If there's anything I like better than a tightly-contested marathon or a classic Slam final, it's a good ol' fashioned bloodbath. A slaughter. An annihilation. Where a player goes all out in an effort to take their opponent to the woodshed. Just as the Australian Open has seen its share of classics since the dawn of the new millennium, it's also been the scene of plenty of famous demolitions – from a flashy first round to a crushing championship win, I count 'em down here...
When Roger Federer takes the court for his first few matches at a major, you can pretty much write them off as snoozefests. In fact, opening rounds at Grand Slam tournaments are rarely ever remembered – unless they involve a shocking upset, an agonizing marathon or a gnarly injury. So imagine my surprise when I recalled from the depths of my match memory this utter 2R demolition.
I guarantee, though, you’ve never seen a 6-1 6-2 6-0 rout quite like this one. When Fed and Fabrice Santoro – known during his years on tour as “The Magician” – were on a court together, you knew you’d be in store for some wicked sorcery. They’re two of the most gifted shot-makers to ever grace the sport – watch Fed’s scathing slice and awesome angles go up against Santoro’s devilish two-handers and tell me the results aren’t beautiful. Also gifted with graceful footwork and deft touch, the two of them combined for some outrageous points. And you think Rog is the king of tweeners....
Sit back, watch that entire highlight reel (unfortunately, you need to open it in a new window) and just savor one of the most entertaining beatdowns you’ll ever see.
Fernando Gonzalez is, perhaps, the biggest go-for-broke player the men's tour has seen. To say his game is “high risk” doesn’t really do it justice. Mount Everest-esque risk may be more apt.
So imagine our surprise – and his, I’m sure – when, during his lights-out run to the Aussie final in ’07, he hit just three errors in his 91-minute semifinal ass-kicking of Tommy Haas. Three errors. In three sets. An error a set?!? To quote myself, in a catchphrase I just made up a few seconds ago... You cannot be serious!
Oh yeah. Compared to 42 winners.
If you’ve never seen Gonzalez belt a forehand at 150% speed, you’d know that stat is purely insane. Particularly against an amazing opponent in the semifinals of a major.
Can I use any more bolded italics?
Afterwards, Gonzalez said his performance was “really good.” You cannot be...
Dinara, Dinara, Dinara. Just when people thought you were finally getting it together – saving match points against a game Alize Cornet and edging an inspired Jelena Dokic in a tight three setter before putting on a confident, powerful display to dispatch in-form Vera Zvonareva – you go down faster than this ball kid.
But the credit can’t go all toward Safina for making this such an epic annihilation. Even though the Russian played like a blind, legless three-year-old, you have to hand it to Serena for literally pouncing on this golden opportunity to add her her Slam haul. She was rocketing the ball, not allowing her opponent an ounce of rhythm and hammering away whenever she had a short or high-bouncing shot. I wouldn’t say it was Serena’s best performance by any means, but she did what she had to do, and was aided mightily by Safina.
It ended up being yet another embarassing loss on a big stage for the Russian, who would rise to the No. 1 ranking just a few months later. Especially when she went down in flames to Kuznetsova in the finals of the French, you could see that Safina was completely unable to handle her public detractors. And you can hold this final versus Serena partially (largely?) responsible for her psychological fall from grace.
Sorry I couldn’t find complete match highlights, by the way. Guess no one thought they’d ever want to watch them...
Instead, I uploaded some ferocious Williams play from the middle of the first set.
This demolition, in retropect, became much more impressive when the ’09 season came to a close. Just seven short months after this humbling defeat, after all, Del Potro would go on to shock Fed for his first Grand Slam title in thrilling fashion – dishing out a small bit of revenge during a dominant 6-2 fifth set.
But on this day in January, Roger Federer was invincible. You could tell he was out to prove something – he had just escaped past another young gun, Tomas Berdych in the round prior and wasn’t up for digging himself out of a two-sets-to-love hole this go around. He worked points patiently, goaded the Argentine into countless errors and was superior, as usual, from every part of the court. He wrapped up the win in about 80 minutes, with Del Potro barely scoring points in the third set.
You would have thought after a performance like this that Fed would be unstoppable the rest of the way. Tragically, that wasn’t the case. Maybe you should read up on Fed’s harrowing loss in the finals here...
There’s not much else to say when re-living this ugly massacre, other than that Clijsters must’ve been having an out-of-body experience or something incredibly plausible like that. The Belgian, who defeated rival Justine Henin in the most entertaining women’s match of the 2010 to win AO tune-up Brisbane, was a favorite of bookies and pundits to come away with her third Slam last year. She had just won the U.S. Open a few months with little preparation – imagine now that she had some more training and some solid match play under her belt!
Too bad, then, that Clijsters never really showed up to play her third round match. Credit to Nadia Petrova – the Russian racked up a couple impressive wins at the majors last year, also scalping Venus at the French – for playing nearly flawless tennis. She held fast in games she could have given away, and didn’t get the least bit nervous in the match’s (should I even call it a match?) latter stages.
But hats off to Clijsters for putting on the most dismal performance of her career. She was perpetually off-balance, uncharacteristically sluggish and framed more shots than Ansel Adams. Hopefully this nightmare match will fuel her to play better over the course of the impending Aussie fortnight.
