All right, so it’s time again to look backwards. This happens every 10 years as selections of the best matches (best- remembered anyway) of the decade crop up.
I’ve decided on a selection of men’s and women’s matches – only ones I’ve attended. Whatever the reasons, they splash about in my neural mush.
You, of course, may respond, “Hey, idiot — how come you left out X or Y?”
First of all, the players of the decade? Easy, two dead heats: Venus and Serena in the female precinct, Federer and Nadal in the men’s. Where will they be in 2020? Still around? Roger has the best chance at 38. Ever light-footed smooth and motivated, he wants his kids to see him in a couple more Olympics. Why not? Or maybe one of the twins will hold him up in the mixed doubles, a category recently added to the Olympian run for tennis medals.
Here they are, the Decade’s Dandies, chronologically:
2001 – Venus hung very tough to deprive Jennifer Capriati of the Key Biscayne title, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4). Jennifer had 9 match points on serve, but Venus wouldn’t budge.
2002 – Capriati d. Martina Hingis, Australian F, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2. In Hadean conditions, temperature way over 100, they fought nonetheless gamely. Jennifer saved 4 match points, a record for a major women’s F.
2003 – Justine Henin d. Capriati, U.S. SF, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4). During a thriller that ran past midnight, Henin survived cramps, dodged Capriati’s bright chances (2 points from victory 10 times), needed IV treatment but came back later in the day to beat Kim Clijsters for the title.
2005 – Clijsters d. Maria Sharapova, 6-2, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, U.S. SF. Kim hangs on through a slugfest, then beats Mary Pierce for the title.
2005 – Venus d. Lindsay Davenport, 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 9-7, Wimbledon F. A shotmaking fiesta of two champs turned on Venus’s backhand winner that rescued a match point.
2006 – Hingis struggled a long time to overcome Venus’s power, and win their SF in the Italian Open, 0-6, 6-3, 6-3. And Hingis won the title.
2007 – Serena was out of shape but not out of heart as she squirmed out of numerous holes, close to defeat, winding up with a tour de force in the Australian F, crushing Sharapova, 6-1, 6-2.
2009 – Serena d. Elena Dementieva, 6-7 (4-7), 7-5, 8-6, Wimbledon SF. Stonewalling match points, a Serena specialty, came in handy as she charged for a volley at 4-5, 30-40, 2nd set to stay alive en-route to the title.
2009 – Clijsters in a rare double knocked off both Sisters – Venus, 6-0, 0-6, 6-4, 4th round; Serena in the SF (exploding at the end), 6-4, 7-5.
2009 – Kid Oudin completed her U.S. Open war against Russia, and in the usual way, restoring herself from way behind to beat Nadia Petrova, 1-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, and crash the SF. “Melanie Madness” turned the Open upside down as the teeny beat two other more highly regarded Russians, Elena Dementieva and ex-champ Maria Sharapova, in comebacks. It reminded me of 16-year-old Chrissie Evert’s march to the semis of 1971.
2001 – It was serve-and-volley all the way, and the 5 sets of championship tension made for a marvelous, uproarious atmosphere on Peasants Monday as longest-shot wild card Goran Ivanisevic barely nicked Pat Rafter, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7 Because of a Sunday rain postponement, tickets were first-come-first-served and young Croats and Aussies yelled their heads off for their guys – a vocal battle equal to the match.
2003 – A long-distance Australian QF wowser, Andy Roddick d. Younis El Aynaoui, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4, 21-19. This screamer went on, and on, brilliantly, absorbingly. Finally Roddick, who had saved a match point, closed it out past midnight. However, an injury kept him from moving on.
2003 – The “Leaning Tower of Zagreb”, 6-10 Ivo Karlovic, a qualifier ranked No. 203, hardly knew the location of Wimbledon’s Centre Court. But he did the previously undone there, eliminating No. 1 and 1st seeded defending champ Lleyton Hewitt, 1-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-4. That was an all-time 1st round first.
2005 – Marat Safin, super-sensational through 5 sets, dethroned Roger Federer in the Australian SF, 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 9-7. He had to duck a match point to do it, then proceeded to sadden the home folks by beating Hewitt for the title.
2005 – Andre Agassi somehow pulled out a gripping 5th set tie-breaker over James Blake, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), a U.S. QF. The midnight crowd stood in tribute. Andre went to the F, pushing Federer.
2006 – Marcos Baghdatis captivated Melbourne with a string of upsets as a spectating Greek chorus of fans cheered and chanted their man’s every move at the Australian. Rising from a 2-set deficit, he outgunned David Nalbandian in the SF, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4, but Federer silenced the loud well-wishers for the title.
2008 – At nightfall Rafa Nadal halted Federer’s title feast of 5 straight at Wimbledon, 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7, in the F. How could anything be greater?
2009 – Rafa continued his mischief-making at Federer’s expense, driving Roger to tears in the Australian F, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2. Another rip-roarer as Rafa joined the exclusive men’s club of major champs on all 3 surfaces. Other members: Jimmy Connors, Mats Wilander, Agassi, soon Federer.
2009 – Upset of the decade (if not longer), No. 23 Robin Soderling deposed 4-time champ No. 1 Nadal, 6-2, 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), 4th round, French. This enabled Federer to join that surface club, at last adding clay. It had seemed impossible for Nadal to get hurt on dirt. But the Swede was on his way to a Top Ten finish – and maybe this was the beginning of a Rafa decline.
2009 – But to get into the club Federer had to hit the shot of the year to bring down Tommy Haas, 4th round of the French, 6-7 (4-7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-0, 6-2. At 3-4, break point in the 3rd set, Haas was one point from serving for the match – except that Roger dance-stepped to his left and socked an inside-out forehand that touched the far sideline. Saved!
2009 – In a mammoth Wimbledon F, Roddick came oh-so-close to flattening Federer. Roger escaped, serving 50 aces, in the Big W’s longest F, ending with a suspenseful 30 game 5th set, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 16-14. But if Andy had put away a short set point volley to end the 2nd set, would a 2-set deficit have been too much for Roger?
Of course, you yip, “What about Juan Martin Del Potro’s stunning of Federer in the 2009 U.S. final!” OK – 3-6, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2. Historic.
I said Top Ten, and it comes out 12. Guess I can’t count either.
Also deserving 2007 Huzzahs! go to Capt Patrick McEnroe and his U.S. Davis Cup team – Roddick, Blake and the Bryan twins. They splashed champagne on the longest American drought that began in 1996. In the final they easily disposed of faint opposition from Russia. But the main thing was they clung together through numerous setbacks.