Sunday, January 29, 2012
Updated: January 30, 5:11 AM ET
Djokovic-Nadal tops Open era finals
By Ravi Ubha
Editor's note: The following is an updated list of ESPN.com's top five Grand Slam finals, originally written following the epic Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer Wimbledon final in 2008.
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Here we thought two classic semifinal matchups at the Australian Open were enough. Those were mere appetizers.
Nothing could have prepared us for Sunday's final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
They traded shots for 5 hours, 53 minutes, the longest Grand Slam men's singles final in history. If September's U.S. Open finale between the two was a boxing bout, how would one classify this?
It now leads the way in our look at the five most memorable men's Grand Slam finals in the Open era.
1. Novak Djokovic defeats Rafael Nadal, Australian Open, 2012
Nadal had significant mental baggage to overcome before the match, having lost six in a row to Djokovic. However, Djokovic contested a 4-hour, 50-minute semi with Andy Murray and was thus supposed to be fatigued.
He was, apparently, inferior to Nadal physically, and allergies also hampered him. And when Nadal won the opening set 7-5, the lefty was looking good.
Djokovic responded in the next two sets as Nadal turned passive, and the match seemed destined to end in four.
The fun really began deep in the fourth.
Once Nadal dug out of a 0-40 hole on serve with gutsy, aggressive play, he soared. He hustled, hustled and hustled some more to win a gripping tiebreaker. The joy was there for all to see when he sunk to his knees -- and he hadn't even won the fifth set.
In that fifth set, despite the affair extending past five hours, rallies still exceeded 30 shots. Djokovic was floored as he wilted -- but only briefly.
The twists and turns continued. Nadal, a fine front-runner, missed a sitter of a backhand with Djokovic stranded at 4-2, which turned the set around. A re-energized Djokovic started bullying Nadal again, eventually putting his opponent away.
On the winning end so many times in grueling matches, Nadal tasted defeat. Djokovic became the new iron man and is on his way to becoming one of the greatest players of all time.
They each picked up more fans, no doubt.
"I think we played a great tennis match," Nadal said. "It was I think a very good show, in my opinion. I enjoyed being part of this event and this match."
2. Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer, Wimbledon, 2008
Before we talk about the actual tennis, let's throw some intangibles in there. The match began 20 minutes late because of rain, and two more interruptions ensued -- one arguably helping Federer and the other favoring Nadal. Had they been on court much longer, inadequate lighting would have sent the match into Monday.
At 4 hours, 48 minutes, it turned out to be the longest men's singles final in Wimbledon history.
The two behemoths delivered a combined 149 winners, almost double the unforced error tally, and Federer served huge when he needed to, especially in the third and fourth sets, and early in the fifth.
Nadal, though, displayed his supreme mental toughness. Blowing two match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker would have sent others downhill, but the Spaniard persevered and was impregnable on his own serve in the fifth, facing just one break point.
He held serve from early in the second set onward.
Nadal ended Federer's five-year hold on the trophy and his 65-match winning streak on grass. He silenced detractors, too, finally winning a major on a surface other than clay.
Happier times for Nadal than Sunday.
|Rafael Nadal has experienced marathon euphoria, too. Who will ever forget his epic duel against Roger Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final? |
3. Bjorn Borg defeats John McEnroe, Wimbledon, 1980
Getting over two match points is one thing, but recovering to win after squandering five in a tiebreaker -- perhaps the greatest in Wimbledon history -- is quite another.
Borg, the stoic and super-fit Swede, achieved the feat in 1980, downing brash upstart McEnroe. Chasing a fifth consecutive Wimbledon crown, Borg held set points on five separate occasions in the fourth-set 'breaker before McEnroe converted on his eighth set point to make it 18-16 and send the tussle to a fifth. To make matters worse, Borg held two match points earlier in the fourth.
The tiebreaker lasted 22 minutes, and Borg would later admit he thought he had no chance of taking the fifth set.
"I have never been so disappointed on a tennis court as when I lost that fourth set,'' Borg said afterward. "Seven match points and I failed to do it. Every time I had another match point, John came up with a great shot.''
Borg kept it together in the 8-6 fifth set, only dropping one point in his final six service games. McEnroe gained his revenge by beating Borg in 1981, bringing to an end his reign at the All England Club.
4. Goran Ivanisevic defeats Patrick Rafter, Wimbledon, 2001
Rain played havoc with Wimbledon 11 years ago -- should we say, more so than usual? -- and it ultimately led to one of the most memorable occasions in Grand Slam history.
The men's final began on a Monday because of the precipitation, the first time that happened at Wimbledon since 1922. As a result, 10,000 tickets went on sale 2½ hours prior to the match, meaning a younger, more boisterous crowd was in attendance. And who to root for, the popular Ivanisevic, or, uh, popular Rafter?
Ivanisevic prevailed in what was the longest fifth set of a men's singles final at Wimbledon, in terms of games (16), at the time. In the process, he became the first men's wild card to capture a major.
Getting there was the fun part.
Ivanisevic, ranked outside the top 100 and a loser in three previous Wimbledon finals, cried, kissed the ball and jolted his left arm as he tried to serve out the encounter. A service winner finally did the trick, and Ivanisevic could hardly believe his Wimbledon misery was over.
"I think I'm dreaming,'' Ivanisevic said at the time. "Somebody is going to wake me up and tell me, 'Man, you didn't win.'''
5. Andre Agassi defeats Andrei Medvedev, French Open, 1999
There was a time when U.S. players enjoyed success at the French Open. Michael Chang triumphed in 1989, while Jim Courier won back-to-back titles in 1991 and 1992.
Yet it was Agassi who was supposed to make the breakthrough instead of his two more workmanlike compatriots.
By the time 1999 rolled around, few gave a 13th-ranked Agassi much of a chance of ever conquering the Roland Garros terre battue and thus completing his career Grand Slam; he'd injured his serving shoulder the week before and already had fallen in two finals -- one to Courier.
However, in a fortnight with destiny written all over it, Agassi escaped against defending champion Carlos Moya and Frenchman Arnaud Clement before going one better and reversing a two-set deficit versus pal Medvedev in the final. Agassi, ironically, talked Medvedev out of retirement during the clay-court swing.
Agassi became only the fifth man to achieve the career Grand Slam at the time.
"I'm sobbing," Agassi wrote in his engrossing autobiography, "Open." "I'm rubbing my head. Winning isn't supposed to feel this good."
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.