In the four different years that Andre Agassi took home Australian Open titles, the guy lost eight sets. If that didn’t set an AO standard for the R-Fed dominance that would soon follow, I’m not sure what else did. Like longtime-rival Sampras on the grass lawns of the All England Club, Agassi’s game really clicked in Melbourne Park – this 2003 tourney exemplified just how ruthless he could be when firing on all cylinders.
In fact, this run would probably be ranked higher on my list if it weren’t for the quality of opponents Agassi faced. Not that he could control it in any way, but his semifinal and final victories over Wayne Ferreira and Rainer Scheuttler paled in comparison to, say, 2000, when he beat Sampras and Kafelnikov back-to-back to take home the title.
Still, no matter who was across the net, Agassi was determined to open a can of whoop ass at the ’03 tournament. Excluding the loss of a lone set in the third round against Nicolas Escude, the American was scary good. He pummeled poor Hyung-Taik Lee of Korea 6-1 6-0 6-0 in the second round and absolutely obliterated the hapless Scheuttler in the final, losing just five games. It was one of the most dull major championship bouts in the Open Era – the highlights show the match in all its boring glory. Aren’t we ever the more thankful now for Federer and Nadal?
Looking at the highlights from this atrocious semifinal, you’d actually think it was pretty close. Hingis attempting to outsmart Venus with her all-court play, the elder Williams hitting back with her trademark deadly power game. Thankfully, though, the fan who uploaded the match on YouTube took great care to cut out the bazillion errors that flowed off the American’s racket – thus saving us viewers from having to gouge our eyes out in horror.
Venus, coming off the most defining season of her entire career, was the player to watch in Melbourne. And who knows if it was the pressure, the lack of match play or just a bad spell in Williams’ game – but she played awful all tournament long. It was a laborious effort to even reach the semis, going three against Amelie Mauresmo and scraping out a come-from-behind win against Amanda Coetzer. She probably wished she had just tanked one of those two matches to save herself the embarrassment that would follow.
Of course, if there ever was a player to take advantage of an error-prone opponent – to suck the lifeblood out of a match with her cunning accuracy – it would be Martina Hingis. The Swiss star was feeling pretty damn good after beating Serena in a titanic quarterfinal, and you could see it in her eyes that she wanted the double-Williams scalp. Like the repercussions of Fed’s match against Del Potro, you got the feeling Hingis would run away with the final against Capriati, considering the way she went toe-to-toe with a fiery Serena before exhibiting a perfect mix of guile and consistency in the semis. But she opened nervously against the underdog and never recovered.
Fun fact: prior to Jelena Jankovic’s 6-0 6-1 pounding of Venus in Rome last spring, this match against Hingis was known far and wide as her “worst loss.”
If there’s one adjective that could be used to describe this beatdown, it’s “refreshing.”
How visceral it was to see this young up-and-comer show Nadal how it was done at a hardcourt major. Tsonga was close to channeling vintage Sampras – following up beautiful serves with aggressive net play, attacking with his forehand while playing smart, patient tennis with his backhand. The tennis world watched as Fernando Gonzalez employed similarly aggressive tactics the year before, waxing a sluggish Nadal in the fourth round. But up to this point, Tsonga’s career hadn’t come close to Gonzalez’s. To see the Frenchman, the underdog, come into such a huge match without a shred of fear was awesome to watch.
It’s worth pointing out, though, that this win came in the years before Rafa Nadal really learned to play on hardcourts – as in executing a clear fast-court strategy rather than continuing to play the same brand of tennis that brought him success on clay. Nadal sent so many balls up the middle in this match, passively camped behind the baseline. If you look at Nadal’s ’09 tournament just a year later, it’s incredible to see not only how different his court sense was, but how much more he did with the ball. Rafa was thoroughly determined to dictate.
Just as he was when these two met again in last year’s Miami quarterfinals. Advantage, Nadal.
She got handed one of the toughest draws in Grand Slam history. A rejuvenated Lindsay Davenport in the second round, fresh out of retirement; an always-tough Elena Dementieva in round four; world No. 1 Justine Henin in the quarters, coming off one of the most dominant years the women’s circuit had ever witnessed; Jelena Jankovic in the semis, who had just made beating Serena look easy; and another Serb, Ana Ivanovic, in the final – a woman who would go on to win her first Slam just a few months later.
But that stacked path to the championship never seemed to bother Sharapova during this ’08 run, where she stormed to the title without sacrificing a set. Strike that – without sacrificing games. The Russian got pushed to a 7-5 set once, in the final against Ivanovic. She lost two games to Dementieva, four each to Davenport and Jankovic. And her quarterfinal against Henin is pointed to as one of the finest performances against a No. 1 player in history – after scraping out an intense first set, Sharapova dished out a rare bagel to the Belgian. Rumor has it she asked Justine if she wanted it toasted.
It could be said this was the height of Sharapova’s career so far – her strokes were never so brutal, so unstoppable before or after this January fortnight.
