dating back to 2007, and only relinquished one hard court set during the streak. Astoundingly, Wawrinka had dropped 18 of his previous 19 meetings against Top 5 opposition. From the onset it was evident that the Swiss was out to reverse the trend. 

Wawrinka sprinted to a resounding early advantage, exhibiting a master class display to stun Djokovic for a 6-1, 5-2 lead. The Lausanne native was outplaying Djokovic at his own game, turning in an inspired defensive performance that left the World No. 1 off balance and out of his comfort zone. Wawrinka ruled the backhand-to-backhand exchanges, breaking down Djokovic’s world class shot and pulling the trigger early and often for winners. Djokovic found himself broken five consecutive times through the early stages of the second set, striking just one forehand winner in the first 12 games.
The turning point of the match came when Wawrinka misfired on four straight first serves while serving for the set at 6-1, 5-3 30/0. Djokovic would reel off five games in a row, snatching the second set and eventually the third.  Wawrinka impressively maintained his high level of play and remained focused as Djokovic raised his game. The Swiss punctuated the fourth set with a forehand down the line after an outrageous rally. The intensity would carry into the fifth set as Wawrinka broke to open the decider. The World No. 17’s aggressive approach would crumble late, however, converting on just one of eight break points in the final set. Djokovic would break back and they would remain on serve until 11-10 when the Serb capped a 20-shot rally with a backhand pass on his third match point.

This wasn’t a match you merely witnessed. It was a visceral, tangible experience of seismic proportions.  “I think it's by far my best match I ever played, especially in five sets against the No. 1 player,” declared Wawrinka.  “These are the matches that you live for, you practise for,” Djokovic said. “You want to be on the centre court and playing on such a high level for five hours. It's incredible.”  While the five-hour battle proved to be a minor obstacle in Djokovic’s quest to three-peat Down Under, it undoubtedly gave Wawrinka the confidence to compete against the game’s elite and take the next step in 2013. Another thrilling five-setter in the US Open semi-finals would solidify the newfound rivalry as one of the greatest of the year.
2. Novak Djokovic d. Juan Martin del Potro 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3, Wimbledon Semi-finals

The longest Wimbledon semi-final in history featured a mammoth slugfest between Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro. The Big Four had dominated the Grand Slams for nearly the past four years and the Argentine was ready to break up the elite quartet.  Having twisted his left ankle and hyper-extended his left knee in a third round victory over Grega Zemlja, a hobbled del Potro entered Centre Court with a point to prove in his first major semi-final since claiming the US Open title in 2009. The Tower of Tandil had struggled to make a splash at the Grand Slam level since undergoing season-ending wrist surgery three years ago, but on this day, after nearly five hours of pulsating tennis, he made a booming statement on the game’s grandest stage.

An encore of their thrilling Indian Wells semi-final from earlier in the year, won by del Potro, one of the more riveting rivalries of 2013 was kicked into high gear at the All England Club. While del Potro was seeking to become just the second Argentine finalist at Wimbledon (Nalbandian 2002), Djokovic was looking to avenge a straight-sets defeat on the same court as their bronze medal match from last year’s Summer Olympics.  Djokovic seemed to be firmly in control after capturing the third set tie-break and snatching an early break in the fourth. The fourth set was a majestic display of tennis, with each scorching del Potro forehand nearly leaving burn marks on the Centre Court grass and Djokovic defensive stabs that would have made an acrobat proud.
A scintillating shotmaking display would key a comeback by the Argentine, who valiantly broke back and forced another tie-break. Del Potro masterfully took charge of rallies in crucial moments, dictating with authority and effectively utilising his backhand down the line, as he did in their duel in the desert in Indian Wells. The Argentine summoned every last ounce of energy to deny Djokovic a pair of match points in the tie-break, defiantly obliterating forehands and diving for winners. He would reel off four consecutive points from down 4-6 to level the match at two sets apiece and bring the SW19 faithful to their feet.

As del Potro’s energy level began to dip in the deciding set, however, Djokovic’s demeanor remained unchanged. As Stanislas Wawrinka experienced at the Australian Open, outlasting the Serb in a best-of-five setting requires Herculean stamina and fortitude, which del Potro struggled to attain. Djokovic would break for a 5-3 lead, eventually prevailing in four hours and 37 minutes.  “It was one of the best matches that I've been a part of, one of the most exciting definitely,” said Djokovic, who hit 80 winners, including 22 aces. “I'm privileged to be a winner of this match. It was so close, they couldn't separate us. Every time he was in tough situations he came up with unbelievable shots. But that's why he's a Grand Slam champion and right at the top.
1. Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 Roland Garros Semi-finals

What would become a pivotal match in the race for the year-end World No. 1 throne in the Emirates ATP Rankings, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal entered Court Philippe Chatrier for their highly anticipated semi-final duel at Roland Garros. One of the more immaculate days of the tournament, at 27°C (80.3° Fahrenheit), the sunlight sliced through the terre battue as the Serb and the Spaniard traded blows for four hours and 37 minutes. History, legacy and revenge hung in the balance as the pair would write one of the greatest chapters of their storied rivalry, culminating in a drama-laden fifth set filled with pulsating rallies and sublime shotmaking.
Both players were battling for a shot at history, with Djokovic seeking to capture the Grand Slam trophy that has eluded him for so long and Nadal eyeing a record eighth Roland Garros crown. With a title, Djokovic would have become just the eighth man in history to complete the career Grand Slam, but Nadal had other ideas with revenge fresh on his mind. The then World No. 1 had dismissed Nadal in straight sets in the final of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters seven weeks prior, denying the Mallorca native a ninth consecutive title there.

