Tennis matches of the year part 2: Murray, Federer and Stosur surge

We pick out some of the second half of 2011's most memorable matches, when Murray, Federer and Stosur rose to the fore

murray and federer
Murray and Federer both enjoyed strong end-of-season runs Photo: Marianne Bevis

murray and federer

The headline to the story of high summer and the grass season continued to Novak Djokovic: beaten only once in 2011, and targeting the No1 ranking and the Wimbledon title just as he had sought the top spot at Roland Garros.

Ahead of Wimbledon, there was a buzz of discontent when Roger Federer pulled out of Halle and Djokovic withdrew from Queens, but the London event threw up two names who would flourish in the second half of the year: Andy Murray and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. And the latter would play a dramatic role at Wimbledon itself.

But for the women, grass would relaunch an old star””it coincided with the return of Serena Williams who had not played in London since 12 months before””and launch a new star. Petra Kvitova had shown her prowess on grass at 2010’s Wimbledon and had taken three titles already in 2011, but that proved to be just the start.

Wimbledon

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Roger Federer, QF

The signs were not auspicious for Tsonga whose best result of the year, before hitting the grass, was the final in Rotterdam. But he showed much of his long-missing flair in beating Nadal and taking Murray to three sets at Queens and was part of a fine, rain-interrupted match against Grigor Dimitrov in R2 of Wimbledon, coming back from a set down to win in four.

So when Federer took a two-set lead after serving out a quality tie-break in the second, the record books affirmed that he had never before lost a Grand Slam match from such a position. What he didn’t expect was for Tsonga to offer up not a single further break point””Federer converted the only one in the opening set””and would make three times as many winners as unforced errors. In short, Tsonga played at the highest possible level in taking the match, despite Federer producing 55 winners for only 11 errors with a serve level of 75 per cent.

Tsonga looked ready to repeat against Djokovic in the semis, winning the third-set tie-breaker, but he lost in a nervy fourth set. He would, though, go on to beat Federer again in Montreal before facing him four more times and losing four times. But Tsonga’s form took him to a career-high ranking of No6 and the final of the WTFs.

Rafael Nadal v Juan Martin del Potro, R4

The big Argentine had beaten Nadal three times in 2009 before injury took him off the tour, and he was again climbing the rankings when he faced Nadal after rain-disrupted first week.

The match threatened to sideline both men with injury: first Nadal needed treatment to his foot at the end of the first set””before winning it in a tie-break””then Del Potro was hit by a hip injury in the third set””having won the second.

Nadal went on to serve out the third set tie-breaker, broke Del Potro for the only time in the fourth, and sealed the match, at 9pm, after four hours of high quality tennis: Their 45 games contained just 37 unforced errors and over 100 winners.

Nadal advanced to the final via four-set wins over Mardy Fish and Murray to face the man who had taken his No1 ranking. Djokovic would also take his first Wimbledon title, his 50th win in 51 matches and his fifth straight victory over Nadal.

It took a classy four sets from the Serb, who made only two unforced errors in the first set and sprinted through the second in similar style. Nadal found a purple patch in the third but Djokovic dominated again in the fourth and has remained at No1 ever since. He currently stands more than 4,000 points clear of the field.

Venus Williams v Kimiko Date-Krumm, R2

Venus Williams came into Wimbledon, aged 31, having played just five matches in 2011, but stormed through her opening match for the loss of just four games.

Date-Krumm played her first Wimbledon in 1989″”before 36 of the players in 2011 women’s draw were born””reached the semi-finals in 1996 and promptly retired for 12 years having reached No4 in the world.

With a combined age of more than 70, Williams and Date-Krumm provided the only action on a rain-soaked afternoon, fighting it out for three hours, three sets and almost 100 outright winners until Williams sealed the match, 8-6.

Williams did not play again until the US Open where she pulled out after one match with the autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Date-Krumm won just one more match in six main draw tournaments. But between them, they brought some much-needed sunshine to one very grey day at Wimbledon.

Honourable mentions:

Robin Soderling vs Lleyton Hewitt, R2

Hewitt had played only 12 matches prior to Wimbledon yet played like the Hewitt who won the title back in 2002. He dominated the No5 seed to take a two sets lead but Soderling made his first break of the match at 5-5 in the third and did the same at the end of the fourth to level the match. Hewitt broke first in the fifth to deafening support from the Australian fans but Soderling broke back twice to grab the win in four hours.

Australia was quickly avenged, however, as teenager Bernard Tomic exacted a straight-sets win over Soderling in the next round and took a set from Djokovic in the quarters. Soderling played little part in the rest of 2011, falling foul to glandular fever.

