Point of the Year: Novak Djokovic touches the net at Roland Garros
With the 2013 tennis season in the past, it's time to dole out our annual awards. Look for the winners—for better or worse—throughout this week on TENNIS.com. (To see what's been unveiled thus far, click here.)
Serving up 4-3 in the fifth set of the Roland Garros semifinals, the world No. 1 closed the net for a routine smash. But momentum propelled Djokovic, who swung both arms out like a man frantically trying to sustain his balance teetering on a ledge, into the net after tapping an overhead into the open court. Nadal immediately pointed out the infraction and the chair umpire awarded the point to the reigning champion.
"I should have won that point in 99.9 percent of cases," Djokovic said afterward. "It was a bit unfortunate."
One point was a turning point. When a rattled Djokovic netted a forehand on the next point, Nadal had broken back to level at 4-all and would go on to earn a grueling four-hour and 37-minute triumph.
Undoubtedly, this was not the highest-quality point of the year.
That honor belongs to the spectacular 54-shot running slugfest Nadal and Djokovic produced in the U.S. Open final—an eye-popping exchange crackling with such acrobatic play it could have come straight out of a Cirque du Soleil performance. One former U.S. Open champion believes that epic may be the greatest Grand Slam point of all time.
"The 54-stroke rally Nadal and Djokovic played in the U.S. Open final was the best rally I’ve ever seen," Hall of Famer and long-time television analyst Fred Stolle told me after that match. "Each guy hit 10 winners and each of them responded to those winners with interest in that rally."
Those riveted by raw baseline power and thrilling running counter-strikes can cite several points in the outrageously entertaining Wimbledon semifinal duel between Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro as examples of shotmaking brilliance.
If you're intoxicated by improvisational dazzle, revisit the fifth game of the second set of Roger Federer's win over Philipp Kohlschreiber at the Paris Masters, and you might feel buzzed watching the Swiss stretch for a forehand stab volley to extend the point before soaring high to snap off a slick high backhand volley winner.
For pure sleight-of-hand magic, there is the spinning, no-look, behind the back, backhand drop volley winner Agnieszka Radwanska somehow pulled off in Miami, prompting opponent Kirsten Flipkens to drop her racquet and stare at Aga with a bemused smile:
But Djokovic's run-in with the net earns our award because it was a pivotal point at a crucial stage of the decisive set in one of the most hard-fought and memorable matches of the year. And it may leave Djokovic, who says winning Roland Garros to complete the career Grand Slam is a primary goal, pondering the proverbial "What if?" question.
Ultimately, Nadal, with a timely assist from net, had the answers.
"[To win a match like this semifinal] you need to love the game. You need to love what you are doing and appreciate every moment," said Nadal, who raised his Roland Garros record to 58-1.