It’s been a long road, but the Australian Open is underway in 2021! In the midst of the recent quarantine controversy, we thought we’d rewind to a time when all the players had to worry about was getting the ball over the net! We dug through the archives to bring you five historic battles that featured graceful drop shots, neck-breaking aces, and unshakeable willpower. There are plenty of intriguing storylines already developing this week, so here’s hoping we can add even more sweat-soaked sets to our list!
Images with thanks to Getty
1. Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal, 2012
Arguably one of the greatest tennis matches in history. Meeting for the third straight time in a Grand Slam final, Novak and Nadal locked in an interminable match that spanned a jaw-dropping five hours and 53 minutes, making it the longest Grand Slam final of all time (the match concluded at 1:37am).
Featuring absurd comebacks and stunning rallies (the longest being a 31-shot blow-by-blow that landed Djokovic onto his back), it was Djokovic that eventually triumphed, ripping off his shirt to create one of the most enduring images in world sport.
With Djokovic sitting atop the pinnacle of the ATP Rankings at number 1, and Nadal right behind him, the gruelling match sparked fresh debate surrounding the ultimate GOAT status, Novak now pulling in his 28th ATP title.
He reflected on the history-making match moments after the game. He said, ‘It was obvious on the court for everybody who has watched the match that both of us, physically, we took the last drop of energy that we had from our bodies’.
2. Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi, 2000
One of the greatest servers of all-time versus the gut-running wall, Pete Sampras versus Andre Agassi was poetry in motion. For those still an auspicious glint in their father’s eye, the 2000 Semi Final between these two titans of the game was one for the history books.
Of all the epic contests between the two impressive talents, it was only the second time the all-American duo would go five-sets. The battle between the two contrasting tennis styles was on full display, with Sampras hitting an impressive 37 aces but still losing the match.
‘Andre and I have been a part of a lot of epics,’ Sampras told the Associated Press in 2000. ‘Today was definitely one of them, and he got the best of me.’
3. Serena Williams vs. Kim Clijsters, 2003
Serena Williams pulled-off one of the most extraordinary comebacks of all time in her match against 19-year-old Kim Clijsters during the Semi Finals in 2003.
Trailing 1-5 in the final set, Williams rose from the dead, saving two match points before taking control and winning 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Contending with blisters and uncharacteristic unforced errors (Williams made 65 unforced errors compared with 33 for Clijsters), Williams showed her mental fortitude to stay in the match, the superlative talent pressing forward to her fourth straight Grand Slam final to defeat her sister, Venus, 7–6, 3–6, 6–4.
4. Marat Safin vs Roger Federer, 2005
Roger Federer was at the height of his power when he made it to the 2005 Semi Finals. The 23-year-old had spent 11 months as world number 1, claiming four of the past six Grand Slam events. Enter: Marat Safin.
The enigmatic 1.93m Russian tower (Safin is the tallest player ever to reach world number 1) swung his racket with force, staving-off a Federer match point in the fourth set to eventually win 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6, 9-7.
The epitome of true grit from two heavy-hitters.
5. Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal, 2009
Fresh off their enthralling five-set epic in Wimbledon 2008, Federer and Nadal put on another masterpiece during the Australian Open final in 2009.
Extending their rivalry in a match loaded with emotion, the Spanish Bull refused to budge throughout the entire match, taking the first set after being down 2-4, and saving all six breakpoints he faced in the third.
As much revered for its quality as its tension, the game is also memorable for the way Federer was unable to control the outpouring of his emotions while accepting the runner-up trophy, breaking down in tears.
Nadal, the first Spaniard in history to win the Australian Open title, made further claims to his place in the tennis pantheon, extending his lead to 13-6 against Federer over all, while Federer failed to match Peter Sampras’ career record of 14 Grand Slam singles titles.
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