What do we do now that the 2015 season is over and tennis is in its all-too-brief December recess? Go back and watch the best matches of the year, of course. Over the next two weeks, I’ll count down my 10 favorite contests, accompanied by video highlights, of this season.
No. 10: The Day the Circus Came to Town—Kyrgios d. Federer, Madrid
No. 9: New York Knockdown—Azarenka d. Kerber, U.S. Open
No. 8: Cup Runneth Over, and Over, and Over—Mayer d. Souza, Davis Cup
No. 7: Stan Mans Up—Wawrinka d. Djokovic, Roland Garros
No. 6: Simona Finds the Power—Halep d. Azarenka, U.S. Open
No. 5: Sending the Open Into Orbit—Fognini d. Nadal, U.S. Open
No. 4: Richard the...Lion-Hearted?—Gasquet d. Wawrinka, Wimbledon
No. 3: The Serena & Simona Show—Williams d. Halep, Miami
No. 2: Vincanity—Vinci d. Williams, U.S. Open
No. 1: Fierce and Fiercer—Williams d. Azarenka, Wimbledon
Can a match in which the winner makes 134 unforced errors, fails to convert 17 break chances, and squanders 10 match points be considered a classic? If it lasts for six hours and 43 minutes, and helps decide a Davis Cup tie, it can.
That’s how long it took Leonardo Mayer of Argentina to beat Joao Souza of Brazil, 7-6 (4), 7-5 (5), 5-7, 5-7, 15-13, in the fourth rubber of their first-round tie in Buenos Aires. Together, these two players took an otherwise routine early meeting in the 2015 World Group and turned it into the second-longest singles match of all time, the longest Davis Cup singles match in the competition’s 115-year history, and the longest match ever played on clay. Unlike some other marathon tennis affairs, Mayer and Souza did all their running and fighting—and cramping—over the course of one very long, very warm afternoon.
For that, Mayer-Souza comes in at No. 8 in our countdown of the year’s Top 10 matches. Here are a few highlights from the short but dramatic video clip above.
—This was a quintessential Davis Cup moment, when an obscure match can suddenly turn into something that feels more important than any Wimbledon final. Just when it looked as if all of the first-round action from across the globe was over on that Sunday in March, Mayer and Souza kept going. And going. And going. Mayer was centimeters from victory on more than one occasion, and Souza served for what would have been a tie-clinching victory. But they kept going anyway. I ignored the Twitter chatter about the match for a while, until it became obvious that something special was happening.
—The clip above does an admirable job of narrowing more than six hours of tennis to a concise three and half minutes. Only the biggest points, and most over-the-top crowd reactions, are included. By the end, when a smiling Juan Martin del Potro appears in the crowd, and an exhausted Mayer embraces a teammate, this has the feel of a short documentary film about a world-changing event. Buenos Aires may be the ultimate Davis Cup venue. Argentina is the best tennis nation never to have won the competition, and they want it badly—Maradona himself has traveled to overseas ties to support the team.
—This time, the Argentines won; Mayer’s victory leveled (or knotted, if you like) the tie at 2-2, and Federico Delbonis beat Thomaz Bellucci in four sets to clinch it. Mayer played the hero again in the next round, when he won his singles and doubles rubbers in a 4-1 victory over Serbia. But, as it always does, Argentina’s luck ran out when Mayer ran out of gas against Belgium in the semifinals. He won his first singles over Steve Darcis, and teamed with Carlos Berlocq to win the doubles and put the team one point away from the final. But that was all he had in him. A tired Mayer had to sit and watch his countrymen lose two singles matches, and the tie, on Sunday.
—Judging by their playing styles, it’s remarkable that Mayer and Souza went as long as they did in Buenos Aires. Each has elaborate swings and takes full, single-handed rips on every ball. Mayer is shown getting his legs rubbed in what looks like the second set; by the end, both players had to take lengthy massage breaks just to keep themselves upright and moving. The audience, which is on the edge of its collective seat to start, is in a perpetual frenzy by the end of the fifth set. Every shot is accompanied first by a chorus of gasps, and then by another, equally loud chorus of “Shhhh”s. Davis Cup bills itself as the World Cup of tennis, and it shows that, presented in the right format, the sport really can be just like soccer.
—On his 11th match point, Mayer clubs a forehand winner, his 89th of the day, and instantly finds the energy to bound across the court. A few minutes later, he was treated for dehydration.
“I couldn’t feel prouder of him,” the Argentine coach, Daniel Orsanic, said of Mayer, noting that he played much of the match while cramping. “What he did today is amazing, not only for the way they both played tennis...It goes beyond that. His spirit, his effort.”
“We both deserved the victory,” Souza said. This time there was no denying the truth of those words. “But one guy had to lose the match.”