Tuesday, November 24, 2009

the 10 greatest matches of the decade

10. Andre Agassi d. Marcos Baghdatis, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5, second round, U.S. Open, 2006

It's the match so grippingly detailed in the opening pages of Agassi's autobiography "Open". With Agassi serving at 4-4 in the final set, the pair played an eight deuce game in which the eighth-seeded Baghdatis had four break points. Agassi held, and went on to win. Later, as they laid on the training room waiting for medical attention, Agassi and Baghdatis watched the replay on SportsCenter with their hands clasped together. It was the last match the eight-time Grand Slam champ would ever win.

9. Venus Williams d. Serena Williams, 6-2, 6-4, final, U.S. Open, 2001

The match itself was forgettable. The moment was not. In the eight years since Venus and Serena played in their first Grand Slam final together, it's become easy to take for granted how amazing it is that two sisters meet so frequently to decide major tournaments. In 2001, nobody did. The first all-Williams Grand Slam final was a major event that happened to coincide with the first time the women's final was played in prime-time. It generated huge ratings and was a seismic event for the game, even though the tennis was mediocre, at best.

8. Fabrice Santoro d. Arnaud Clement, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 3-6, 16-14, first round, French Open, 2004

At 6 hours, 33 minutes, it's the longest match in tennis history. Play was suspended for darkness on the first day after four-and-a-half hours. Clement had two match points (one on each day), but Santoro held at 13-14 in the fifth and went on to win three straight games. For his part, Clement didn't care too much about setting a longevity record, saying, "what do I get, a medal?"

7. Goran Ivanisevic d. Patrick Rafter, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7, final, Wimbledon, 2001

In a rare Monday final, the 125th-ranked Ivanisevic bombed it out with No. 3 seed Patrick Rafter. There were big double faults, untimely unforced errors, foot faults and racquet-throwing, but the combination of the different crowd and tense action made it an unforgettable match. John McEnroe called it the greatest Wimbledon final he's ever been a part of, but I'm starting to realize he says that a lot.

6. Jennifer Capriati d. Martina Hingis, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2, final, Australian Open, 2002

In her third, and final, Grand Slam victory, Capriati continued her storied comeback by besting Hingis in an epic final in Melbourne. After dropping the first set, Capriati went down 0-4 in the second and faced match points at 4-5 and in the tiebreak (four in all). Hingis never recovered from the meltdown (literally -- it was 107 degrees on the court) and lost the third set without much of a fight. Capriati became the first woman since 1962 to win a Grand Slam after facing match point in the final.

5. Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, final, Wimbledon, 2009

Lengthy? Yes. Great? Well, yes ... But not that great. In our rush to celebrate every great sporting event as the "best ever", this match took on epic proportions solely because of its epicosity. (Not a word? It should be.) Though it was close, one never got the sense that Roddick could ever actually win the thing. Federer's serve was so crisp as the match progressed that it would have felt like a miracle if he got broken. Throw in the fact that the two biggest points of the match were won because of horrid Roddick unforced errors and there's your No. 5 ranking.

4. Venus Williams d. Lindsay Davenport, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7, final, Wimbledon, 2005

Bud Collins described the match thusly:

"More female bang for the bucks had never been seen in this arena. Two ladies in white were red-hot blasters. Witnesses would treasure what they'd watched during a chill, glum afternoon. Their go-for-broke shot-making illuminated the gray sky."

What he said.

3. Justin Henin-Hardenne d. Jennifer Capriati, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (4), semifinal, U.S. Open, 2003

Truth be told, we could have added one more Capriati match to this list too (her 2001 French Open win overKim Clijsters), but this late-night affair earned the vote for best women's match of the decade, even though it was only a semifinal. Capriati, at the tail end of her career, battled it out with the diminutive Belgian for a record three hours and three minutes. She served for the match at 5-4 in both of the final two sets and was two points from victory a whopping 11 times. All night she yelled at umpires, demonstratively celebrated points and exchanged classic rallies with Henin-Hardenne. When it finally ended, at 12:27 a.m., the women could barely make it to the net to shake hands.

2. Pete Sampras d. Andre Agassi, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5), quarterfinal, U.S. Open, 2001

Before the fourth set tiebreak, the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium gave the two American stars a standing ovation, an appreciation of both the match (nobody broke serve through 52 games) and the greatness of the champions on the court:

1. Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 9-7, final, Wimbledon, 2008

It was, quite simply, the greatest match of all-time.

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