Sabine Lisicki v Na Li, R2

The big-hitting German was awarded a wild card after months away with an ankle injury. She came to Wimbledon having just won Birmingham but few expected her to shine quite as brightly as she did. She beat the French Open champion in a thrilling comeback from a set down and then saved match points in the final set with a sequence of 120mph serves. She went on to beat Marion Bartoli for a semi-final place where she fell to Maria Sharapova.

Not content with reaching the singles semis, Lisicki also made the final of the doubles with Sam Stosur, playing her two-and-a-half hour semi the same day as the final.

US Open Series

Ivan Dodig v Rafael Nadal, Montreal R2

Two-time Montreal winner Nadal opened against No41-ranked Dodig, who had won only four matches in Masters competition, and the story began as expected. Nadal powered to a 6-1, 3-1 lead but Dodig remained aggressive and converted his first break-point opportunity to force a second-set tie-break and levelled the match.

Order seemed restored in the third as Nadal opened up a 3-0 lead. Dodig broke back, only to be broken himself to give Nadal a 5-3 advantage on serve. But Dodig attacked again, broke and won the tie-break after firing down his 19th ace. It was Nadal’s first opening-match exit from a Masters since Rome in 2008.

Rafael Nadal v Fernando Verdasco, Cincinnati R3

Nadal and Verdasco began their match on a near-empty Centre Court but by the conclusion of their 220-minute contest, not a seat could be had.

Nadal held a perfect 11-0 winning record over Verdasco but it was Verdasco who made the first breakthrough, only to be broken back. Nadal took advantage of a double fault from his opponent to take the first set tie-breaker. In the second set, Verdasco again broke first but again they ended in a tie-breaker: this time Verdasco won. It was the same in the third: breaks on both sides as they edged into final tie-break. Nadal took a 5-1 lead, Verdasco levelled and they exchanged match points until a bedraggled Nadal finally converted, 11-9.

It may not have been the highest quality tennis, but the nervous tension was palpable, and they left in their wake the longest three-setter of the year.

Sam Stosur v Serena Williams, US Open final

Stosur came into the final having lost to Williams in the Toronto final but she had looked increasingly impressive through the US Open draw, beating Nadia Petrova, Maria Kirilenko, and then No2 seed Vera Zvonareva in the quarters.

Along the way, Stosur broke the record for the longest women’s match in New York since 1970 and in her quarter-final, she played the longest Open era tie-break, losing it 15-17. Yet when she walked onto Arthur Ashe, it was her first match of the tournament in this vast arena. Williams had played every one of her matches there.

Perhaps that helped channel the Stosur determination. In the blink of an eye””31 minutes””she had out-served and outpaced Williams to a 6-2 set. She then broke in the second but, following an outburst from Williams over a call from the umpire, the crowd noise broke Stosur’s concentration and she was broken back. The Australian, though, regained her range and timing, pinned Williams back and broke twice more.

It took Stosur just 73 minutes to win her first Grand Slam singles title after 12 years on the pro circuit. She went on to qualify for the WTA Championships where she reached the semis.

Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, USO SFs and final

Three times Federer had beaten Djokovic in New York, but in 2010 the Serb took a dramatic five-set win after facing two match points. But at Roland Garros, Federer had scored the only win of the year in a completed match over Djokovic. The rivalry promised much and it did not disappoint.

A largely error-free set ended in a tight tie-breaker that went to Federer””but they stood at 38 points apiece.

In the second set, Federer looked still more fired up than in the first, and each rally became a micro-battle for supremacy. They exchanged breaks but Federer broke again and served out the second set.

Djokovic, though, kept his head, lifted his game, broke Federer’s opening service game and held for the set. He carried that momentum through an even more decisive half-hour fourth set, making just two unforced errors, to level the match. Now with three hours on the clock, Federer replied strongly and stepped up to serve for the match at 40-15, only to suffer an eerie throwback to the same time and place last year. Just as then, Djokovic unleashed a reflex forehand to close the door and went on to win 7-5.

Again, Djokovic faced Nadal in the final. Last year he lost but this time he was the No1 player, holder of nine titles, and had beaten Nadal in their last five meetings, all in finals.

His confidence showed, as he stepped inside the baseline, swung Nadal mercilessly from corner to corner and won six straight games to take the first set, 6-2. They twice exchanged breaks in the second, too, before the Serb imposed his length-perfect hitting pattern for a two-sets lead.

In the third, they again exchanged breaks and headed through three-hours of long, exhausting rallies to a tie-break that the more energised Nadal grabbed. Yet after a medical time out for a back problem, Djokovic began firing a barrage of unreturnable shots and ran away with a 6-1 set and the title.

