Three-Set Hit Parade
Most of you know Master Ace/Patrick Hinton, so most of you know that he is a most thorough and scrupulous student of the game - so much so, in fact, that I am contemplating naming him (whether he likes it or not!) TennisWorld's Official Keeper of the Records - that is, our very own OKRECS. And isn't it just like MA that when I ask him to work up his ATP 10 best matches of 2008, he delivers in two separate categories - three-set and five-set matches? Man, this boy is on fire!
Anyway, I'm going to run his selections in the three-set match category today, and bounce back tomorrow with the five-setters. So get ready to comb your memories of 2008, sub-Slam battles and weigh-in with your comments on MA's Top 10. The group of four Nadal wins in the "best of the rest" list is bound to raise some eyebrows, and note that The Mighty Fed makes just one appearance as a winner in MA's list. That's food for thought, and debate. Just remember, we don't need to re-fight the wars that were left behind on the clay and grass and hard courts in December, do we?
Best 3-set ATP matches:
1 - Rafael Nadal def. Carlos Moya 6-7(3), 7-6(8), 7-6(1): Chennai SF
This almost 4-hour encounter epitomized Nadal's ability - and willingness - to battle back from behind. He lost the first set in a tiebreaker, battled back from 6-2 down in the second-set breaker, and found himself down a break in the third. Although he won the match, he had nothing left for the final against Mikhail Youzhny. As Andrew Burton said at the time (I'm paraphrasing), Rafael is the best in the ATP today at playing crucial points.
2 - Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 7-5, 2-6, 6-2: Hamburg SF
The no. 2 ranking was on the line in this battle, and it proved to be Nadal's springboard to his first Hamburg title - and fuel for his successful quest for the top ranking.
3 - Andy Murray def. Roger Federer 4-6, 7-6(3), 7-5: Shanghai RR
Roger saved 7 match points serving at 4-5, but on the 8th match point (at 5-6,two games later) he blinked after falling behind 15-40, hitting a forehand long. But the match cost Andy in the semifinals, as Nikolay Davydenko took advantage of the Scotsman's tired legs and took him out in straights. This marked the first time Federer failed to make the semis or better in a season-ending event.
4 - Gilles Simon def. Rafael Nadal 3-6, 7-5, 7-6(6): Madrid SF
It was amazing - and unexpected - to see relative newcomer Simon out-fight Nadal to win; the key was his ability to save numerous break-points. Bear in mind that nobody had a better conversion rate than Nadal in the critical "return games won" category.
5 - Novak Djokovic def. Gilles Simon 4-6, 6-3, 7-5: Shanghai SF
Its hard to overstate the importance of this win for Djokovic, who was something of a forgottten man (thanks to Andy Murray, Gilles Simon and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga) through most of the fall. Novak executed his drop shot consistently to win the match, which set up his routine win over Davydenko and gives him great momentum going into 2009.
6 - Fernando Gonzalez def. James Blake 4-6, 7-5, 11-9: Olympic SF
Did Fernando touch the ball or not? Carlos Bernandes did not think so.
7 - Jo-Wilfried Tsonga def. David Nalbandian 6-3, 4-6, 6-4: Paris Indoors F
This was for the final spot in Shanghai, and Tsonga didn't wilt under the pressure. Nor was he over-awed by Nalbandian's formidable reputation as a sizzling hot late-season player. Tsonga was able to impose his attacking game to suppress one of the game's premier counter-punchers.
(8) David Ferrer def. Nicolas Almagro 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(4): Valcenia F
Almagro served twice in the final set, bouyed by his status as the two-time defending champ in Valencia. But David dug into his reserves, broke Nicolas twice, and controlled the tiebreak - enabling Ferrer to win his hometown title.
(9) Rafael Nadal def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 7-5: Indian Wells R16
Nadal rallied from a break down in the final set to win. At that time, I thought it a huge win for Rafael, given how convincingly Jo-Wilfried had handled him at the Australian Open.
10 - Mikhail Youzhny def. Nicolas Almagro 7-6(4), 3-6, 7-6(6): Key Biscayne R32
What most people (hello, You-Tube!) will remember a lot longer than the name "Almagro" or the setting is the brutal self-discipline Youzhny inflicted on himself during this match, repeatedly banging his strings against his forehead until blood gushed down his face.
Best of the rest:
Andy Roddick def. Feliciano Lopez 6-7(8), 6-4, 6-2: Dubai F
Andy Roddick def. Roger Federer 7-6(4),4-6,6-3 : Key Biscayne QF
Roger Federer def. David Nalbandian 5-7,6-2,6-2: Monte Carlo QF
Andreas Seppi def. Nicolas Kiefer 6-3,5-7,7-5 : Hamburg QF
Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-3 – Hamburg F
Rafael Nadal def. Kei Nishikori 6-4, 3-6, 6-3: Queens R16
Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 7-6(6), 7-5: Queens F
Rafael Nadal def. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 1-6, 6-4: Olympic SF
Andy Murray def. Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5: Madrid SF
Nikolay Davydenko def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-6(0): Shanghai RR