2010 Best Matches Of The Year
1. Rafael Nadal d. Andy Murray, 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-6(6), Barclays ATP World Tour Finals SF
“Today is the reason why I play tennis,” declared British favourite Andy Murray after a heart-breaking three-set defeat to the competitive titan that is Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Both players went into the eagerly anticipated match with much to gain should they reach the final. For Murray, it was the chance to end a year of mixed fortunes with the biggest title of his career on home soil. For World No. 1 Nadal, the chance to cap one of the greatest seasons by any player in the Open Era, having already won three Grand Slam championships and completed the clean sweep of ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tournaments.
For three hours and 11 minutes, raucously supported by the 17,500-strong crowd at The O2, Murray had produced arguably his best tennis of the year in a high-quality match, which featured superb shot-making from both. But despite recovering from a 3-5 deficit in the third set, and leading 4-1 in the ensuing tie-break, the Scot could not close out victory against Nadal, who was utterly determined to reach the title match at the season finale for the first time.
“It was a fantastic match,” said Nadal. “I am very happy to beat a great champion like Andy. For me [it] is an amazing victory. I am very happy for everything because [it] was a really difficult match against one of the best players of the world.”
2. Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer, 5-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5, US Open SF
He would not go on to win the US Open, but Novak Djokovic certainly left his mark on Flushing Meadows after saving two match points to defeat Roger Federer in a pulsating five-set semi-final clash, thus denying the Swiss a place in his seventh straight US Open final.
Having lost to Federer in each of the three previous years at the US Open, including in the 2007 final, Djokovic explained afterwards, “I just knew I have to be patient and not lose my emotions too much, because that was the case in the past where I was losing the momentum with him. He uses that nervousness of the opponent. He feels it."
Indeed, the Serbian showed nerves of steel when, at 4-5 15/40 in the fifth set, he saved two match points with a swinging forehand volley and a down-the-line forehand winner. He went on to win the final three games, trumping Federer in a 22-shot rally to close out the match after three hours and 44 minutes.
The result came one year on from Federer’s defeat in the 2009 US Open final, in which he had been two points from victory against Juan Martin del Potro. The five-time US Open champion ultimately paid the price for committing 66 unforced errors to Djokovic’s 38 and afterwards expressed the disappointment he shared with many tennis fans, that he would not have the chance to reignite his rivalry with Rafael Nadal in the final. “I would have loved to play against him here. I did my hard yards the last six years making it to the finals, and he was unfortunately never there. And now one point away from this happening, obviously it's a bit of disappointment.”
3. John Isner d. Nicolas Mahut, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7(7), 7-6(3), 70-68, Wimbledon 1st Rd.
It may not have featured exciting rallies or brilliant shot-making, but it was a magnificent display of serving, fitness and perseverance and for the score line alone, the John Isner - Nicolas Mahut Wimbledon classic makes the Top 5 list.
Isner and Mahut managed to eclipse the visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to the All England Club on the first Thursday of The Championships as they concluded their record-breaking, first-round clash on Court 18. The longest tennis match on record lasted 11 hours and five minutes over three days, broke a host of tennis records, and finally ended with Isner hitting a backhand – his 246th winner – down the line to pass Mahut. The fifth set alone had lasted eight hours and 11 minutes – 98 minutes more than the previous longest match on record
“The guy's an absolute warrior,” said Isner of the defeated Mahut. “It stinks someone had to lose. To share this with him was an absolute honour. Maybe we'll meet again somewhere down the road and it won't be 70-68.” Until Isner broke in the 183rd and final game of the match, there had been 168 consecutive service games held between both players; there were only three service breaks in the entire match, totalling 980 points. Both players broke records with the number of aces they hit - 113 for Isner, 103 for Mahut - and 490 winners in total were struck.
Two weeks later, Isner and Mahut won the ESPY Award for Best Record-Breaking Performance, having finished the match just in time to make the ESPY Awards cut, with nominations announced that same day.
4. Robin Soderling d. Michael Llodra, 6-7(0), 7-5, 7-6(6), BNP Paribas Masters SF
Frenchman Michael Llodra had delighted the home support at Paris-Bercy throughout the week, beating Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko to reach his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 semi-final, and had two-time Roland Garros runner-up Robin Soderling on the ropes before his fairytale run came to an end.
In a throwback to old fashioned tennis, serve and volleyer Llodra had the crowd rocking as he exploited the slick indoor hard court to slice and dice the big-hitting Soderling. After fighting back from a 1-4 deficit in the final set, the 30-year-old Llodra squandered three match points in a gripping 12th game of the third set, and Soderling held on to clinch victory in the decisive tie-break after two hours and 49 minutes of action.
"Today it was a great match. It wasn't maybe pretty, but I'm here as a winner," reflected Soderling, who went on to win his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title with victory over Gael Monfils the following day. "I think tennis is a very mental sport, because everybody can play; everybody is so good. So it's the mental [aspect] that's going to decide a lot of matches."
5. Gael Monfils d. Roger Federer, 7-6(7), 6-7(1), 7-6(4), BNP Paribas Masters SF
Fans at the BNP Paribas Masters on semi-final day surely had the golden ticket as they witnessed two of the best matches of the year, back-to-back. After the crowd had suffered the disappointment of seeing Michael Llodra edged out in the first semi-final, Paris-born Gael Monfils lifted the roof of the Palais Omnisports as he defeated Roger Federer to reach the final for the second year in a row.
Monfils was lifted by the home support to save five match points on serve in the 12th game of the final set, having earlier fought back from a 1-4 deficit. The No. 12 seed then clinched victory in the decisive tie-break after two hours and 41 minutes. It was his first win in six meetings with 16-time Grand Slam champion Federer.
“I'm happy I won against Rog. He's someone I admire a lot. He's a legend of tennis, ‘the’ legend, and beating him is a beautiful victory. I will remember that for my whole life,” declared Monfils. “And also it happened in very special conditions for me, in Paris, so it's only happiness.”
For Federer, it marked the fourth time in 2010 that he had lost a match having held match point opportunities. As well as in the US Open semi-finals against Djokovic, he had squandered three match points in a third-round defeat to Marcos Baghdatis in Indian Wells and two weeks later he had missed a match point chance in a fourth-round loss to Tomas Berdych in Miami.