The Spaniard was two points from victory when he led 6-5, 30/15 in the fourth set, but he tightened up and Djokovic fought back into contention. The most crucial moment of the match, and perhaps the year, came with Djokovic serving up 4-3 in the deciding set. After saving a break point at 30/40, the Serb lost his balance on a routine smash, falling into the net and thus forfeiting the point. Nadal would secure the break three points later and the entire complexion of the match would shift thereafter, with Djokovic failing to make any inroads in Nadal’s service games before eventually succumbing 9-7.  “You need to love the game,” Nadal exclaimed after the match. “You [need to] appreciate what you are doing in every moment. These kinds of matches are very special. You don’t get to have the chance to play them every day.” 

A year after defeating Djokovic in the 2012 final, the Spaniard would win his 22nd consecutive match and fourth successive title of the year against countryman David Ferrer in the final. It was just the second five-setter Nadal had encountered at Roland Garros, with the first being a first-round win over John Isner in 2011.  “I congratulate my opponent, because he showed the courage in the right moments and went for his shots,” said Djokovic. “When he was a break down in the fifth, he made some incredible shots from the baseline. I congratulate him, because that's why he's a champion.”

Djokovic To Finish No. 1 In ATP Rankings For Second Straight Season
(ATP website, )
Novak Djokovic has clinched the year-end No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking, becoming the first player to accomplish the feat in consecutive seasons since Roger Federer achieved four straight World No. 1 finishes from 2004-07.  Djokovic, who lost the World No. 1 ranking to the Swiss on 9 July following a 53-week reign, will reclaim the top spot on 5 November when Federer drops his points from his 2011 title wins at the Swiss Indoors Basel, BNP Paribas Masters and Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Federer will then not be able to earn enough South African Airways ATP Rankings points to finish the year ahead of Djokovic.

Last year, Djokovic became the first Serbian man to finish World No. 1 in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973) with a 10-title effort, including three Grand Slam crowns. He first ascended to World No. 1 on 4 July, 2011, following his Wimbledon triumph. Only 16 different players have managed to finish year-end No. 1 in the 40-year history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings.

Djokovic has enjoyed another stellar season in 2012, opening his campaign with the successful defence of his title at the Australian Open. He has compiled a circuit-best 70-11 match record going into this week’s BNP Paribas Masters, where he will be looking to reach his seventh ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final of the season and add to his titles at the Sony Open Tennis in Miami, Rogers Cup in Toronto and Shanghai Rolex Masters. Djokovic also lifted the China Open trophy in Beijing and was a finalist at Roland Garros and the US Open.  The 25-year-old Serbian will be officially crowned as the year-end World No. 1 during a trophy presentation at the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Finals next week at The O2 in London. Djokovic will be competing at the prestigious season finale for a sixth straight year, and will be bidding to win the trophy for the second time following his victory in 2008.


Year    Player    

2012 Novak Djokovic (Serbia)   

2011 Novak Djokovic (Serbia)   

2010 Rafael Nadal (Spain)   

2009 Roger Federer (Switzerland)   

2008 Rafael Nadal (Spain)   

2007 Roger Federer (Switzerland)   

2006 Roger Federer (Switzerland)   

2005 Roger Federer (Switzerland)   

2004 Roger Federer (Switzerland)   

2003 Andy Roddick (U.S.)   

2002 Lleyton Hewitt (Australia)   

2001 Lleyton Hewitt (Australia)    

2000 Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil)    

1999 Andre Agassi (U.S.)  

1998 Pete Sampras (U.S.)  

1997 Pete Sampras (U.S.)  

1996 Pete Sampras (U.S.)  

1995 Pete Sampras (U.S.)  

1994 Pete Sampras (U.S.)  

1993 Pete Sampras (U.S.)  

1992 Jim Courier (U.S.)  

1991 Stefan Edberg (Sweden)  

1990 Stefan Edberg (Sweden)  

1989 Ivan Lendl (Czech Republic)  

1988 Mats Wilander (Sweden)  

1987 Ivan Lendl (Czech Republic)  

1986 Ivan Lendl (Czech Republic)  

1985 Ivan Lendl (Czech Republic)  

1984 John McEnroe (U.S.)  

1983 John McEnroe (U.S.)  

1982 John McEnroe (U.S.)  

1981 John McEnroe (U.S.)  

1980 Bjorn Borg (Sweden)  

1979 Bjorn Borg (Sweden)  

1978 Jimmy Connors (U.S.)  

1977 Jimmy Connors (U.S.)  

1976 Jimmy Connors (U.S.)  

1975 Jimmy Connors (U.S.)  

1974 Jimmy Connors (U.S.)  

1973 Ilie Nastase (Romania) 

TV Coverage Of Tennis Shouldn't Be A Set Point
( website)