Speaking of rare love sets... you know when Roddick gets dealt one that his opponent is playing at a pretty unreal level of tennis. The American has eaten less bagels in his lifetime than a Victoria's Secret model. But then again, who other than Fed would be responsible for spanking Roddick 6-0 twice – also achieving the feat in the fall of '04.
While many criticized Roddick for his poor strategy in this match – charging the net on lackluster approaches, letting himself being drawn wide and out of position point after point – Roger needs some well-deserved credit. The '07 Aussie was marked for his complete demolition of the field, much like the tears I talked about Agassi and Sharapova going on, but this semi was widely noted for how brazen he was with his attack game. He came over his backhand with ease, ran Roddick ragged with some vicious angles and, more than anything, returned brilliantly. Never gave the American a chance.
This was the last Slam tournament, in my opinion, where Fed was in truly scary, dominant form. This Aussie Open carries a lot of potential for the No. 2 in the world, however. He's supposed to run into the American again in the quarterfinals. Can he build on his 20-2 record over Andy? Can he replicate the impeccably dominant performance we saw four years ago? Most importantly...
Would you like 'em toasted?
Maybe this is the match that inspired Sharapova’s dogged, determined championship run in 2008. Entering this final, the Russian was a huge favorite – the No. 1 seed, who, after looking shaky in her opening round, progressed nicely through the draw. Meanwhile, Serena seemed lucky to be there. She was (famously) ranked 81st in the world, had scraped past Nadia Petrova in the third round and Shahar Peer in the quarters, and it seemed as if all the tennis pundits could talk about were her (lack of) fitness and motivation.
But Serena loves being underestimated. The American seems to feed off of her critics, fueling her fire with their predictions. From the first point of this championship, Serena’s seething, burning desire to home this title became the biggest factor in the match. She hits a nice out wide serve with Sharapova batting back a good return. Serena moves diagonally, backing up to the ball and controlling a flat backhand into the open court. The crowd cheers, Serena steps up to the line to serve again and shoots daggers down the court at the Russian – the stares in this match may be more epic than Williams' forehand.
From there, this final – which many thought would be a war of attrition, similar to their overtime 2005 battle – was a one-sided trainwreck for Maria Sharapova. She'd go on to get thumped again by Serena in Miami, throttled by Ana Ivanovic in the semis of the French and dusted by Venus in the Wimby fourth round. But nothing would compare to this trampling. It still goes down as one of the most shocking, most ferocious matches Serena Williams has ever played.
And when she returns from her injury, I'm looking forward to more.
2010 SF: Roger Federer d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2 6-3 6-2: Federer completely outclassed the gassed Frenchman, who had won a couple enthralling five-setters to reach the semis.
2010 SF: Justine Henin d. Jie Zheng/Zheng Jie 6-1 6-0: Zheng took full advantage of a diluted bottom quarter to reach her second major semifinal, but had absolutely nothing to challenge an on-fire Henin. The Belgian eased into her twelth major final.
2010 4R: Serena Williams d. Sam Stosur 6-4 6-2: The scoreline is deceiving. If Stosur didn't have such a good serve, this could've been a lot worse – Serena was absolutely invincible on the day, savaging the Aussie's hopes of a home title and losing a handful of points on serve.
2009 3R: Fernando Verdasco d. Radek Stepanek 6-4 6-0 6-0: You need a little perspective to see this as a true beatdown. The week leading up to the year's first major, Stepanek derailed Verdasco in three tight sets to take the Brisbane title. Oh, how revenge is sweet.
2007 QF: Fernando Gonzalez d. Rafael Nadal 6-2 6-4 6-3: Gonzalez was relentless in this stunning quarterfinal upset, powering his way to a lone major final.
2006 F: Amelie Mauresmo d. Justine Henin 6-1 2-0 ret.: This final would have probably made the list if it weren't for Henin's (cowardly) retirement. Mauresmo was playing surprisingly poised, confident tennis – finally getting the most out of her all-around game. Good she had a chance to redeem herself in London.
2006 QF: David Nalbandian d. Fabrice Santoro 7-5 6-0 6-0: Two men's quarterfinals in a span of four years featuring consecutive 6-0 6-0 sets? Have to love that stat.
2006 1R: Martina Hingis d. Vera Zvonareva 6-1 6-2: Much like Henin would do in '09, Hingis came back from retirement and wasted no time racking up familiar wins at the majors. Zvonareva was outclassed mightily in front of a packed house Down Under.
2005 QF: Roger Federer d. Andre Agassi 6-3 6-4 6-4: A respectable scoreline, sure. But considering that Agassi was a four-time champ – and that Marat Safin needed five grueling sets to take him down the year before – Fed's performance was off-the-charts. He played flawless tennis, flummoxing the American in straights.
2002 4R: Martina Hingis d. Amanda Coetzer 6-1 6-0: Hingis played the perfect match against the diminutive South African, a two-time semifinalist at the Australian.
2000 F: Lindsay Davenport d. Martina Hingis 6-1 7-5: Could have been a lot worse for the Swiss Miss, who, as you can see, was used to doing the shellacking instead of getting crushed herself. She was down 1-6 1-5 before summoning a little resistance, but Davenport's sound win officially echoed in a new era of power tennis.