These are beautiful Trophies!
With the 2012 Australian Open upon us, now is the time to look back on the past 20 years of great matches and pick out the most outstanding moments.
This list is going to include five with Roger Federer, four with Andre Agassi, three with Rafael Nadal, two with Marat Safin, and one with Pete Sampras. Only 25 percent of this list will be finals. Thirty percent will be women's matches. Twenty percent will involve Serena Williams. The top men’s matches will both involve Roger Federer.
This five-set semifinal between Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter, two of the best players of the time, was highly anticipated by the Australian fans, who wanted to see their man Rafter win at home. The only reason this fabulous match is at the bottom of the list is because Rafter started cramping in the latter sets and Agassi was able to capitalize.
Rafter led by two sets to one, though his legs started to seize up early in the third set. Rafter needed treatment after the fourth set but bravely played on, even though he was in obvious discomfort. He won just four more games. Agassi sealed the victory in just over three hours
An historic first: an all-Belgian final! Two great competitors. Another classic "call' controversy from Justine Henin. At break point for Henin in the third set, Kim Clijsters clobbers the ball. It lands on Henin's baseline, but is called ''out'' on an overrule. Break point, Henin. Critical call. Clijsters gets flustered and never recovers.
Was Clijsters robbed? Henin has acknowledged years later that she saw the ball ''in.'' Clijsters should've challenged, right? Not so. It was only later, after horrendous line calling at the 2004 U.S. Open, that widespread use of Hawkeye and the opportunity to challenge a line call became conventional.
A memorable Australian Open moment for many fans is this stirring, albeit overmatched, final.
Baghdatis managed to take a set off Federer by using his great ability to change pace and generate rocketing forehands. At least three times Baghdatis hit running forehands for winners. But in the end, Federer, the greatest player of all time, in one of his greatest years , was too much for him.
Johansson in Nov 2005
The best returner of all time faces off against one of the best servers on tour. The giant (for the time) 6'6" Johansson came into the match exhausted from a 5-set win over Feliciano Lopez the day before. With his movement hindered, Johansson played the match with a go-for-broke mentality. He hit every stroke as hard as he could, using his extreme power to smack winners off both sides. He even hit a couple 130-plus mph second serves.
Agassi began the match without any idea of how to handle his opponent's giant serve, which Johansson used to hit a record (for the time) 51 aces. Agassi tried to stand close to take the serve/ He tried standing back. He tried it all but couldn't figure it out. At one point Agassi leaped several feet inside the baseline and hit an amazing backhand return off a huge serve.
No discussion of Australian Open moments would be complete without mentioning Jim Courier, who won the tournament two times (1992, 1993), beating Stephan Edberg both times.
A win in 1996 (shown here) wasn't to be. This match represents a changing of the guard as Andre Agassi and then Pete Sampras eclipsed him. But Courier remains one of the most popular of Australian Open champions in Melbourne.
Like the 2009 Wimbledon final, and in spite of the seemingly uncompetitive score line, this match between Roger Federer and Andy Roddick is another showcase for a particular style of tennis, a style that Roddick excels at: quick service games, fast rallies. A classic moment for fans of elegant tennis (even if Roddick doesn't come off particularly well).
2006 was one of Roger Federer's great years, one of the great tennis year in history, and this video shows why. If you are a fan of elegant tennis, this video is for you. Truly great stuff from Federer.
There will be a number of matches with great fight-backs on this list. At No. 14 we have one of Serena Williams's gut-clenching comebacks. Here, down 1-5 in the third set, she is in the penultimate match on her way to the ''Serena Slam.''
In those days (2003), finals between Venus and Serena Williams were not as compelling as they became later, so I didn't choose it to represent the moment Serena achieves the ‘Serena Slam’—becoming one of five women in history to win four consecutive tennis majors, though not within a calendar year. I've chosen this match instead, in which she was down two match points.
The 2008 men's tournament will be forever remembered for its spectacular final (and one historic semifinal). For Roger Federer's fans especially, this fourth-round match against Janko Tipsarevic will also be remembered as a classic example of Federer at his best.
Maria Sharapova is LOUD! The commentators hate Serena Williams. But this is another classic Australian Open moment.
2008: Sharapova, seeded fifth, won her third major without losing a set. 2007: Williams won the title from a ranking of 81. These are all great moments, and maybe a trade-off.
The best matchup from a fan standpoint is their 2005 semifinal match and its dramatic third set, when Williams fights back from two match points down.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is in 'The Zone' against Rafael Nadal, also in peak form. Virtuoso tennis on both sides of the net.
A beautifully athletic contest. the longest men's single's match in Australian Open history. A dogfight until the very end. The shot-making in this contest is phenomenal. This match might represent Fernando Verdasco at his very best. Not ''Rafael Nadal Lite'' but a mirror of Rafa.
Both left-handers, Verdasco makes better use of his forehand. In this match, his mental strength kept him going through fatigue and cramping.
This match represents two great women's champions at the height of their abilities. Justine Henin had just done an extraordinary thing, namely returning from her retirement with a new game designed to help her take the only Slam that eluded her: Wimbledon.
Henin and Serena Williams had a history. Earlier in their careers, Henin won a controversial French Open final over Williams with a failure to acknowledge a raised hand in a lost point. And Williams had retaliated in an ungracious way by saying in another loss that Henin had gotten in a few 'lucky shots.'