     As the U.S. Open tennis championships approach Monday, everybody has a theory about tennis' problems reaching a TV audience. CBS Sports/USA Network analyst John McEnroe has one solution.  He says networks should stop covering tennis like Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg are still out there in short-shorts and start using the technologies and intimate camera angles the NFL, NASCAR and others allow on telecasts of their events.  If the U.S. Tennis Association is really serious about attracting viewers, why not televise the singles finals in prime time on Sunday or Monday night rather than Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, he asks — even if it means going up against NFL regular-season games.  "It's amazing to me how little has changed in tennis. The big innovation is a blue court. That's a major change in our sport? That's like putting a Band-Aid on something," McEnroe said during a conference call Thursday.  "That is all well and good for a couple minutes to talk about, but I think we should be trying different things. We should reach out to people to try to go after the fans the way other sports do. Because we can't just depend on the fact that it is a great game."

     Tracy Austin, lead women's analyst for USA Network, suggested the USTA adopt "electronic line calling" enabling fans to really see if a shot was in or out. If she had her way, Austin would give each player two challenges per set to try to overturn bad calls, similar to coaching challenges in the NFL.  "It might be another way of enhancing the broadcast. The players might like it, too," said Austin, who will use USA's "Point Tracker," a computer-generated video replay that attempts to show where the ball lands.  USTA officials might not like McEnroe's broadsides but they can't deny he has a point. With the exception of the blue courts that help viewers pick up ball flight, tennis coverage often has a musty feel. Meanwhile, other sports are pushing their TV partners to work overtime to adopt new gizmos.  Innovations for the NFL, such as instant replay and coaching challenges, not only make for better telecasts, they've also injected new strategy into the game. TNT uses "Stro-Motion" on NBA telecasts to gives fans frame by frame shots of a player in flight. NASCAR allows its partners to plant mini-cameras the size of lipstick cases anywhere and everywhere, including NBC's ground-level "squash-cams," which cars drive over. Major League Baseball lets national telecasters interview managers between innings.  Here's the good news: If fans want so-called electronic line review, then the USTA is going to give it to them. The USTA is testing technologies for possible rollout in 2006. The group wanted to adopt it this year but decided the "tested technologies did not meet our criteria," says USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier.

     Faced with growing sports competition, tennis' TV ratings are an increasing concern. The Open's overall TV ratings on CBS dropped to 1.8 last year from 1.9 in 2003 and 3.1 in '02.  But USTA boss Arlen Kantarian's decision to create the US Open Series last year- featuring men's and women's finals televised back-to-back on Sundays in the weeks leading to the Open- is helping to build a buzz around tennis again. Overall viewership for nearly 100 hours of national US Open Series coverage on network and cable is up nearly 5% from 2004, according to Widmaier.  CBS’s Bob Mansbach vehemently disagrees with McEnroe's assertion that tennis coverage is stuck in neutral.  "Toys are nice," he says. "But at some point it comes down to who's on the court and what kind of tennis they are playing." 


Tennis Adds Replay And Electronic Calls
(By Liz Clarke, Washington Post)

     On-court tantrums soon may become a thing of the past in professional tennis with the introduction of electronic line-calling and the opportunity for players to demand a video review of suspect calls.  Today, officials from the U.S. Tennis Association will join representatives of the men's and women's pro tours to announce that a version of instant replay -- relying on the Hawk-Eye brand of technology and a limited number of player challenges -- will debut later this month at the Nasdaq-100 in Key Biscayne, Fla., an annual hard-court tournament that draws the top male and female players. The replay system will also be used at this year's U.S. Open and at most of the major North American hard-court tournaments this season, including Washington's Legg Mason Tennis Classic, July 29-Aug. 6.  "It's a major breakthrough," said former Davis Cup captain and tournament co-founder Donald Dell. "It's going to jazz up the game and make for an excitement you don't otherwise have."

     The technology to make line calls electronically has existed for years and is routinely employed for conversational purposes during ESPN broadcasts, in which analysts refer to it as "Shot Spot." But to date, many tournament officials and players had objected to its use as an officiating aid. Tournament officials worried it might slow matches too much and detract from spectators' enjoyment.  They also wanted assurance it would be reasonably affordable, given that tournament organizers would be responsible for installing video-replay boards at their center courts so players and fans could view Hawk-Eye's ruling in disputed calls.  Players were worried that the technology wouldn't be reliable. Moreover, some favored a system of unlimited challenges, while others argued that players should have only a limited number of challenges to prevent competitors from using replay to stall a match.  But USTA officials were determined to develop a workable system after a 2004 U.S. Open quarterfinal between Jennifer Capriati and Serena Williams was marred by three bad calls -- one particularly egregious -- all of which went against Williams, who lost in three sets.

