Decade's Best Tennis Matches: Where's Roger?

claudia celestial girlAnalyst IDecember 29, 2009

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Roger Federer of Switzerland reacts during the men's singles semi final match against Nikolay Davydenko of Russia during the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on November 28, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Julian Finney/Getty Images

I would like to comment on a recent "Best Of..." list published elsewhere. First the list.  (Look carefully for Roger Federer’s name), then my commentary.  

This "Decade’s Best" list was recently published in the Globe and Mail (based in Toronto):

  • 1. Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7 – 2008 Wimbledon final.
  • 2. Pete Sampras def. Andre Agassi 6-7 (7), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) – 2001 U.S. Open quarter-final.
  • 3. Marat Safin def. Roger Federer 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 9-7 – 2005 Australian Open semi-final.
  • 4. Goran Ivanisevic def. Patrick Rafter 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 – 2001 Wimbledon final.
  • 5. Gaston Gaudio def. Guillermo Coria 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6 – 2004 French Open final.
  • 6. Andy Roddick def. Younes El Aynaoui 4-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19 – 2003 Australian Open quarter-final.
  • 7. Roger Federer def. Andy Roddick 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14 – 2009 Wimbledon final.
  • 8. Roger Federer def. Pete Sampras 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 – 2001 Wimbledon fourth round.
  • 9. Andre Agassi def. James Blake 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (6) – 2005 U.S. Open quarter-final.  
  • 10. Daniel Nestor def. Gustavo Kuerten 6-7 (7), 7-6 (0), 6-3, 6-7 (7), 7-5 – 2003 Davis Cup Playoff Round in Calgary.


  • Nadal def. Djokovic 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (9) – 2009 Madrid Masters semi-final.
  • Nadal def. Coria 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (6) – 2005 Italian Open final.
  • Nadal def. Federer 6-7 (0), 7-6 (5), 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (5) – 2006 Italian Open final.
  • Agassi beat Baghdatis 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 – 2006 U.S. Open second round.
  • Philippoussis def. Schalken 4-6, 6-3, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (4), 20-18 – 2000 Wimbledon third round.
  • Mikhail Youzhny def. Paul-Henri Mathieu 3-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 – Fifth and deciding match 2002 Davis Cup final in Paris.

From: 10 best men's matches from the Noughties
By Tom Tebbutt

Claudia’s Thoughts :

Where’s Roger?  One would think that as the greatest of all time more of Roger’s matches would end up on this list.

Sure, there are a few that mention Roger’s name, like this year’s classic Wimbledon final with Andy Roddick. It was the match that clinched Roger’s place in immortality with his 15th major title (making him the all-time leader).  This was truly a classic match.

Then Roger’s first major title match is only eighth on the list—the classic against Sampras, the only time these legends have met.

These two matches account for 20 percent of the decade’s best, and I suggest that is too few for a GOAT.  

Weren’t there any other classic contests in all that time?  This decade spanned Roger’s entire career.

By contrast Rafael Nadal is on the list 10 percent of the time, and 25 percent of the list(s) if the Honorable Mentions list is thrown in.

And if one were to take off the Daniel Nestor match (allowing that the author is biased toward this stand-out Canadian's match), and threw in the Nadal-Verdasco AO semifinal, which some are calling the best match of the decade (so it is not just me), then Nadal would be on there 20 percent of the time, same as the GOAT.


Let’s think about this.  

Two possibilities.  (1) None of Roger’s matches stand out in the decade because Roger is boring to watch.  (2) This particular author has gotten it all wrong, and has neglected major classics in recent tennis history.

Let’s look at bullet number two.  Can you name some classic Roger matches that should be on this list.  Matches where Roger was on the winning end, that is?

Well, here are a few:

  • Roger Federer vs Marat Safin - Tennis Masters Cup 2004.  6-3, 7-6) The list from the Globe and Mail included Marat’s win over Roger at the AO.  Just a few weeks before another classic unfolded during a time when both men were at their prime.  The third set tiebreak reached 20-18.  Perhaps some of Roger’s best tennis.
  • Roger Federer vs Juan Carlos Ferrero - Dubai 2005 (4-6, 6-3, 7-6)
  • Federer vs Santoro - New York 2005.  (7-5, 7-5, 7-6)  The "Magicians’" skills were never more on display than in this USO early-rounder, pushing Roger into great displays of tennis.
  • Roger Federer vs Andy Roddick: New York 2007 (7-6, 7-6, 6-2)
  • Roger Federer vs Janko Tipsarevic: Melbourne 2008 (6-7, 7-6, 5-7, 6-1, 10-8) Roger pushed to the limit!

I throw it open to the audience.  Should any of these take their place on the full list?  Are there others?  Surely in all of Roger’s career there have to be more than a few classic, decade’s list-making matches!

For me, I’m just as happy with matches in which Roger loses.  For me, the Safin/Federer classic AO semifinal is juicy tennis.  And I love watching those matches where Kuerten kicks Roger’s butt.

But that’s just me. And for me, the Nadal/Coria match is priceless—well deserving a spot on the Honorable Mentions. The Rome final, one of those classic Roger/Rafa matchups is also well deserving of a spot.

And now here we have it, a bona fide sports writer has it with Nadal the winner of 25 percent of the memorable matches of the decade, and Roger the winner of (counting the Honorable Mentions list) 12 percent.  And one of those is his very first fourth round appearance at Wimbledon!  (The sort of match that is only interesting in retrospect, and because of the historical significance of the two champions).

Could it be that Roger doesn’t have any memorable matches because he makes it look so easy that one can’t put a finger on matches that have left an impression?  Is this what we expect of a GOAT?