It was a 4hr 10min performance worthy of champion””and his third Slam of the year.

Honourable mentions:

Gilles Simon v Jergen Melzer, Janko Tipsarevic, David Ferrer, Rs 1,2,3 Cincinnati

Hard work, fast feet and intelligent tactics have always characterised the Simon game and in a year he began at No41, this tournament encapsulated how he worked back to a year-end No12 after knee injury in 2010. He beat No18 Melzer, 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, then overcame No20 Tipsarevic, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3, before taking out No6 Ferrer in another three-setter.

He later took a similar route to R4 of the US Open, taking five sets to win R1, four sets in each of R2 and 3 and then four sets in losing to John Isner””three of them tie-breakers.

Andy Murray v Robin Haase, US Open R2

Things looked decidedly bad for Murray after the tall, fast-improving Dutchman ran up a two sets lead, 7-6, 6-2. But Haase’s serve floundered to give Murray a toe-hold and the Scot took just an hour to level the match, 6-2, 6-0. As Haase called for treatment to knees that have twice undergone surgery, the crowds began to drift away but soon rushed back as Haase halted a 13-game Murray streak to level the final set at 4-4. It took several attempts, but Murray finally served out the win to advance, in much easier style, to the semis.

Closing Masters: Asia and indoors

Agnieszka Radwanska v Andrea Petkovic, Beijing final

2011 had seen Petkovic come of age with the title in Strasbourg, the final in Brisbane and three Grand Slam quarter-finals. But despite taking the scalps of many of the top women, one had constantly resisted: Radwanska. Ahead of Beijing, the Polish woman had played and beaten her four times””twice this year. Both women, on this occasion, were fighting for a place in the WTA Championships.

Like Petkovic, Radwanska was enjoying a second blooming and won the Tokyo title before reaching the Beijing final without dropping a set. It soon looked as though Radwanska would run away with this match but, at 1-4 down, the tall German began to find her range. Winners came thick and fast, with games averaging around five minutes apiece, but at 5-5, Radwanska produced a couple of touch volley winners, broke again and served out the set 7-5.

In almost an hour and a half, the Pole had made just four unforced errors, 20 winners and 15 from 18 net points, while Petkovic won 20 net plays out of 26.

Petkovic then launched a blistering attack to take a 6-0 second set, making 12 out of 12 winners at the net in just 25 minutes. Not until the fifth game in the third set did Radwanska finally hold her serve for the first time since the opening set and she went on to break and serve out for the title, 6-4. But after more than two-and-a-half hours, the two women were separated by just one point: 100 to 101.

Tomas Berdych v Andy Murray, Paris QF

The powerful Czech had won in Paris at his first attempt””aged just 20″”in 2005 and this was his third quarter-final appearance. He came into the match having just won the title in Beijing, but Murray was on a roll of three back-to-back titles””and he looked every inch the world No3 who had overtaken Federer in the rankings for the first time.

Berdych started in attack mode, winning 14 out of 20 net points in the first set, a tally that continued to grow throughout the match. But despite pulling off smash after smash through seven break points and 15 minutes in the ninth game, Murray took the first set, 6-4.

With a break apiece in the second, Berdych finally delivered a killer blow in the tie-break to level the match after 2hrs 20mins, but it was Murray who dominated the third set until an argument with the umpire broke his concentration and, with the match balanced at 4-4 and 111 points apiece, Murray was broken.

The 10th game extended to 10 minutes but Berdych closed out the match, after almost 200 minutes, as he began it””with a smash””to bring Murray’s autumn streak to an end. What no-one knew was that injury just days later would take him out of the World Tour Finals. Berdych, however, would top his pool to reach the semis in London.

Honourable mentions:

Janko Tipsarevic v Tomas Berdych and Novak Djokovic, WTFs RR

With his first two ATP titles won just a month before, Tipsarevic became first reserve for the WTFs but had been practice partner for his illustrious friend, Djokovic, until Murray dropped out. Tipsarevic won the first set and held a match point in the final set tie-breaker against Berdych before losing in three, but went on to beat Djokovic for the first time in his career having dropped the first set.

Roger Federer v Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, World Tour Finals final

It was their eighth meeting of the year, and both came to London with two titles apiece since the US Open. Playing for the third straight Sunday, Tsonga came back from a set and a break down to level the match in a second set tie-breaker. But Federer upped a gear to drop just three points on serve in the final set, and took his 70th title in his 100th final for a record-breaking sixth year-end trophy. He ended the year back at No3 with three back-to-back titles.

Part 1 looks at the matches from the Australian Open to the French Open.

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