     The USTA formed a task force to tackle the issue, drawing on representatives of the Association of Tennis Professionals, Women's Tennis Association, International Tennis Federation, major broadcasters and former players. The upshot was the system that will debut at the Nasdaq-100 on March 22, which Arlen Kantarian, USTA chief executive, calls the biggest revolution to tennis since tiebreaks were introduced -- one that would heighten the game's entertainment value and give players a welcome measure of confidence.  "With the speed and power of today's game, and with 150 mile per hour serves and 100 mile-per-hour backhands, we need an officiating aid," Kantarian said.  Under the replay system, each player starts with two challenges per set. If he challenges a call and is proven wrong by Hawk-Eye, he loses a challenge and has only one left for the set. If he is vindicated by Hawk-Eye, he keeps his two challenges so, in theory, players have unlimited challenges as long as Hawk-Eye proves each challenge correct. In addition, players receive an additional challenge if a set goes to a tiebreaker.  The system drew raves from former pro Jim Courier, who was the first to use it during a trial run at a Champions' event in London last December.  "It was very efficient; very effective," said Courier, 35. "The peace of mind it gives players is incredible, just knowing you're not going to lose a point because of a bad line call."

     The U.S. Open will be the only Grand Slam event to use the replay system this year. The Australian Open is expected to adopt it for 2007. There is no need for replay at the French Open because its clay courts serve as a built-in review system. Tennis balls leave a mark wherever they land on clay, and players have long pointed to the tell-tale marks in disputing calls.  There are no plans to use replay at Wimbledon, where officials of the All England club take a notoriously measured approach in changing anything about the game. Courier, for one, hopes the club will be open to the idea.  "They're the crown jewel of tennis," he said. "It's very important that tennis show a united front. If this gets a good run though the Nasdaq and U.S. Open, then there should be peace of mind within the All England club and their stance might change."

Top 10 Records And Achievements Of The Decade
(By ATP Staff, ATP website, December 14, 2009)

Roger Federer has won a record-breaking 15 Grand Slam titles, including six Wimbledon crowns. 
What are the 10 greatest records and achievements during the past decade? Check out our picks and see why Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal dominate the list.

1. Roger Federer’s dominance at Grand Slam level was the most significant achievement of the first decade of the new century. During the decade Federer became the only player in history to win five straight titles at two Grand Slam tournaments, dominating Wimbledon from 2003-07 and the US Open between 2004-08. The Swiss also became the only man to reach all four Slam finals in the same year three times. When Federer won the 2009 Roland Garros title he became just the sixth man in history to complete a career Grand Slam. Federer has reached 22 consecutive Grand Slam semi-finals, more than double the length of the next-best Open Era streak (Ivan Lendl’s 10 straight semi-finals).

2. Roger Federer was crowned ATP World Tour Champion five times during the decade, tying Jimmy Connors’ five finishes as year-end No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings and edging to within one of Pete Sampras’ six (consecutive) No. 1 finishes. Federer set a record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 (237) and will end 2009 on 263 (non consecutive) weeks in the top spot, within 23 weeks of Sampras’ all-time record of 286 weeks.

3. Rafael Nadal’s four consecutive Roland Garros titles is a stunning feat. The Spaniard won on his debut in 2005 and won 31 consecutive matches before big-hitting Swede Robin Soderling upset him in a fourth-set tie-break in the fourth round this year.

4. Roger Federer’s 24 consecutive victories in finals he played between late 2003 and late 2005 is a record that is likely to stand the test of time. Federer’s streak was finally broken by David Nalbandian in the final of Tennis Masters Cup in 2005, when Nalbandian rallied from two sets down to beat Federer in a fifth-set tie-break.

5. Rafael Nadal became the first man since Bjorn Borg 28 years before him to claim the elusive Roland Garros-Wimbledon double in 2008. (Federer repeated the feat in 2009). In a banner year Nadal also won Olympic gold that season.

6. Andre Agassi, at 33, became the oldest player to hold the No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking in 2003. Agassi’s feats of longevity were an inspiration during the decade. In the decade he won 16 titles, including three Australian Opens (at age 29, 30 and 32) and a 17th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati as a 34 year old.

7. Roger Federer’s 173-9 match record in 2005-06 makes our Top 10 list. Federer produced unrivaled back-to-back seasons of brilliance in the middle of the decade. He went 81-4 in 2005 and 92-5 in ’06, winning 23 titles during that span, including five Grand slam titles and eight ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns.

8. Rafael Nadal’s imposing clay-court streak during the decade was breathtaking. Nadal, who owns a 181-16 career win-loss record on clay, won more than 11 matches for each one he lost on the surface. He amassed an 81-match winning streak between 2005-07. His record in best-of-five-set matches on clay is 49-1 and he has won 24 of 26 finals on the surface.

9. Lleyton Hewitt is the only man other than Federer to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion two straight years during the decade: in 2001 when he won the US Open and Tennis Masters Cup (now Barclays ATP World Tour Finals) and in 2002 when he won Wimbledon and a Tennis Masters Cup. Hewitt held the No.1 South African Airways ATP Ranking for 75 consecutive weeks – including for the entire 2002 season – and 80 weeks in total. Hewitt remains the youngest player (at 20 years, 8 months) to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion.

