The 12 Most Significant Men's Tennis Matches of 2011
Novak Djokovic drastically altered the leadership landscape in men’s tennis in 2011.
The year began with Rafael Nadal ranked world No. 1, hoping to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four major championships at one time. But Nadal fell during the Australian Open quarterfinals, dashing his once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Nadal, who had orchestrated an amazing 2010, would find himself supplanted in 2011 by Djokovic, who began the year by winning the Australian Open.
The Serb never lost in 2011 until Roger Federer stopped him at the finish line during the French Open semifinals. Djokovic would replace Federer as world No. 2, and then take over the No. 1 spot from Nadal at the 2011 Wimbledon tournament.
The first six months of the season focused on Djokovic and his win streak, highlighted by his victories over the top-ranked players in the world during some very significant matches.
Once the tour turned indoor, Djokovic and Nadal faded, as Murray, then Federer surged at the end of the season.
Here are the 12 most significant matches of 2011—those that most affected the established order.
12. Cincinnati Masters 1000: Andy Murray Defeats Novak Djokovic
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The win in Cincinnati gave Andy Murray new life after a fairly lackluster start to the year. Novak Djokovic was winning all the big tournaments, and it was tough to break in and steal a victory away from the Serb.
Djokovic had just won his fifth Masters title in one season, setting a new record in Montreal at the Rogers Cup.
By defeating American Mardy Fish 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 in the final, Djokovic moved on to Cincinnati hoping to extend his winning ways.
But the Serb suffered a shoulder injury, and after falling behind Andy Murray 6-4, 3-0 in the finals, the world No. 1 retired, unable to continue.
Murray claimed the victory, his second at Cincinnati.
The win was Murray’s second title of the season, and his seventh ATP Masters crown. Capturing the title in Cincinnati gave the Scot a real impetus heading into the 2011 U.S. Open.
11. Shanghai Masters 1000: Murray Passes Federer to Become World No. 3
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
In Shanghai, world No. 4 Andy Murray won his third ATP title in three weeks, making up for lost time while many of the other top players recovered or rested.
Murray’s win in Shanghai over Spaniard David Ferrer meant that the Scot would overtake Roger Federer as the world No. 3.
That was a goal Murray had set for himself.
For Federer it would mark the first time since July of 2003 that he had not been ranked in the men’s top three.
Murray had won 25 of his previous 26 matches, including wins in Bangkok and Tokyo prior to his victory in Shanghai. The last time Murray lost in 2011 was in the semifinals of the U.S. Open, to Rafael Nadal.
But Murray’s ultimate dream, to end the year world-ranked No. 3, would fall short.
10. Rome Masters 1000: Djokovic Defeats Nadal, Again
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
So far in 2011, there hadn't been much news, other than Djokovic and his unending win streak.
As the tour headed into Rome, most felt that surely Rafael Nadal would reboot his hold as “King of the Clay.”
Although Nadal faced Djokovic for another final on his favorite surface, the “King” would fall short again, 6-4, 6-4.
Djokovic notched win number 39 in Rome, standing 37-0 on the season, as the Serb prepared for the French Open.
Djokovic rode the wave so high, you had to wonder if the world No. 2 could keep his footing.
By this time Djokovic had become a permanent thorn in the side of world No. 1 Nadal.
Speculation about the outcome of the 2011 French Open saw odds moving toward favoring the Serb.
9. Sony Ericsson Open Masters 1000: Djokovic Wins His Second Masters in a Row
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Just two weeks after winning the Masters Tournament at Indian Wells, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, world No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, battled again in the final of the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
In another electrifying final, Djokovic defeated Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 to win his second Masters 1000 title.
With this win, Djokovic improved to 24-0 in 2011, winning 26 matches in a row. The Serb’s last loss came in the World Tour Finals in London in November 2010.
But most assumed at this point that the Serb’s run was over, because now the tour turned to clay, where Nadal was the master.
At least, that was the assumption until action got underway on the red dirt in 2011.
8. Wimbledon: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Defeats Roger Federer in the Quarterfinals
Oli Scarff/Getty Images
For Roger Federer, a funny thing happened on the way to the finals at the All England Club in 2011.
Federer had just ended the amazing streak of Novak Djokovic in Paris at the French Open, and many expected that momentum to pay dividends for Federer at Wimbledon.
After leading two sets to love, however, Federer lost his quarterfinal match to Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 4-6.
In the final three sets, Federer failed to break the Frenchman’s serve, while Tsonga managed to break Federer's serve once in each remaining set.
The play of Tsonga on his own serve was impeccable, as the Frenchman dominated in the last three, forcing Federer to wait until 2012 to try for Wimbledon title number seven.
Tsonga announced to the world that he was ready to assume a place at the top of the men’s game.
While the Frenchman was not able to overcome Djokovic in the semifinals, Tsonga’s run at Wimbledon helped to propel the No. 12 seed into the men’s top 10.
7. Indian Wells Masters 1000: Djokovic Surpasses Federer to Become World No. 2
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic had already dismissed Roger Federer in the semifinals at the 2011 Australian Open and the finals in Dubai.
People were beginning to whisper about a “streak,” but no one envisioned the extent of the Djokovic mastery over the first three-quarters of the season.
Indian Wells opened the floodgates.
Djokovic once again sent Federer home in the semifinals at Indian Wells, and then came back from a set down to defeat world No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the finals.
The win was significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the Serb’s climb to world No. 2, passing Roger Federer at long last.
Djokovic’s winning streak stretched to 20, as the new world No. 2 picked up his sixth ATP Masters 1000 title.
In reality, the siege had just begun.
