Men’s tennis — A look back at 2009

By Online Editorial

Roger Federer

Roger Federer’s tears at the end of the Australian Open final back in January will live long in the memory of his fans and tennis aficionados all around the world. Simon Mundie talks us through the other big stories in men’s tennis from the first half of 2009.

Verdasco comes of age

Before this year’s Australian Open, Fernando Verdasco (60.0 to win this year’s tournament) was a serial underachiever, blessed with a fearsome forehand but held back by a flaky temperament and a suspect tactical brain. An excellent showing in last year’s Davis Cup final, and a Christmas spent under the tutelage of Gil Reyes (the man who masterminded Agassi’s career revival) provided Verdasco with a dose of confidence and several pounds of muscle.

He first served notice down under in the fourth round, disposing of Andy Murray (7.6) in five sets, but it was his semi-final showing against Rafael Nadal (9.4) that was one for the ages. The match ebbed and flowed over 5 hours and 14 minutes, the longest in the tournament’s history.

It was the match of the year, and it’s difficult to think of another instance of a player performing as well as Verdasco did that day and still losing. The most telling statistic? Verdasco hit an astonishing 95 winners, while Nadal could only manage a ‘paltry’ 52.

A teary ending

Rafael Nadal had finally unseated Roger Federer (3.5) from his position atop of the men’s rankings at the end of 2008 after 3 years playing second fiddle to his great rival. The highlight of the passing of the torch had been the greatest Wimbledon final of all time in 2008, although Federer salvaged some pride by winning the US Open, beating Andy Murray in the final.

When the two best players in the world reached the final of the Australian Open, the stage was set for another epic encounter. Nadal had already unseated the Swiss on his beloved grass courts. Could he do it on hard courts too?

When Federer ripped through the fourth set 6-3, it seemed he might be about to get revenge for the disappointments of the previous season, but once more Nadal’s superior mental fortitude won out, and Federer was left disconsolate during a painful trophy ceremony after the match, crying in front of millions of people watching around the world. Had the great man cracked for good? Would Nadal go on and win the Grand Slam?

At that moment, no one could have predicted what lay ahead in 2009 for both of them.

The greatest shock of them all

The greatest clay court player of the modern era, a man unbeaten at Roland Garros since his debut in 2005 and the biggest favourite ahead of a Grand Slam tournament there has ever been; Rafael Nadal was considered an absolute shoo-in for the French Open.

The warning signs were there however, first in the Madrid final, and then again in the opening round of the French Open itself, where his backhand was falling uncharacteristically short and the Spaniard looked edgy. Still, no one could have anticipated what happened against Robin Soderling (46.0) in the fourth round.

Dubbed ‘Not the best man in the locker room’ by the four-time defending champion, Soderling came out swinging, neutralising Nadal’s heavily top spun forehands and puncturing his air of invincibility on the dirt forever. Federer couldn’t believe his luck, completing his Grand Slam set with victory over Soderling in the final.

Roddick resurgent, but rues rushed volley

Andy Roddick (42.0) was a has-been. It was nigh on 6 years since his lone Grand Slam success at the US Open in 2003, and it wasn’t only Federer who could pick Roddick off at will now, it was also the likes of Andy Murray. Yet with renowned tactician Larry Stefanki in his corner, Roddick played as well as he has ever done on Centre Court to beat the Scot in four sets in the semi-finals, matching Murray stroke for stroke from the baseline.

But against Federer in the final, who had been known to make Roddick look like a fool during previous encounters, surely he had no hope. Yet to everyone’s surprise, Roddick came out solid in all areas, taking the first set and building a commanding 6-2 lead in the second set tiebreak.

The turning point came at 6-5, when Roddick missed a backhand volley that will haunt him for the rest of his life. To his credit, he never gave up battling on until his reserves of energy and stamina had dried up, and Federer leapt for joy on winning the final set 16-14. Roddick may have lost his third final, but he won more fans for the way he played and his sportsmanship than many champions before him.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited


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