10. Rafael Nadal‘s record at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments is astonishing. Before turning 23 in June, Nadal had won 15 of the ATP World Tour’s premier tournaments between 2005-09. He trails Federer by just one and all-time leader Agassi by two titles. (Agassi won his record 17th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title as a 34 year old.)

Honorable Mentions

Gustavo Kuerten became the first Brazilian to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion at a dramatic Tennis Masters Cup in Lisbon in 2000. Kuerten did what no other player had previously done – beaten Agassi and Sampras back-to-back in the semi-finals and final – to win the title and lock up the year-end No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking.

Nicolas Massu winning singles and doubles gold at the 2004 Olympics.

Roger Federer’s 65-match grass-court winning streak beginning in Halle in 2003 and ending with his 2008 Wimbledon final loss to Nadal may never be equaled, given the short grass-court season.

Rafael Nadal reaching 400 match wins faster than any other active player is worthy of note. Nadal reached his 400th win from 491 matches, topping Federer and Hewitt, who both needed 520 matches to register their 400th wins.

The Players Of The Decade
(By ATP Staff, ATP website, December 13, 2009)

Roger Federer's perseverance paid off as he won Roland Garros on his 11th attempt to complete the career Grand Slam.   Take a look back at the best five players and best doubles team of the past decade. Performances between the years of 2000 to 2009 only have been considered.

1. Roger Federer

Roger Federer, possibly the greatest player ever to grace the game, has dominated men’s tennis since the turn of the millennium, winning a record-breaking 15 Grand Slam titles. In July 2003, at the age of 21, the Swiss delivered on his early promise by capturing his first major crown at Wimbledon. What followed in the next six years has been truly remarkable.

The Basel native went on to win a further five Wimbledon titles, including five successive victories between 2003-07. Since 2004, his dominance at The All England Club has only been interrupted by arch rival Rafael Nadal in an epic final in 2008 that was hailed as one of the greatest matches ever. Federer also exerted his dominance at the US Open, where he won the title five times in a row between 2004-08, with his run finally ending against Juan Martin del Potro in a five-set thriller in the 2009 final. He won three Australian Opens in 2004, ’06 and ’07 and completed the set at Roland Garros this year, defeating Robin Soderling to become the sixth man in history to win the career Grand Slam.
Federer has been a near constant at the top of the South African Airways ATP Rankings. He first clinched the top spot on 2 February, 2004 and would stay there for a record 237 consecutive weeks before being dethroned by Nadal on 18 August, 2008. The right-hander reclaimed top spot on 6 July, 2009 and at the end of the season was crowned ATP World Tour Champion for the fifth time in six years – becoming only the second player (Ivan Lendl in 1989) to reclaim the year-end South African Airways ATP Ranking after losing it for a year.

2. Rafael Nadal

In recent years, Rafael Nadal has emerged as the strongest challenger to Federer’s dominance and has established one of the most gripping rivalries in the history of men’s tennis with the Swiss. The Spaniard, who proudly displays the silhouette of a bull’s horns on his tennis shoes, has been the undoubted King of Clay in the past five years. Of the Spaniard’s 36 tour-level titles, 25 have come on his surface of choice.

The Mallorcan’s clay-court dominance has been at its zenith at Roland Garros, where he first made his debut in 2005. He won his first 31 matches at the clay-court major, capturing four successive titles, before his run came to and end at the hands of Robin Soderling in the fourth round this year. But it is not only on clay that the left-hander has excelled. He became the first Spaniard since Manuel Santana 1966 to win Wimbledon when he dethroned five-time champion Federer in 2008 and won his first hard-court major at the ‘09 Australian Open, once again defeating Federer.

The Manacor native, who has the following of a rock star, became the first Spaniard in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973) to finish as ATP World Tour Champion in 2008 and has featured in three of his nation’s four Davis Cup triumphs.

3. Lleyton Hewitt

The feisty Australian burst onto the scene in the late '90s, becoming the youngest winner on the ATP World Tour when he won his home-town title in Adelaide at the age of 16 years, 10 months in January 1998, and was the man to beat as the new millennium rolled in.

With his famous cry of “Come On!” punctuating his every success and donning a back-to-front baseball cap, Hewitt won his first Grand Slam title at the 2001 US Open, signalling a changing of the guard as he dismissed Pete Sampras in the final. That same year, he became the youngest player (20 years, eight months) and the first Australian to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings. The following year he held aloft the Wimbledon trophy after defeating David Nalbandian and once again went on to finish at ATP World Tour Champion. (Federer is the only other player to finish ATP World Tour Champion multiple times this decade.)

The right-hander, also a runner-up at the 2004 US Open and ’05 Australian Open, has been a Davis Cup stalwart and is Australia’s most successful singles player. He was part of Australia's 2003 Davis Cup title-winning team.

4. Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi retired in 2006 but his impact early in the decade guaranteed him a place in our Top 5 list. Agassi won three Australian Opens in 2000, ’01 and ’03 and in May 2003, at 33, he became the oldest player in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973) to hold the No. 1 ranking. Agassi also won seven of his record 17 ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles during the decade, including the Cincinnati crown at 34. Agassi, who at 35 pushed Roger Federer to four sets in the 2005 US Open final, also finished in the year-end Top 10 for six consecutive years between 2000-2005.

Agassi’s legacy extended far beyond the tennis court, however. From the beginning of his career as a brash showman, Agassi had always been one of the game’s highest-profile players, but in the 2000s he consolidated his growing reputation as a statesman. Who could cheer against a 33-year-old legend who could still beat the best that the new generation had to offer? He also became arguably the biggest sporting philanthropist on the planet, raising tens of millions of dollars for the foundation that provides funding for his charter school, the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, which provides free schooling for underprivileged children in Las Vegas.

5. Andy Roddick

Andy Roddick has faced the full weight of America’s expectation throughout his career, as he looks to emulate the success of Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, and the charismatic Texan has unblinkingly embraced the task. Consistently strong results at the highest level have seen the 27 year old finish in the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for the past eight years; Roger Federer is the only other player to have accomplished that feat. Roddick has won 27 tour-level titles, including winning at least one ATP World Tour title each year for nine years in a row.

The standout season for Roddick was 2003, when he won his first Grand Slam title – fittingly on home soil – at the US Open, defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero in the final. Later that year, he became the youngest American (21 years, three months) to claim the crown of ATP World Tour Champion in the history of the South African Airways ATP Rankings (since 1973).

The following year, Roddick suffered the first of three heartbreaks in the Wimbledon final, all at the hands of Roger Federer, but led the United States to its first Davis Cup final (l. to Spain) since 1997. He realised his life-long dream of winning the Davis Cup three years later as the United States defeated Russia.
Doubles Team of the Decade: Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan

Dynamic American doubles duo Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan have, without doubt, been the best doubles team of the decade. Since winning their first ATP World Tour title at Memphis in 2001, the twins have gone on to amass 56 tour-level titles between them, the fourth-best tally in the Open Era. They are just five wins behind all-time leaders Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde and, at 31, look likely to top the Woodies' mark, perhaps as early as 2010.

The charismatic Californians, whose trademark celebration is a chest bump, have won seven Grand Slam doubles crowns, beginning with Roland Garros in 2003 – the same year that they became the first brothers to finish ATP World Tour Doubles Champions, a crown they have earned five times in the past seven years. In 2005, they became the second team in 50 years to reach the final of all four Grand Slam championships in the same year and completed the career Grand Slam a year later with their first victory at Wimbledon. Also key players in the United States' Davis Cup team, they clinched the Cup for their nation in 2007 with victory in the doubles rubber over Russia.  Not content with dominating the doubles scene in the decade, the Bryans have also wielded their musical talents by forming the Bryan Bros. Band and released their first album, “Let It Rip” – featuring the vocals of Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic -in 2009.

Honorable Mentions

Pete Sampras: Sampras’ outstanding career was winding down as the decade began. His record six consecutive year-end No. 1 finishes and 12 of his 14 Grand Slam titles came in the 1990s. But the American did win his seventh Wimbledon title in 2000 and, after finals defeats in 2000 and ‘01, he won his fifth US Open title in 2002. Sampras won just three of his 64 career titles in the decade.

Marat Safin: Safin won 14 of his 15 career titles in the decade, including his stunning US Open title win (d. Sampras) in 2000 and the 2005 Australian Open (d. Hewitt). After his seven-title haul in 2000, Safin looked as though he could become the dominant player of the decade. But he would win just seven more titles in the next nine years, and none in the near four-year period after his Australian Open triumph and his retirement late this year.

Gustavo Kuerten: Guga had a huge impact at the start of the decade, winning his second and third Roland Garros titles in 2000-2001. In 2000 he became the first South American to be crowned ATP World Tour Champion when he beat Agassi and Sampras in the semi-finals and final of the-then Tennis Masters Cup (now Barclays ATP World Tour Finals) in Lisbon. He won 11 titles in 2000 and ’01, but just four titles after that as a hip injury robbed him of many more good years.

Nikolay Davydenko: One of the hardest workers and most consistent players on the ATP World Tour, Davydenko has reaped the rewards by winning 19 ATP World Tour titles since 2003 and recording five year-end Top 6 finishes in the South African Airways ATP Rankings. The Russian has an impressive 19-5 record in ATP World Tour Finals and, showing that he is ever-improving, clinched his biggest title to date at last month’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. The only notable absentee from his glittering array of silverware is a Grand Slam title.

David Nalbandian: The Argentine is worthy of an honorable mention on account of finishing in the Top 10 of the South African Airways ATP Rankings for five consecutive years between 2003-07 and reaching the 2002 Wimbledon final (l. to Hewitt). The former World No. 3 has won 10 ATP World Tour titles and on top form has always been able to trouble the world’s best players. In 2005 he rallied from a two-set deficit to defeat Roger Federer and win the-then Tennis Masters Cup and also claimed back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Madrid and Paris in 2007. But, like Safin, many tennis fans believe Nalbandian should have won more titles in the decade given his immense talent.

