On ESPN's tennis page, John Drucker chose Kei vs Ferrer at USO at one of the top 10 matches of the year.
I don't agree with some of his selections, but I'm very glad Kei's match made the list.
What makes for a great match? Setting, quality, drama -- and sometimes it's the X factor that takes it to dazzling heights. Here are the top 10 competitive moments of the 2008 tennis season.
1. Wimbledon men's singles final
These are the moments tennis lovers -- and players -- live for. The two best players in tennis since 2005, their stylistic contrast fully enchanting, the impassioned Spaniard and regal Swiss staged an epic. The quality remained high for nearly five hours. Roger Federer saved two championship points in the fourth-set tiebreaker. Rafael Nadal eventually served out the match as Centre Court neared darkness for the last time (Wimbledon's dome will be up and running in 2009), winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7. It was the epitome of everything that makes tennis such a superb showcase of singular and competitive-collaborative spirit.
2. Saturday night fever
It was the middle Saturday of the Australian Open at Rod Laver. Federer was up against Jarko Tipsarevic in the third round. The powerful Serb goes up two sets to one. Federer sweeps through the fourth 6-1. The fifth goes to overtime, with Federer taking it 10-8 -- more than four hours long. Federer served a career-high 39 aces. Then, due to yet another example of tennis managers failing to lead, another match goes on -- and the eagerly awaited match between Australia's Lleyton Hewitt and popular '06 finalist Marcos Baghdatis is delayed to just before midnight. The two go at it for nearly five hours, before Hewitt earns a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-3 win. The victor comes into his press conference at 5:15 a.m. -- and of course is completely drained for his next match.
3. Venus and Serena compose a double album
So many of the matches between the sisters had been annoyingly flat, lacking everything from emotional engagement to quality ball-striking and point construction. But in the Wimbledon final and the U.S. Open quarterfinals, Venus and Serena Williams revealed newfound maturity, increased tactical awareness and, of course, trademark grit. At Wimbledon, Serena raced off to a 4-2 lead, but Venus earned a tight victory, 7-5, 6-4. Serena turned the tables in New York, overcoming a staggering 10 set points to win, 7-6, (6) 7-6 (7). Both matches gave hope that these two had even more great tennis ahead.
4. Local boy makes good
It was a quintessential Wimbledon moment. In the late afternoon, as the sun descended over the lip of Centre Court, native son Andy Murray was down two sets to love to Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman was sizzling, firing winners off all sides. It was time for Murray to dig in. Gasquet served for the match at 5-4 in the third, but Murray broke back. After just over three hours, a fifth set ensued. Murray charged forward and closed it out. A nation erupted. Had it only been a year since Tim Henman retired?
5. Serbian challenge match
We will likely never know too accurately how Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic feel about one another. But this much we do know: Each is good enough now to accept nothing but the highest level of success. So their French Open semifinal set the stage superbly: A loss would crush either. And so the two Serbs dug in and played an engaging, emotional match. But at the stage when the match was on the table, with Jankovic serving at 4-3 in the third, Ivanovic boldly grabbed it, snapping up three straight games -- and two days later took the title.
6. Madrid magic
Call it a perfect storm, or perhaps even an early cry for the changing of the guard. On one Saturday at the Tennis Masters Madrid, two superb semis took place. Frenchman Gilles Simon emphatically signaled his arrival into the elite by beating Nadal, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6), while Murray took out Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 7-5. Both matches were punctuated by brilliant all-court movement, shot-making, power and drama. Murray would go on to win the title.
7. And I think to myself & what a wonderful stadium
In the fourth round of the U.S. Open, competing in Louis Armstrong Stadium, Kei Nishikori was on the verge of the fourth round and earning the biggest win of his young career. He was up two sets to love versus fourth-ranked David Ferrer. But Ferrer is one rough customer, dogged in the way you might expect from a man whose coach once locked him a room as a motivational technique. By the time Ferrer squared the match at two sets apiece, he and Nishikori had been playing for nearly three hours. The crowd loved every minute of it. This was the brand of tennis intimacy that has been largely lost amid massive Arthur Ashe Stadium. This raw-knuckled fifth set between the two ravenous baseliners took nearly an hour and was just squeaked out by Nishikori, 7-5 in the fifth. Final tally: 155 points each.