6. Australian Open: Novak Djokovic Dominates the Field
Mark Dadswell/Getty Images
Novak Djokovic set the tone for the upcoming year by dominating at the 2011 Australian Open, defeating Andy Murray in the final, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3.
Djokovic had won his first major title at the 2008 Australian Open, when he upset Roger Federer in the semifinals and went on to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the finals.
This year, once again, Djokovic dispatched Federer in the semifinals in straight sets, but faced Murray in the finals.
The only player to extend Djokovic beyond three sets was Ivan Dodig, who managed to win one tiebreak set against the Serb in the second round of the Aussie Open.
After his championship win, Djokovic assured the press that he was fitter, stronger, more mentally secure, and motivated.
The Serb would go on to prove that to be true, as he compiled an amazing season in 2011.
5. Madrid Open Masters 1000: Djokovic Defeats Nadal on Clay for the First Time
Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
After Nadal won his seventh consecutive title in Monte Carlo, defeating compatriot David Ferrer in the final, and following it up by winning in Barcelona again, most of the world believed the man from Majorca would dominate the clay court season just as Nadal had done in 2010.
But Novak Djokovic had other ideas.
Once the red dust settled in Madrid, the Serb had defeated the world No. 1, ending Nadal’s 37-match unbeaten streak on clay.
In the process Djokovic won his 34th consecutive match by defeating Nadal 7-5, 6-4 in a powerful performance. The world No. 2 stood 32-0 in the 2011 season.
Djokovic had never defeated Nadal on clay before in nine previous attempts.
The media began to talk about the possibility of a new No. 1 emerging—someone other than Nadal or Federer.
It was the third consecutive defeat for Nadal at Masters 1000 events by the world No. 2.
4. French Open Semi-Finals: Federer Ends Djokovic's Streak
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Although Rafael Nadal would win his sixth French Open title in 2011, the real match of the tournament came in the semifinals, when Novak Djokovic had to get past world No. 3 Roger Federer in order to face Nadal in another final.
But this time, Djokovic failed to answer the bell, and the Swiss defeated Djokovic in the semis in four sets, 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, in a fiercely-fought contest.
The defeat ended Djokovic’s perfect season and his 43-match winning streak.
Roger Federer played as if on a mission from God. To put it lightly, it was one of his better matches at the French Open.
It was unfortunate that the Swiss couldn't capitalize on his momentum to take the final, which he should have won.
Instead, Nadal rose to snatch the title away from Federer, though certainly not as easily as the world No. 1 had done in the past.
3. Barclays WTF in London: Federer Captures Title No. 6
Julian Finney/Getty Images
After defeating Kei Nishikori in the finals at Basel to win his hometown tournament, Roger Federer, now world No. 4, moved on to the BNP Paribas Open in Paris, seeking to win his first Masters title at that event after nine previous attempts.
The world No. 4 defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-1, 7-6 at the BNP Paribas Masters to win his eighteenth career Masters shield, placing the Swiss one behind Nadal, who leads with 19.
This sent Federer into the Barclay World Tour Finals in London with much momentum and confidence.
The year-ending event, which included the top eight players on tour in 2011, lived up to its expectation.
Federer was drawn into Group B with Rafael Nadal, Jo Wilfried Tsonga, and Mardy Fish; while Group A included Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, David Ferrer, and Tomas Berdych.
Federer marched through Group B and into the semifinals undefeated, with Jo Wilfried Tsonga also advancing into the semis as the runner-up. Federer faced David Ferrer in the semifinals, while Tsonga faced Berdych.
Federer and Tsonga both survived into the finals, where Federer won 6-3, 6-7, 6-3—undefeated again for the fifth time at this event.
Winning the title for the sixth time allowed Federer to advance ahead of Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, who had each won the event five times.
Winning in London also moved Federer back into the world No. 3 spot, where the Swiss ended the year.
2. U.S. Open: Nadal vs. Djokovic, the Last Final of 2011
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
It all came down to No. 1 vs. No. 2 in Flushing Meadows, as Rafael Nadal readied himself to face Novak Djokovic in the 2011 U.S. Open final.
Nadal was the defending champion, having won this title for the first time in 2010, and giving the Majorcan a career grand slam.
Flushing Meadows unfolded as Rafi and Djokovic's sixth final of 2011, and the first time since 1995 that No. 1 had faced No. 2 at the US Open.
At the end of the day, Djokovic won his tenth title of the season, dethroning Nadal 6-2, 6-4, 6-7, 6-1 to claim his third major of the year.
Nadal was completely undone, unable to turn the tide against Djokovic, just as had been the case throughout 2011.
The U.S. Open was the final jewel in the glorious crown of a season for Djokovic. For Nadal, it marked the inevitable slide down to the No. 2 spot in men's tennis.
What a difference a year makes.
The season then turned indoors, and Djokovic would allow himself some time off, while Nadal would attempt a salvage effort.
1. Wimbledon Finals: Djokovic Defeats Nadal to Become World No. 1
Julian Finney/Getty Images
By the time the 2011 finals at the All England Club rolled around, Rafael Nadal was not happy that he had to beat Novak Djokovic in order to claim his third Wimbledon title.
What was worse—he couldn't do it.
The Serb defeated Nadal in their fifth final of the 2011 season, 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.
Wimbledon marked the Serb's first major win over Nadal.
For Djokovic it meant not only his first Wimbledon title—but also the No. 1 ranking.
The new world No. 1 had won 48 of his past 49 matches.
Djokovic was the 25th man to be ranked No. 1 in the history of the ATP Rankings.
As the tour moved on to the hard courts, speculation continued about whether Djokovic could surpass the record held by John McEnroe, who owned a 82-3 record in 1984.
It turned out not to be. Djokovic fell short after the US Open, but the Serb still compiled one of the most amazing seasons since Roger Federer's in 2005.