Juan Carlos Ferrero: Before the arrival of Rafael Nadal, Juan Carlos Ferrero was the man to beat on clay. In a four-year span at the start of the decade, the Spaniard’s clay-court credentials included the 2003 Roland Garros title (d. Verkerk), a runner-up finish (l. to Costa) at the clay-court major in ‘02 and two semi-final efforts in ’01 and ‘00 plus three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 trophies. The right-hander peaked at No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings on 8 September, 2003 and proved his versatility by also reaching the US Open final (l. to Roddick) on hard court that year. However, hampered by injuries, the Spaniard suffered a let down in following years and endured a title drought of more than five years before hitting back in 2009 with victory in Casablanca.


The Best 5 Tennis Matches of 2009
(By ATP Website Staff, 07.12.2009)
Take a look back at the five best matches of 2009...

1. Wimbledon Final – Roger Federer d Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), 3-6, 16-14

Roger Federer has inflicted a lot of Grand Slam pain on Andy Roddick over the years, but his epic five-set victory in this year’s Wimbledon final was perhaps the most devastating of all blows. Although Federer boasts a 19-2 career head-to-head record over Roddick, the American has produced some of his best performances against Federer in their four meetings in Grand Slams finals (Wimbledon 2004-05, ’09 and US Open ’06). And his effort against Federer at Wimbledon this year was something special.  Chasing a record 15th Grand Slam title, newly crowned Roland Garros champion Federer toiled for four hours and 16 minutes before breaking the Roddick serve, while needing to serve 50 aces himself to eke out a 16-14 fifth-set victory. At 77 games, it was the longest final in Grand Slam history, eclipsing the 62-game Wimbledon final one year earlier between Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Roddick had four consecutive set points at 6-2 in the second-set tie-break to take a two-sets-to-love lead. Having squandered the first three set points, Roddick botched a backhand volley to allow Federer back onto even terms; the Swiss ultimately won six straight points to steal the set.  Despite also losing the third set in a tie-break, and his poor record against Federer, Roddick showed the depth of his character in the fourth when he dug in and broke Federer in the fourth game. “At that point, like everything else, there's two options: you lay down or you keep going. The second option sounded better to me,” Roddick said of his attitude at the start of the fourth set.

The longest final set in Wimbledon finals’ history may not have happened had Federer converted his first break point chance since the first set, in Roddick’s first service game of the fifth. But Roddick, who had two break points of his own at 8-8, was clutch throughout, holding serve 11 consecutive times in the fifth set to stay alive.  But after 37 consecutive holds, Roddick finally dropped serve in the 30th game of the final set when he sent a forehand long, thus ending his hopes of claiming his first major title since his breakthrough victory at the US Open in 2003.

Federer, who one month earlier had completed a career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros, became the greatest men’s Grand Slam singles winner with a 15th major crown. The twin victories also saw Federer reclaim the No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking, which he would retain for the remainder of the season. He finished ATP World Tour Champion for the fifth time and became just the second man (Ivan Lendl) to reclaim the year-end No. 1 ranking after having held and then lost it.

2. Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open semi-finals, R. Nadal  d. Novak Djokovic 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(9)

In the longest best-of-three-sets match on the ATP World Tour in the Open Era, Rafael Nadal won a brutal 4 hr., 3 min. dogfight with rival Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Mutua Madrilena Madrid Open in May.  Djokovic, who had recently tested Nadal in the finals of the other two clay-court ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in Monte-Carlo and Rome, attacked the Spaniard with a barrage of deep, flat ground strokes, which made it more difficult for the clay king to wind up on his killer forehand. The Serb was also rewarded for his willingness to hit aggressively to the open forehand court, nailing a series of clean winners and limiting Nadal’s ability to run around his backhand.  Djokovic offered up just two break points in the match, and was broken only once.

Nadal saved a total of four break points in three different games in the second set to stay in the match. Djokovic broke for a 3-1 lead in the third set but Nadal broke back immediately and the set went on serve to 6-6. Nadal, who had never lost a tie-break to Djokovic, was forced to save match points at 5-6, 6-7 and 8-9 before he eventually took the ‘breaker 11-9 when a Djokovic lunging forehand wide in the court fell into the net. Appearing in his fourth consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final, Djokovic did everything but win. "I’m very disappointed that I can play this well and still not win a match," he said. "I think that I’ve played my best tennis on this surface.”

By advancing to the final, Nadal came within one match of becoming the first player in history to win all three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournaments in the same season. But, despite being arguably the fittest player on tour, Nadal was clearly below his physical best the following day in the final against Roger Federer, who handed Nadal just his second loss in 27 clay-court finals.  Perhaps the semi-final took more out of Nadal than was known. In his next appearance he suffered a shock fourth-round exit at Roland Garros and later withdrew from Wimbledon and did not win another tournament for the year.

