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Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Djokovic tops tour in drama-filled matches

By Kamakshi Tandon

Editor's note: On Dec. 9, we began our 10-part year-end awards series. Stay tuned each weekday for our latest entry.

Dec. 9: Men's POY | Dec. 10: Women's POY | Dec. 11: Best men's matches

Looking at the top men's matches of the year, a few names keep coming up -- Stanislas Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and, most of all, Novak Djokovic. The Serb was involved in six of these 10 selections, including the top four contests. He might not have been player of the year, but it could be said he was the match-player of the year.

With that, our 2013 men's matches of the year:

1. Novak Djokovic def. Stanislas Wawrinka
Australian Open 4R, 6-1, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7(5), 12-10


It wasn't billed as a big-time match, but this fourth-rounder quickly became a classic. Wawrinka came out firing, hitting winner after winner and going up a set and a break. The defending champion, struggling with his footing, then came back and took a two-sets-to-one lead. But it wasn't over yet. Wawrinka didn't wilt, didn't waver, didn't go away or do any of the things lower-ranked players are supposed to do after losing a lead against a big name. With Roger Federer staying up well into the night to watch his compatriot, Wawrinka took the fourth set and stayed with Djokovic as they went deep into the fifth as well.

Djokovic finally finished the match with an amazing rally, ripping off his shirt to celebrate an unexpectedly tough but satisfying victory. Wawrinka, meanwhile, had announced that he would be someone worth watching this season.

2. Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic
French Open semifinals, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7


Nadal-Djokovic was the rivalry of the season, and this match would be the most dramatic meeting. Nadal, who had struggled in some of his earlier matches, competed with a ferocity that stood out even from his usual exhorting, fist-pumping style.

For four sets, the advantage ebbed and flowed between the defending champion and then-No. 1 Djokovic, who had the early advantage in the fifth as he served up a break at 4-3. But as he put away a volley for game point, the Serb lost his balance and touched the net. Nadal, who had been quick to spot the stumble, had the point instead. Three points later, the Spaniard broke back, going on to win the match and subsequently his eighth French Open title.

3. Novak Djokovic def. Juan Martin del Potro
Wimbledon semifinals, 7-5, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-7(6), 6-3


For 4 hours, 43 minutes, the two bludgeoned and retrieved the ball all over the grass on Centre Court. While del Potro was hitting his forehand with abandon, Djokovic slipped repeatedly after being told by the tournament to wear shoes without pimpled edges (which helped him grip the court better when sliding).

Djokovic nevertheless took control of the fourth set, but del Potro fought back to capture the tiebreaker. But the Argentine seemed to tire as Djokovic quickly regained his lead in the deciding set. The long match might also have taken its toll on Djokovic, who lost the final in straight sets to Andy Murray.

4. Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic
Montreal semifinals, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(2)


This high-quality meeting was their first of the season on hard courts, with Nadal playing more aggressively than before to defeat Djokovic on the Serb's favorite surface. Nadal even accidentally hit Djokovic in the face with a shot during the third set -- much to viewer Andy Murray's delight -- and then the Spaniard dominated the tiebreaker to defeat his opponent for the second straight time.

5. Stanislas Wawrinka def. Richard Gasquet
French Open 4R, 6-7(8), 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, 8-6


The French crowd roared and chanted as their man, Gasquet, won the first two sets, then quieted as Wawrinka came back, evening the battle of one-handed backhands in a magnificent fourth set. Gasquet began struggling with cramps but fought valiantly in the fifth, holding two break points at 6-6 before succumbing fewer than two games later. But at least he would find redemption later in the year, defeating Milos Raonic and David Ferrer in five sets at the US Open on his way to the semifinals.

6. Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer
Cincinnati quarterfinals, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3


Unlike most of their meetings, expectations were not high. Federer was coming off a string of defeats, while Nadal was undefeated on North American hard courts for the season. But the 17-time Grand Slam champion managed to find his form for this encounter, producing plenty of winners to take the first set and having chances to pull off the upset in the second. Nadal slowly took command, however, and a tiring Federer could not keep up in the third set.

7. Novak Djokovic def. Stanislas Wawrinka
US Open semifinals 2-6, 2-6, 7-6(4), 6-3, 6-4


Their second Grand Slam marathon of the season would be almost as memorable as the first. After hurting his leg in the first set, Wawrinka played with added urgency, trying to avoid a long match. He was successful early on, winning the first two sets, but Djokovic fought back to win the next three and the match. Most memorable was the third game of the fifth set, which lasted 21 minutes with Wawrinka saving five break points to finally hold.

8. Grigor Dimitrov def. Novak Djokovic
Madrid 2R, 7-6(6), 6-7(8), 6-3


There were several twists and turns in this encounter, which was one of the season's notable upsets. The up-and-coming Bulgarian saved three set points in the first set, then went up a set and a break before cramps began to affect him. He still had a match point in the second-set tiebreaker -- and the crowd behind him -- but a fired-up Djokovic managed to level the match. Inspired by a prematch pep talk from his girlfriend, Maria Sharapova, Dimitrov hung in and was given an early break by Djokovic, completing his victory in 3 hours, 5 minutes.

9. Andy Murray def. David Ferrer
Miami final, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(1)


They not only had to face each other, but they had to battle the heat as well. The third set was a tight and dramatic affair. Ferrer, who had been playing with uncharacteristic aggression, stopped play on match point at 5-4 to challenge a deep Murray ball that had left him in difficulty. But replays showed the ball in, and Murray would go on to win the game and dominate the tiebreaker.

10. Tommy Haas def. John Isner
French Open 4R 7-5, 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-7(10) 10-8


It looked like a straightforward match at first, but it turned into a gripping contest from late in the fourth set onward. The 35-year-old Haas needed not one, two or three, but 12 match points to close out the encounter. It looked like Haas was on his way to a gut-wrenching defeat when Isner pulled out the fourth-set tiebreak and then pulled ahead 4-1 in the fifth set. Yet the veteran German kept fighting, and Isner, who needed an 8-6 fifth-set win in his previous match, ran out of energy. By the finish, it had turned into one of the most memorable contests of the year.