Men's matches of the year

  • By: Andy Schooler (Twitter: @NetTalkTennis)
  • Last Updated: November 27 2012, 12:48 GMT

Our Andy Schooler picks out his best men's matches of the 2012 tennis season.

Djokovic and Nadal embrace after almost six hours of tennis in Melbourne

Almost everyone in tennis agrees that the current men's era is a golden one.

And one thing that highlights that is when you look back at the year's best matches and find that so many of the top contests featured the leading players.

Talk of rivalries was commonplace and those who watched the 'big four' battle it out on the game's biggest stages were rarely disappointed.

Who in Britain will ever forget Andy Murray's five-set victory over Novak Djokovic in the US Open final, thus ending a 76-year wait for a British male Grand Slam singles champion?

However, it was a match which rarely saw both men at the peak of their powers at the same time. Djokovic's poor start left him with a mountain to climb but Murray let him back in and a dramatic comeback saw a fifth set required.

Murray's steel was shown as he came up trumps in what was a fairly one-sided deciding set. As important as it was to a British fan - of which I am one - it was not the match of the year.

The quality was arguably higher when the pair squared off again a few weeks later in Shanghai, a match which will perhaps be remembered most for the five match points which Murray missed - or, it should really be said, Djokovic saved.

The Serb's refusal to be beaten mirrored his efforts in another cracking contest from earlier in the year - his French Open quarter-final against local hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

Few who watched it will forget the nerveless tennis Djokovic played on all four of Tsonga's match points in the fourth set, all of which came after the Frenchman had looked done and dusted at a set and a break down.

The French Open final between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal also had its fair share of drama. I cannot have been the only one thinking Djokovic was looking the favourite when rain came to Rafa's rescue on the Sunday evening. Refreshed and refocused, Nadal put things right when the duo returned on the Monday to claim a seventh Roland Garros crown.

There's usually a contribution from Roger Federer in this season-ending column and this year is no exception. Some of the tennis he played at Wimbledon to beat Djokovic and Murray back-to-back was sublime, although Centre Court's roof certainly helped him out. Murray had his chances in the final but the up-and-down nature of the match means it shouldn't be considered as the year's top contest, no matter how long it lingers in the memory of his army of fans.

Federer was actually involved in a better match in London - the final one of the ATP season - as he and Djokovic fought out a cracker at London's O2 Arena. The level for a set and a half was significantly high but the Serb's greater consistency saw him prevail and underline why he, not Federer, is currently regarded as the world's best.

There were some memorable contests when others muscled in on the act.

John Isner's upset of Djokovic at Indian Wells was breathtaking for his more famous foe did not play badly. Instead the American proved he is much more than just a big serve with what many tennis followers will feel is the best match he has played in his career thus far.

Elsewhere, Juan Martin Del Potro pushed Federer to the limit at the Olympics - the pair going 17-15 in the decider - while Lukas Rosol ensured quiz-question status for years to come with a simply stunning display against Nadal at Wimbledon. His level in the final set meant there was simply nothing his established opponent could do. Shock of the year it certainly was but not match of the year.

Instead it is to four memorable days in Melbourne that you should turn in search of the top match of the 2012 season.

In the Australian Open semi-finals, Federer and Nadal served up a tasty starter, although once Nadal got in front you sensed the outcome and he duly won in four.

The following day things got better with Murray pushing Djokovic to the brink in a true epic, one which lasted almost five hours.

Like their US Open final several months later, it was a see-saw affair - Murray came from a set and a break down to lead by two sets to one only to lose the fourth 6-1 and fall 5-2 down in the decider. However, he refused to give up, levelled at 5-5 and in the 11th game had three break points. None was taken though and Djokovic finally clinched victory minutes later.

While Djokovic's win set up a meeting with old rival Nadal, few had any right to expect the final to be better than what they had just witnessed. Fortunately, they were wrong.

The physicality of modern-day tennis was laid out for all to see on the Rod Laver Arena as two of the greatest athletes the sport has ever seen put on a brutal display of hitting and a body-bending show of retrieving.

When it took Nadal 80 minutes to win the opening set you sense something special was unfolding.

The draining, mesmerising rallies continued. Djokovic hit back to lead by two sets to one and with Nadal serving at 3-4 0-40 in the fourth looked set to wrap up victory. From there the drama really began.

If anything sums up Nadal it is defiance and when he held from that perilous position, Djokovic looked rattled. He was soon into a fourth and a break down at 4-2.

In the seventh game, Nadal, serving at 30-15, missed a straightforward backhand that may still be causing him sleepless nights today.

It was a pivotal moment. This time Djokovic had been let off the hook and he took full advantage, pushing on to secure a 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 7-5 victory after an incredible five hours and 53 minutes on court - the longest final in Grand Slam history.

Nadal described the match as the toughest, physically, he had ever played.

So spent were both players that they were given chairs at the trophy presentation. After the entertainment they had produced, it was the least they deserved.

Do you agree with Andy? Which do you think was the match of the year? You can email your thoughts to tennisfeedback@sportinglife.com or send them via Twitter to @NetTalkTennis.


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