But all that behind them, the competitors came out with their best games, and it was a doozy. Williams Serena was so heavily taped that she looked like ''The Mummy.'' She stood in and served up a Pete Sampras-esq clinic. Henin's elegant backhand and fighting spirit were never more on display.
Many fans say that the Sampras style of play, killing the opponent with the serve, is boring. One thing that can be said is that the technical mastery required to carry it off is a level that few players have achieved. This match features Williams and her serving mastery, and provides proof that in the latter years of her career, she has become the female analog of Sampras.
In 1986, Boris '‘Boom-Boom’' Becker announced his presence to the world as a teenager against Ivan Lendl in the Wimbledon final (the only Grand Slam event Lendl never won). Four years later, Becker, still only 22 years old, went against Lendl, one of the fittest men ever to play tennis and winner of the previous two years’ men’s single’s titles.
With this win, Becker went on to become (briefly) the world's No. 1-ranked player. If you love and miss Becker, this video is for you.
Why do we watch sports if not for spectacular examples of fight back?
2002. It’s hot. (OK, it's almost always hot). Jennifer Capriati makes an historic comeback in a very dramatic performance. Martina Hingis lead 6-4, 4-0 and held four match points before losing 6-2 in the third.
Read more about it here. http://sportsthenandnow.com/2010/01/18/australian-open-rewind-2002-the-rise-and-fall-of-capriati-vs-hingis/
Andre Agassi, very successful at the Australian Open since the day he defeated Jim Courier in 1996, had a 26-match winning streak at Melbourne snapped by the inspiring play of Marat Safin. Safin blew a two-set lead, then broke Andre Agassi in the fifth set en route to victory. Safin's legs were wobbly and his temper was close to a meltdown, but the Russian giant outhustled Agassi in a stamina-sapping encounter to set up a final against Roger Federer.
Agassi played Safin close, with set points in both first and second sets, but Safin was able to stay focused and saved all of them. Both early sets went to protracted tie-breaks.
Agassi won the following two sets and seemed to be in control early in the fifth. With Agassi serving at 2-1 in the fifth set, Safin returned a serve that Agassi hit wide for the break. Safin never gave Agassi a chance to break back, holding serve the rest of the way and finishing off the match with a backhand winner down the line after 3 hours, 42 minutes.
For many tennis fans, the stabbing of Monica Seles just a few months after this match would rob the game of one of the great rivalries of all time – that of Steffi Graf (22 Grand Slams) vs Monica Seles (youngest ever Grand Slam winner at 15 years old).
Monica Seles might be called the mother of the modern women's game. She is one of the fiercest competitors ever, known for her paradigm-shifting grunting and power game. Graf, of course, would go on to be known as '‘Fraulein Forehand,'’ the only woman to have earned the calendar Golden Slam (winning all four majors and an Olympic Gold medal in the same year).
This match is historic. A classic example of the enriching rivalry that could have been.
Just 18 seconds in, look at that backhand! The summary speaks for itself. The equal of any riveting tennis the men’s tour has produced.
This 2000 contest, just after the turn of the millennium, is that rarest of matches when history and greatness converge and two players push each other to the limit with the stakes high on a Grand Slam stage. Only Pete Sampras could make the best returner in tennis look feeble in a tiebreak shutout. Only Andre Agassi could absorb 37 aces from Sampras and still find a way to win. Only the two of them could produce the most exquisite rallies, point after point for five sets over three hours, each taking turns hurling himself horizontally to hit balls that seemed impossibly out of reach. Together they put on a show for the film archives.
And now...drum roll, please...the second-best tennis match of the past 20 years.
Why did I pick this one for No. 2?
It had everything: legendary rivals, spectacular rallies, scintillating tennis...except a really compelling fifth set.
Roger Federer stood in the pre-match interview ready to surpass Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Grand Slam victories. All the living tennis legends had arrived to watch him do it, in person. It should have been a fabulous moment for him. His rival had been seriously weakened in a marathon, hard-hitting semifinal. It was his time. Maybe that was why he cried in his losing speech.
A whopping, stupendous match. Like the one mentioned at No. 19. And it wasn't even a final.
Yes, I am saying that the top Australian Open match was not even a final! It was the upset quality of the match—one of the biggest in the tournament's history. Marat Safin defeating world No. 1 Roger Federer in a classic five-setter.
The match had seemed to be Federer's in the fourth-set tiebreak when he had a 5-2 lead with two serves to come, but Safin fought back saving a match point in the process to send the match into one of the wildest fifth sets ever seen.
The final set played out like a well-written thriller with plot twists at every turn. Safin seemed to be home free after picking up the early break in the fifth and racing to a 5-2 lead, but Federer fought and stormed back to level at 5-5, saving a couple of match points.
Federer now had all of the momentum and looked to cash in at 6-6 when he had break-point opportunities, but Safin hit some magnificent shots to hold his serve and stay ahead at 7-6.
The top seed staved off two more match points to keep the match alive at 7-7.
Safin again put all sorts of pressure on Roger in the 16th game getting another couple of match points. Federer saved the first with a massive serve, but he was unable to hold off the tenacious Safin again.
This match will certainly be remembered as one of the most exciting and most high-quality matches ever played in the history of tennis.