8. Dinara Safina takes out Serena
It's rarely easy to take down an impassioned Serena Williams, and though Dinara Safina had in the previous round beaten Justine Henin in Berlin, in the early stages of this match she looked out of her league, dropping the first set 2-6. But the Russian rallied strongly, routing Williams in the second 6-1, then emerging the victor in a gritty third set 7-6 (5). This match was a harbinger of things to come. Safina would go on to reach the finals of six of seven tournaments.
9. Lucky day for Ana
At Wimbledon, her first tournament as the world's No. 1-ranked player, Ana Ivanovic faced a major challenge from crafty veteran Nathalie Dechy. The French woman won the first set in a tiebreaker. Ivanovic countered by taking the second, also in a tiebreaker. Dechy held two match points; one was fought off by Ivanovic with a let-cord winner. The third set lasted nearly 90 minutes with Ivanovic at last winning this 3-hour, 24-minute marathon 10-8 in the third.
10. Tsonga storms the gates
Less significant for its drama, but remarkably revealing for the way Jo-Wilfried Tsonga took charge in a staggering display of all-court, attacking tennis at the Australian Open semifinals. Whether he was ripping his forehand, charging the net or commanding one rally after another, in just under two hours, Tsonga, on this night, made the great Nadal look like a boy playing a man in a one-sided 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 win.
Joel Drucker is based in Oakland, Calif., and writes for Tennis Magazine and Tennis Channel.
Also, ESPN's Bonnie Ford chose Kei as the Young Player to Watch on her list of outstanding players of the year:
(The article contains some factual errors though)
The 2008 season opened with a player other than Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer hoisting a Grand Slam championship trophy for the first time in three years. Novak Djokovic's breakthrough at the Australian Open signaled a new status quo. As the year went on, the Federer-Nadal rivalry continued to be the most compelling story line in tennis, whether they were pursuing each other in the rankings or on the court. But there were plenty of other delights, distractions and dumbfounding events this season. We review some of the highlights and head-scratchers below.
Player of the year
No dispute here. Rafael Nadal crashed through the thin but still-obvious fiberglass ceiling that separated him from Roger Federer: re-asserting his dominance in a big way in the lopsided French Open final, winning Wimbledon in an unparalleled five-set thriller, capturing the Olympic gold medal and finally overtaking Federer for the No. 1 ranking in August after three years at No. 2. It's no surprise that Nadal wore out as this jam-packed season wore down, withdrawing from both the year-end championships and the Davis Cup final. We wish him a restful interlude, and think it's safe to say that the dynamic at the top of the men's game has shifted.
Match of the year
See above. The Wimbledon final had everything: the best two players in the world, spectacular shotmaking, a finish as darkness descended and a wildly appreciative crowd.
Most improved player
This is a tricky category -- do we go with a guy who made a major move in the rankings, or a top player who bridged that seemingly small but elusive gap to place himself among the elite group of potential Slam winners? In this case, we'll opt for the latter and recognize No. 4 Andy Murray, who emerged from an uncertain, injury-plagued stretch and a coaching change to flex his biceps and increased mental muscle and show he's up to the dreaded task of being Great Britain's standard-bearer. We think he has a great shot to win his first major in Australia next month. Honorary mention to Stanislas Wawrinka and Gilles Simon, both of whom cracked the top 10 for the first time in their careers this season.
Most improved American
Sam Querrey showed he's not afraid of anyone or any surface this season. He knocked off then-No. 9 Richard Gasquet to advance to the Monte Carlo quarterfinals last spring, and gave Nadal all he could handle on center court at the U.S. Open and again in his Davis Cup debut in the semifinals, contested in the hostile environment of a Madrid bullring. Querrey also won his first ATP title in Las Vegas early in the season. As the year wound down, he wasn't bashful about stating his goal to guarantee himself a seeded position at next year's Aussie Open. It was a tall order, and Querrey fell a little short at No. 39, but credit him for reasonable ambition combined with great attitude.
Young player to watch
Kei Nishikori, who turns 19 in late December, has a beautiful game, an endearing personality and the massive pressure that comes along with an early tag as the best player ever to emerge from his native Japan. Up from No. 288 in January to No. 63 at year's end, he shows signs of being able to embrace the challenge.
