Federer vs. Djokovic and the Top 7 Grand Slam Matches of 2011
As the final curtain drew on the US Open for 2011, we were able to delight in some fantastic Grand Slam tennis. All four Grand Slams were thrilling, unpredictable and intriguing, and they provided a myriad of engaging matches.
Therefore, condensing the list to just the seven-best men's Grand Slam matches of the year is no easy task and might not do justice to some of the contests that missed out, but I'll take a stab at it nonetheless.
7. Roger Federer vs. Gilles Simon, Australian Open
In one of the most bizarre matches of the year, Federer faced the talented Frenchman Gilles Simon in the second round, who was, unbelievably, unseeded for the Australian Open. It was supposed to be the best match of the round, particularly as Simon had beaten Federer in both of their previous meetings.
However, normal service appeared to have resumed when Federer cruised through the first two sets 6-2, 6-3, but Simon raced to a double break in the third. After several exchanges of breaks, the set was wrapped up 6-4 by the Frenchman.
He broke a nervous-looking Federer late on into the fourth, whipping Rod Laver Arena into a frenzy. The Swiss broke Simon after a lengthy fifth game in the final set and managed to serve it out, but not before he'd been given a massive scare, and certainly not before we'd been treated to an amazing contest.
6. Marin Cilic vs. John Isner, Australian Open
In the battle of the giants, 6'6" Marin Cilic faced 6'9" John Isner. With both players in decent form and in possession of booming serves, this promised to be the popcorn match of the day.
Isner won the first set 6-4, but the Croat came back strongly to romp through the second 6-2. From then on, it was an exhibition of fantastic serving and holding nerves under pressure, and the pair split the next two sets, both of which went to tiebreaks.
When the score hit 6-6 in the advantage fifth set, someone called out "The target is 70-68." It didn't quite reach that drama, and it wasn't quite such a good night for Isner either, as Cilic broke serve and deservedly triumphed 9-7 in the four-hour, 33-minute marathon.
5. Roger Federer vs. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, Wimbledon
Jo-Wilfred Tsonga is a phenomenal player, but all eyes were already beginning to turn to the semifinal, where Djokovic was widely expected to play Federer. Tsonga was just a mere hurdle that the Swiss had to cross.
He looked just that in the first two sets, where Roger produced a level of grass-court tennis that would have impressed even himself, and it was impossible to see him losing after that—not least because of the 178-0 record he had in Slam matches when winning the first two sets.
Tsonga had other ideas, though, and he broke late in the third to send the match to a fourth. He broke Federer early in both of the last two sets, with the King of Grass looking simply dazed at the unplayable level of Tsonga's serving. He never quite got himself back into the match, and Tsonga knocked out the master in front of a stunned Centre Court in the unlikeliest of fashions.
4. Rafael Nadal vs. Juan Martin Del Potro, Wimbledon
This was a match that was being anticipated as soon as the draw came out, especially because of the drubbing that the Argentine had handed out to Rafa the last time they met in a Slam.
After an intriguing first set was sent to a tie-break, Nadal worried fans world over, by taking a lengthy timeout for a nasty-looking foot injury. When play resumed 10 minutes later, the Spaniard looked hampered, and fears of a retirement heightened. He somehow managed to pull out the set, but del Potro was by far the better player in the second.
The two produced a level of tennis for the rest of the match that words cannot do justice, and it looked like an exhibition between power and tenacity. Nadal managed to get the win, as he so often does, even in great adversity, but not before we witnessed arguably the match of the tournament.
3. Rafael Nadal vs. John Isner, Roland Garros
No one likes to face John Isner in the first round, and Rafael Nadal is no different. Well, except that...he is! This was Roland Garros—not only Nadal's beloved clay, but also Isner's worst surface by far.
That is just how it looked when Nadal jumped out to a set and 4-2 up, but that's when the drama started. Isner broke Nadal back and blew him away in the tiebreak, 7-2. He saved two set points in the third with an exhibition of monstrous serving and took the third set by the same margin.
With possibly the greatest upset of all time looming large, the real Nadal came out for the fourth set. Once Isner crucially double-faulted on break point in the fourth, there was no looking back for the champion. Rafa began to push an increasingly jaded-looking Isner around the court, and sneaked out the win in a five-set thriller after exactly four hours.
The King might have won the battle, but Isner left with his head held high above his 6'9" frame, and nothing could take away the thunderous applause that he got not only from the Parisian crowd, but from Rafa himself as well.
2. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic, US Open
In what was by far the most anticipated match of the tournament, the only certainty was that it wouldn't disappoint. A high-quality, perfectly even first set went to a tiebreak, which Federer managed to edge 9-7. With Djokovic's game dropping a little bit, the 16-time Grand Slam champion pounced and jumped up an early break, taking a daunting two-sets-to-love lead.
Djokovic won the third 6-3 to prevent what had begun to look like a straight sets affair, and with Federer seemingly conserving energy for the fifth, the Serb romped through the fourth 6-2.
Both players were pumped up for the fifth set, but Roger, as he so often does, upped his game and struck at 4-3 to serve for the match. He got himself to 40-15, when Djokovic ripped by far the best return winner of his career,and probably the shot of the tournament. Federer struck the net on his second match point, and Djokovic broke to amazingly get himself back on serve.
Federer looked like he had mentally checked out of the match from that point onwards, and Novak reeled off the last four games in a row to hand Federer one of the most morale-sapping defeats of his career.
1. Roger Federer vs. Novak Djokovic, French Open
Never has Roger Federer gone into a tennis match being as severe an underdog as he was in this semifinal at Roland Garros. He was to play Novak Djokovic, who was 41-0 on the year. He had dismissed Rafa on clay in straight sets the last two times they played, so what chance did Federer have?
Once things got underway, Federer came back from a 4-2 deficit and saved two set points to enforce a tiebreak, which he eventually won. Playing easily the best clay-court match of his life, he outplayed Djokovic to take the second set 6-3.
A response was expected from the Serb, and that's exactly what he delivered, taking the third set by the same scoreline. Then the pair produced what is probably the set of the year, with amazing rallies matched by fantastic serving, and brutal aggression countered by stellar defence. The turning point seemed to come when a ball skidded off the line on break point to give Djokovic a chance to serve for the set.
Federer produced what must rank as one of the best defensive games of his career to break back, and then held serve in a gritty game, saving three break points. Djokovic took the score to six-all, but one mini-break carried Roger to three match points. Djokovic added to the drama by saving the first two, before Roger stepped up to the service line, and, fittingly, drilled an ace down the tee to end Novak's remarkable unbeaten streak.