With 2017 nearing its close, it's time to decide what was the year's best match. Steve Tignor will conclude his top 10 contest countdown over the next two weeks—but which was your favorite? We want to know, so vote for your favorite match in our poll.
Tennis Channel will air the Top 3 matches with the most votes on December 31st, in full.
Rafael Nadal d. Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-4, Australian Open semifinals
It was déjà vu all over again—and again, and again—for Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open semifinals.
After four and a half hours, Nadal was locked at 3-3 in the fifth set with Grigor Dimitrov in Rod Laver Arena. Both men were playing with a punch-drunk, half-staggered grace. One minute it looked like they might fall over, the next they were chasing a ball into the corner and curling a passing shot around their opponent for a winner.
This is how it had gone for much of the first four, back-and-forth, push-and-pull sets. Extreme spins, acute angles, 100-m.p.h. ground strokes, stretch volleys, leaping overheads and much more: Nadal and Dimitrov had exhausted the game’s possibilities, and themselves, in their effort to reach the Aussie Open final, but they were still all even. The commentators had run out of ways to say “unbelievable,” so they just kept repeating that word, three, four, five times each game. Dimitrov had hit 20 aces and 79 winners, while Nadal had countered with some of his best tennis in three years.
“I think Grigor played great,” Nadal said. “I played great. So was great quality of tennis tonight.... I think both of us deserve to be in that final.”
We had seen Rafa star in this midnight—or 3:00 A.M.—movie more than once in Melbourne. In its sustained excellence and marathon length, the match with Dimitrov was a throwback to his five-set, five-hour win over Fernando Verdasco in the 2009 semifinals on the same court. Once upon a time, this way the type of close match that Nadal would find a way to survive; but over the previous two years, he had lost more epics than he had won.
Which would it be this time? As the fifth set progressed, we saw signs of the old, stubborn Rafa, as well as the new, nervous Rafa. At 2-2, he played aggressively to reach break point, only to tighten up and loop a nervous forehand long. When he went down 15-40 on his serve at 3-4, Nadal looked spent. One more point for Dimitrov and he would serve for it.