The 10 most thrilling matches of the Open
By Nick McCarvel
Monday, September 12, 2011
On the first Friday afternoon of the 2011 US Open, the roar coming from Louis Armstrong Stadium was deafening. Beside it, on Grandstand, the ball being struck could barely be heard as James Blake and David Ferrer exchanged groundstrokes. Inside Armstrong was transpiring what could be called the best comeback of this year's Open: Andy Murray was storming back on Robin Haase, working his way through a 6-4 fifth set after falling down two-sets-to love to the 41st-ranked player.
As the Open wraps up for another year, we take a look -- Murray and Haase included -- at the 10 best encounters (in no particular order) from Flushing Meadows.
Second round: Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) def. Gael Monfils (FRA) , 7-6 (5), 5-7, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-4
Ferrero has long seen his golden years -- or year, to be exact -- pass on the tennis court. In 2003, "The Mosquito" reached the No. 1 spot in the world, was French Open champion and lost to Andy Roddick in the final at the US Open. But in a second-round battle with the seventh-seeded Monfils, the Spaniard brought back some of his former magic, the two men enthralling Louis Armstrong Stadium for nearly five hours, the crowd giving a standing ovation to both players before Ferrero served out the match in the fifth set. After his win, which improved Ferrer to 2-0 lifetime against the Frenchman, Ferrero had this to say: "I felt very special on the court... At the end I think they love this kind of matches.” Monfils matched 81 winners for 81 unforced errors, but Ferrero edged him out points-wise, 185 to 184.
Second round: Donald Young (USA) def. Stanislas Wawrinka (SUI) , 7-6 (7), 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1)
It was the US Open match that Donald Young had always been dreaming of. In 2005, the American prodigy was given his first wild card into the Open as a 16-year-old but would scrape together just two wins in six trips to Flushing Meadows prior to this year. On the newly minted Court 17 during week one, however, the Georgia-based Chicago native, now 22, produced his first big-time win in New York. He had previously lost the only five-set match he had played (at the Open against James Blake in 2007) but came back from 3-1 down to oust Wawrinka, a quarterfinalist at last year's Open and an owner of a 14-9, five-set record coming into the match. "I didn’t even know I could even go that long," Young said of the four-hour, 21-minute match. "But the training, the work I did in the offseason is finally starting to pay off."
Second round: Andy Murray (GBR)  def. Robin Haase (DEN), 6-7 (4), 2-6, 6-2, 6-0, 6-4
Andy Murray let two leads slide in this second-round classic. One more and he would have been doomed. Up 4-1 in the first-set breaker, the talented Scot lost the final six points of the set and then floundered in the second, falling down two sets to none. Murray would let a second lead slip after taking a dominating 4-0 lead in the fifth set, watching Haase, who had played in just one US Open prior to this one, even things up at 4-all. But Murray's experience would win out in this three-hour, 38-minute affair. "Well, it was an unbelievable ending to the match," Murray said. "Of course, you're relieved to get through a long one like that, especially when you're behind. I don't know how relieved I am, but I'm just glad I'm in the next round." Murray ended the match with 55 winners and 21 more points than Haase, mostly thanks to his 6-0, fourth-set effort.
Semifinal: Novak Djokovic (SRB)  def. Roger Federer (SUI) , 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5
It was the match of the tournament and -- just maybe -- one of the matches of the year. Down two sets to none, Djokovic rallied with a barrage of whipping forehands and deathly consistent play from the baseline. Whereas it was Federer who dictated play for much of the first two sets with biting groundstrokes and impressive serving, the world No. 1 came back with a vengeance -- only to come within one point of defeat in the final set. In a semifinal that mirrored last year's final-four match-up between Federer and Djokovic, the Serb once again saved two match points, but this time on Federer's serve. Leading 5-3, 40-15 in the fifth, Federer's serve out wide to Djokovic's forehand was met with a blasting cross-court forehand winner. Federer caught the tape on the next point with a down-the-line forehand attempt and then dropped the next three games, losing on a service return error. The match marked just the second time Federer had lost a match when leading two sets to love -- the first being against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at this year's Wimbledon -- moving his record to 189-2 after winning the first two sets. Djokovic's break for the win was his sixth of the match in 12 tries (50 percent).