3. Australian Open semi-final, Rafael Nadal d. Fernando Verdasco 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-6(2), 6-7(1), 6-4

The Australian Open has a recent history of producing surprise finalists, and Fernando Verdasco had every chance of extending the trend when he took fellow Spanish left-hander Rafael Nadal into a fifth set in the semi-finals at Melbourne Park in January. Verdasco was full of confidence after helping Spain win the Davis Cup final on Argentine soil at the end of 2008 and also was in the best shape of his life after working in Las Vegas in the off season with Gil Reyes, Andre Agassi’s former fitness guru.

In the fourth round Verdasco claimed a five-set win over Andy Murray in oppressive heat and then took out 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his first Grand Slam quarter-final.  Nadal, who already held the Roland Garros and Wimbledon titles, was determined to add the Australian Open to his collection and join a select group of players to have won three different Grand Slam trophies.

Both players hit the ball with ferocious power in a 5-hour, 10-minute modern-day slugfest. With spectacular defence, Nadal gave nothing to Verdasco, who faced 20 break points in the match, of which he saved 16. In contrast, Nadal offered up just four break points in 28 service games, and was broken just twice.  With such a grueling semi-final, there were doubts about Nadal’s ability to recover well enough to challenge Federer in the final. But Nadal would not be denied, and went on to take out Federer in the five-set final and become the first man at the Australian Open since Mats Wilander in 1988 to win the semi-finals and final in five sets to take the title.

4. US Open 2nd Round – Taylor Dent d. Ivan Navarro 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(1), 7-5, 7-6(9)

Taylor Dent and Ivan Navarro turned back the clock back late Friday night on Grandstand court at the US Open as they put on a serve-and-volley feast for fans. The players combined to make around 250 net approaches, with both successful more than 60 percent of the time. Dent had not previously seen the Spaniard play and expected to face a baseliner. It was only after he got the heads up from former pro Justin Gimelstob that Navarro was a serve/volleyer than the American firmed up a game plan.

Dent and Navarro also brought the heat on their first serves, with Dent firing the tournament’s fastest serve of 147 mph; Navarro got as high as 130 mph. One of Dent’s thunderbolts snapped the net strap, forcing a seven-minute delay to the match, which ultimately ticked over the four-hour mark. In a serving shootout, Navarro put an astonishing 81 percent of first serves into play; Dent made 71 percent of first serves. Dent fired 20 aces and topped 140 mph around 10 times during the match.

In an emotion-charged fifth set, Dent rode the support of rowdy home fans to a 6-4, 5-7, 6-7(1), 7-5, 7-6(9) win after saving one match point in the tie-break. After shaking hands Dent grabbed the umpire’s microphone and screamed, “You guys are unbelievable. I love you!”

Dent, playing his first US Open since 2005, was told by doctors that his career was over after two back surgeries in 2006 and 2007.   Not only is Navarro an unusual character as a serve/volleying Spaniard, he has a quirky habit of changing racquets each game, using one racquet for serving and another for returning. In the fifth-set tie-break he kept a second racquet at the back of the court.

5. Barclays ATP World Tour Finals semi-final, N Davydenko d. Roger Federer 6-2, 4-6, 7-5

When Roger Federer won seven of the first eight points against Nikolay Davydenko in their Barclays ATP World Tour Finals semi-final, there was every reason to believe that the Swiss was set to extend his unbeaten 12-0 career record against the Russian. But seemingly in the blink of an eye it was Davydenko who had opened a 4-1 lead with exceptional court coverage and crisp ball striking that made Federer do the bulk of the running.  After being broken three times in the first set, Federer dropped just five points on serve in the second set as the quality of the match soared even higher. The Swiss took a rare opportunity on Davydenko’s serve in the 10th game to clinch the second set and force a decider in front of 17,500 delighted fans.

The Russian looked on the verge of defeat in the 10th game of the third set as a huge stroke of luck for Federer saw a net cord dribble over Davydenko’s side of the net to hand the Swiss a 0/15 lead, before an incredible behind-the-baseline smash from Federer, in response to an Davydenko overhead, saw him take a 0/30 lead and move to within two points of victory. But that was the closest to defeat Davydenko would come; he never went down match point and in the following game he broke Federer with a stunning backhand return.

There was still one more twist to play out: With Davydenko serving at 6-5, Federer earned a break point but the Russian coolly righted the ship with a forehand winner and soon after served it out.  Davydenko went on to claim the biggest title of his career when he beat US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in the final. That completed Davydenko’s tournament sweep of the winners of all four 2009 Grand Slam titles following his victories over Federer (Roland Garros and Wimbledon) and, in round-robin play, Rafael Nadal (Australian Open).

Davydenko, who finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic in the final in Shanghai last year, seemed just as happy to have finally beaten Federer as to have reached the final. “I think all my family, everybody who supports me, was waiting for this moment when I can beat Federer, because I have beaten everyone in the Top 10 except Federer,” he said. “I was thinking it was coming maybe in 2010 or '11. But in 2009, at the end of the season, it's a good feeling.”


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