The Best Live Match Ever

by James A. Crabtree

I was talking with a fellow tennis fanatic the other day and the conversation shifted to the best live match we had ever seen. The fellow fanatic in question has rather deep pockets and could recount epics played throughout the world and the great corporate seats they had and blah blah blah. Well, enough about them, they were rather annoying.

I am not going to get snobby and say “You had to physically be there.” That is absurd and unfair to those of us with mortal salaries.
And by no means does this epic matchup have to be a final.

You simply have had to watch the match live, been engrossed in it, unable to draw yourself away from the drama that unfolded in front of your eyes..

Andy Roddick versus Roger Federer, 2009 Wimbledon Final

Tough call here because the Federer versus Nadal epics in 2007 and 2008 were pretty special. But the choice goes to this five setter simply because, like many, I started the match cheering for Roger and finished going for Andy. Fed, at the time, was going for his fifteenth slam which would make him the most successful player in history, and Andy has had to bear witness to every slam in Fed’s career. But on this day Andy Roddick really looked like he could it. He was a set up, then 6-2 in the second set tie break, but Federer levelled it. Roddick lost the third but rebounded in the fourth. The thirty game fifth set, well that’s just part of Wimbledon lore. Do I really need to mention that Federer won it?

Stephen Edberg versus Michael Chang, 1989 Roland Garros Final

This was an absolute heartbreaker, especially if you were a diehard Edberg fan. Anyway, the gentleman Swede was attempting to become one of only a handful of true volleyers to pick up the title. In the fifth set he was a break up and looked like he would serve and volley his way into destiny, on clay. Unfortunately for Edberg fans he was up against a seventeen year upstart who had famously underarmed served in the fourth round against Lendl, the world number one. Michael Chang, with destiny on his side, took the title and secured his place as the youngest ever grand slam winner.

Rafael Nadal versus Novak Djokovic, 2012 Australian Open final

This epic final knocks out of the list the 2009 Verdasco/Nadal semi-final. Although still a very recent memory the relentless fight these two players showed proved why they will be remembered as legends in a match that lasted twice as long as Lord of The Rings. Let’s remember both players were coming off emotional wins, Rafa over Roger and Novak over Andy. The final included some of the most gruelling baseline hitting in recent memory, Nadal falling to his knees in jubilation after winning the fourth set and Djokovic’s infamous Hulk inspired shirt rip after his victory. Most of Melbourne awoke after this match with a very painful tennis hangover.

Boris Becker versus Johan Kriek, 1985 Queen’s Club Championships

Little can be said for the quality of the tennis as I simply don’t remember because I was only five years old at the time, but this was my first ever tennis match. I do remember it being very hot, and standing with my parents in line for the bar behind the biggest and most ginger human in the world.

This list did take a lot of deep thought, with so many games to recollect. The 2012 Aussie Open Marco Baghdatis versus Stan Wawrinka racquet smash bonanza was one of the most intriguing matches I’ve ever seen and now rewritten as a Greek tragedy. Brad Gilbert versus David Wheaton at Wimbledon 1990 was a strategical masterpeice. It is easy to recall the Sampras and Agassi bouts, Henman near misses, Davis Cup upsets including Lleyton’s 2003 two set down comeback against Federer. But the battles royale that take precedence within the memory banks cannot be dislodged.

Donald Young: Cinderella run to the Legg Mason Tennis Classic semifinals

Young American Donald Young took full advantage of Marcos Baghdatis’ depleted energy and was able to continue the biggest run of his career, winning 6-3, 7-6(4) and reaching his first ATP tour level semifinal on Friday evening at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Baghdatis had played two 3-setters yesterday and was simply outplayed by the 21-year-old in the crucial moments, unable to convert any of the three opportunities he had of taking the second set.

Young has been a consistent underachiever on tour since turning pro in 2004. He has received innumerable amounts of coaching help through the USTA Player’s Development program, but the dominant role his family members have taken have caused conflict between the two parties. As he walked into the press conference, his posse was noticeably bigger than the previous day’s, and it will surely continue to grow going into the weekend.

Young broke through in 2008, reaching a career-high 73, but he had never won more than two ATP matches in a row until today, citing his “attitude towards playing” as the difference. “I feel like I actually can do it, … and not just a hope of ‘Maybe I can do it.’” Earlier this year, he beat Andy Murray in the second round of Indian Wells, but fell apart in the next round against Tommy Robredo, losing 6-0, 6-4. Consistency has never been his strong suit.

This week has been a revelation to the potential his game holds. He dominated with his forehand painting lines and shoving Baghdatis further and further back, taking away any kind of game plan he might have had. While Baghdatis served only 37% for the match, Young hovered in the mid-60’s. Baghdatis referenced his drop in play partly to his hands being “a bit tight … I couldn’t hit the ball [as good as yesterday].”

After taking the first set, Young was quickly broken to go down 0-3, but came back fist-pumping his way to take the next four games. At 5-6, he held serve and fired an explosive forehand down-the-line to force a tiebreaker. As Baghdatis tried forcing Young to hit from his backhand side, he himself unsuccessfully ran around his backhand, only to clobber the ball into the net. At 6-4 in the tiebreak, Baghdatis hit a defensive lob allowing Young to hit an easy overhead shot to take the match. Young pounded his chest and smiled in joy looking to his box, hardly believing the results himself; the crowd roared with him.

When asked about if he ever doubted his abilities of being on tour and making a run like this, he answered honestly: “Sure. For every year that it didn’t happen, you think ‘Oh, it’s another year; is it going to ever happen?’ … I’m not really where I want to be yet but this is just a step moving forward and hopefully I can continue having these results.”

He’ll next take on Radek Stepanek who is a tricky player, exceptionally comfortable at both the net and slugging away at the baseline. He’ll be another true test of Young’s abilities.

Follow me on twitter all week as I cover the Legg Mason Tennis Classic! @TennisRomi