Now that Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a top-10 player and one of the ATP's most charismatic stars, it's easy to forget that a mere 11 months ago he was regarded as a relatively easy mark for Nadal in their Australian Open semifinal. Tsonga had never played a full season at the ATP level, and his big body is prone to breaking down. The Frenchman rose to the occasion with a brilliant, creative and nearly error-free match that left Nadal shaking his head in bewilderment on the other side of the net. Honorary mention: Nishikori was ranked 180th [sic: 244th ] and had only a handful of ATP matches under his belt when he beat then-No. 12 James Blake for the Delray Beach (Fla.) title;
University of Illinois product Kevin Anderson of South Africa overcame a similar paper mismatch to shock No. 3 Novak Djokovic in the second round in Miami.
Biggest upset (team)
Spanish Davis Cup captain Emilio Sanchez said he admired the camaraderie of the 2007 champion U.S. team and tried to cultivate that spirit among his own group of talented players. In retrospect, host Argentina might have chosen badly for the final by going against its own traditional strength and playing on a hard court. But there's no question that Spain's better interpersonal chemistry was a factor in beating the fractious Argentines, despite Nadal's absence.
Best use of equipment
Nikolay Davydenko took recycling to a new level, winning all six matches en route to the Sony Ericsson Open title in Miami using a single Prince racket.
Worst use of equipment
In a moment of frustration during a late-night, early-round match against Nicolas Almagro in Miami, Russia's Mikhail Youzhny bashed himself in the forehead several times with his racket frame, drawing blood and forcing a stoppage in play. The video became an overnight YouTube sensation and cast ultra-serious soldier Youzhny (who ultimately won the match) in the unlikely role of slapstick comedian. "We were just two crazy boys out there," Youzhny said an hour later, the wound still oozing.
Weirdest crowd interaction
The normally decorous Federer wheeled toward the box where Novak Djokovic's parents and other supporters were sitting in Monte Carlo and snapped "Be quiet."
Most ill-advised crowd interaction
In a postmatch, on-court interview at the U.S. Open, Djokovic lashed out at Andy Roddick for Roddick's previous quips about his multiple physical ailments, triggering a hailstorm of boos at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Even Roddick, who doesn't always exhibit great impulse control, would know better than to do the same in Belgrade.
Lost in translation celebration
OK, it was a strange year overall for Federer, and there were times he needed to cut loose a little. After he and countryman Wawrinka won the Olympic doubles gold medal, Federer passed his hands over his prone teammate in what looked like a creepy cult ritual. It was apparently meant to signify that Wawrinka was "hot," but you could have fooled us. Guys, please stick to the usual clichés and leave the hackneyed symbolism to us writers.
Most graphic self-defense
"It's not because I was scratching my things on the sofa and I didn't want to play tennis." -- Marat Safin at the Sony Ericsson Open, explaining why his comeback from a knee injury has been so fitful.
Most candid self-assessment
"I've been living like this since I was 10, traveling around. For me to sit back somewhere in the same place for a couple of months or one year, it would be suicidal. So I prefer to travel to nice places -- Miami, Australia, Indian Wells, Monte Carlo, Rome, Hamburg -- so it's pretty interesting places. To give up on that … it's a very tough decision, and I'm still enjoying it." -- Safin, same interview.
Most candid self-assessment, Part II
"I think if she will do everything opposite of what I've been doing throughout the years, she will be No. 1 in the world for a long time. That's as simple as it is." -- Safin at the U.S. Open, talking about his sister Dinara Safina's breakthrough season.
Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis began their Australian Open match at 11:47 p.m. and finished at 4:34 the next morning, the latest result in Grand Slam history. It might have been a delightful novelty from afar -- especially for U.S. fans who enjoyed the spectacle over breakfast -- but in the interests of top-notch competition, we don't think players should have to work the graveyard shift.
Off the radar
Baghdatis, now No. 99, didn't look like he was heading in the right direction even before injuries sidelined and hampered him through much of the season. We're also wondering if Guillermo Canas can regain the great form he showed in his comeback from a contested doping suspension last year.
The intelligence and class consistently displayed by veteran Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden; the elastic reach, contagious grin and loose-limbed grace of Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten; the pure entertainment provided by the maddening Magician, Fabrice Santoro of France. [sic: Santoro hasn't retired yet!! ]
"Well, I don't understand 'redemption ' quite that well, but I don't think that's what it is. I don't feel like I needed this win particularly to prove myself, you know. I don't think I'm at that point any more." -- Federer, after defeating Murray to win his fifth straight U.S. Open title.
Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org