Final -- Novak Djokovic (SRB)  def. Rafael Nadal (ESP) , 6-2, 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-1
In this match, it was a total fight to the finish. The two warriors -- Djokovic and Nadal -- had made the final as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, as the last two men standing at the Open. In a chaotic and oftentimes sloppy match, the two would break serve 17 total times, Djokovic earning his way to a two-sets-to-none lead in just over two hours. But Nadal would break him in the third as the Serb served for the championship, striking a backhand long in what seemed to be a tight game as nerves crept in. After Nadal completed a successful third-set tiebreaker, he seemed to run out of gas, falling behind quickly in the fourth set as the bite of Djokovic's groundstrokes began to be simply too much. In the four-hour, 10-minute match, Djokovic would strike 55 total winners, including seven aces. The match was a grinding affair that improved its quality as it went, the crowd boisterous as they urged on one final early evening of tennis.
Final: Sam Stosur (AUS)  def. Serena Williams (USA) , 6-2, 6-3
It is rather fitting that three out of our five best women's matches belong to the tournament's winner, Stosur. The 27-year-old Aussie showed up in Arthur Ashe Stadium for the first time at this year's tournament on the final Sunday afternoon but was far from intimidated by the stage -- or her opponent. She won a 31-minute first set by hitting eight winners and winning 11 of 12 points on her first serve. Williams was called for a hindrance while down break point in the first game of the second set, giving Stosur the game, but motivating the American to take the next two. The crowd moved behind Williams, who verbally engaged with umpire Eva Asderaki on the next two changeovers. But on this day, it was Stosur's play that would shine through. The Aussie won 61 total points, including seven of 11 at the net, to capture her first-ever major title.
Third round: Sam Stosur (AUS)  def. Nadia Petrova (RUS) , 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5
Before there was a bubble on court at Louis Armstrong Stadium, the longest women's match in the tiebreak era took place there in the third round. Big-hitting baseliners Stosur and Petrova locked horns for three hours, 16 minutes in a meeting that began in the late afternoon and finished under the lights. Petrova, three times a quarterfinalist in 12 appearances in New York, fought off two match points against the 2010 French Open runner-up to force a third and decisive set. The two women would combine for 85 winners in the match, which featured nine breaks of serve, including the final game, where Stosur won the match on her fifth chance.
Third round: Serena Williams (USA)  def. Victoria Azarenka (BLR) , 6-1, 7-6 (5)
After Williams was awarded the 28th seed for the Open, Azarenka was the unlucky higher-seeded player to draw her in the third round. But the two women produced a scintillating afternoon of tennis in their match-up, especially after the Belarussian fought off three match points against her when serving down 5-3 in the second set. The two had sizzled off the ground for most of the day, Williams knocking away 39 winners while Azarenka logged in 18. Serving for the match, Williams couldn't capitalize on another pair of match points, and when the fourth seed brought the match even to 5-all, the crowd at Arthur Ashe gave the two a standing ovation. Serena closed the battle out when Azarenka launched a forehand long, giving the American the straight-sets win and sending her into the fourth round for the 11th time in 12 tries.
Fourth round: Sam Stosur (AUS)  def. Maria Kirilenko (RUS) , 6-2, 6-7 (15), 6-3
A round after Stosur knocked out Petrova, the Aussie had her hands full with Maria Kirilenko. Stosur roared to a 5-0 lead in the first set, winning it 6-2, and then collected a healthy lead in the second. But Kirilenko, who was trying to make just her second quarterfinal in 29 major appearances, rebounded steadily in the second set. The two women battled with one another in a memorable 32-point tiebreaker, Stosur having five match points but never being able to close it. After Kirilenko caputed the breaker 17-15, it looked as though she might run away with the third set. But Stosur won her fourth match of the Open by breaking Kirilenko for the seventh time in the match. Stosur had won just four matches in the three previous majors of the year, losing in the third round at both the Australian and French Opens and the first round at Wimbledon.
Third round: Flavia Pennetta (ITA)  def. Maria Sharapova (RUS) , 6-3, 3-6, 6-4
After Sharapova escaped a lengthy first-round battle with teenage upstart Heather Watson, the 2006 champion looked as though she might march back to the final for the first time in five years. But in the third round, Sharapova ran into the fiesty Italian Pennetta. In a two-hour, 29-minute affair, Sharapova clocked 30 winners but also sprayed 60 unforced errors, giving Pennetta an opening to advance to her first-ever quarterfinal at the Open. But Pennetta gave Sharapova an opening of her own after squandering a 4-1 lead in the third set. Sharapova hit 12 double faults and zero aces in the match, which was her first loss in 13 three-set matches in 2011.