Review of 2010-19 in tennis: one year at a time

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Post by MrInvisible on Sat 28 Mar 2020, 7:12 pm

Folks, with the lack of live tennis, and the grim news on Covid-19 dominating everything I thought it'd be nice to start a new thread, one looking back, one year at a time in the last decade in tennis. Hope at least one other person joins in.

I'll start with 2010...

Federer started the year with his 16th slam, winning the Australian Open, where he beat Andy Murray in the first of a long sequence of Aus Open final defeats Andy had to endure.

However, it surely had to be Nadal's year - won Roland Garros, where he got his revenge over Soderling, then Wimbledon (beat Berdych), incredibly US Open too (where he beat Djokovic) as well as a fair few Masters' titles. That US Open title would be the last time Nadal would get the upper hand over Djokovic away from clay for a little while. Murray made up partially for his Aus Open final loss by picking up Toronto Masters.

Wimbledon saw the epic Mahut v Isner contest, whilst on the WTA we still had Clijsters and Henin around, providing competition for Serena. Serena though finished the year with Aus Open and Wimbledon titles, whilst Clijsters won the US Open. One of the most popular champions of the year though was Schiavone winning the French where she beat Stosur. The Italian played some beautiful tennis, all angles, and spins, and was the first woman from her country to reach the semis, let alone win the final.

Anyone else for any 2010 reminiscing, before we go on to 2011?

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Post by Oioi on Sun 29 Mar 2020, 5:40 pm

Thanks for this! Missing both watching and playing tennis at the moment. I'll just respond with some memories from the year which mostly revolve around Murray as a big fan of his. I distinctly remember feeling it would be his year at the AO that year, particularly with the way he played against Rafa who retired after 2 sets. All tournament he played some awesome defensive tennis with insane passing shots but I remember feeling he didn't do himself justice against Federer in the final until towards the end of the 3rd set when it was too late. Such a trend continued until he hired Lendl and began going after it in the big GS matches. Federer did play superbly though and it was surprising how long he had to wait until his next GS considering.

I don't remember much about the 2010 FO apart from Soderling getting revenge on Federer and Nadal getting his revenge in the final. A pretty routine win for Nadal from what I recall but huge for him having lost his crown the previous year. I remember loving Schiovone in the women's as its always good to see craft and variety prevail in the modern power game.

On to Wimbledon 2010 and there are a few noteworthy stories, particularly the Isner Mahut epic. I once again recall being disappointed in Murray's performance against Nadal who beat him fairly routinely iirc. Got to feel for berdych having beat federer and djokovic only to lose to Nadal in straights in his only GS final.

The standout match of the US open was surely djokovic federer with those saved match points and federer's bitter remarks afterwards.
Around that time I found federer to be quite smug and arrogant with some of the comments he made about other players but I've since warmed to him a lot more as it seems losses over the years and life experience have humbled him. Aside from that match I recall Nadal was sensational in the final against Djokovic and really had this unbeatable aura. As we now know, Djokovic had other ideas for 2011! I can't remember for sure how Murray got on in the US Open without googling, but reckon that might have been the time he lost to Wawrinka in the 3rd round? If so, it was a poor, passive performance and he allowed wawrinka to dictate the play completely as he had a tendency to do.


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Post by MrInvisible on Mon 30 Mar 2020, 5:44 pm

@Oioi, Murray v Nadal at Wimbledon - I seem to recall Nadal playing one of the highest level matches I've ever seen him play at Wimbledon in that semi-final - real scary clinical stuff and Murray actually played v well.

At US Open, Murray did indeed lose to Wawrinka in 3rd round - after having reached Aus Open final at start of year and Wimbledon semis, definitely a disappointing performance from Murray, and this was in days before Stan had his late career peak.  It was sad too that defending champion Del Potro didn't get to compete, due to a wrist injury - this would unfortunately become the story of his career.

Regarding Nadal and Djokovic its worth noting that Serbia won the Davis Cup at end of the year and I think that, combined with a ruthless off season training regime, set up Djokovic to move up to next level and dominate in 2011...

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Post by MrInvisible on Thu 02 Apr 2020, 12:39 pm

Onto 2011...

Undoubtedly Djokovic's year - the levels he reached were scary. As above, its worth noting the Davis Cup win for Serbia at end of 2010, which helped set him up to dominate.

Australian Open - Nadal was on course to win a historic 'Rafa slam' of 4 consecutive slam tournaments, yet came unstuck in straight sets(!) in the quarters to Ferrer, who played one of the matches of his career to upset his countryman. Murray reached the final but lost v comprehensively in straight sets to Djokovic. One of those Aus Open final encounters where Djokovic was undoubtedly v impressive, but Murray was way too passive.

Roland Garros - Djokovic had performed well in the claycourt masters, winning Rome and Madrid and had high expectations coming in - surely a Djokovic v Nadal final was on the cards. Federer had other ideas though beating Djokovic in their semi-final, whilst Murray had a v creditable tournament, reaching the semis where he lost to Nadal. The final of course saw Nadal win, but in what was actually a pretty tight 4 set match against Federer - probably Federer's best ever performance against Nadal at Roland Garros.

Wimbledon - the big shock was probably Tsonga beating Federer in the quarters. The final saw Djokovic beat Nadal in 4 sets - as a grasscourt purist I found it too much of a baseline slog (though I do think both players have added more finesse and variety to their grasscourt game in subsequent years). Another decent tournament for Murray who reached the semis where to lost to Nadal. Murray was really starting to become more consistent in the slams by this point.

US Open - one of a number of tournaments in 'big 4' era where the form book went to plan - all 4 reached the semis, with Murray losing once again to Nadal, Djokovic beating Federer than going on to defeat Nadal in 4 sets.

Djokovic was so dominant in the match-ups with Nadal this year - really felt he'd developed a psychological edge over him.

In the womens' Clijsters who her final slam at the Australian Open, where she beat Li Na, a late-blooming player, who thwarted defending Roland Garros champion Schiavone in the final there, though creating her own fairytale, being not only the first player from her country to triumph in slam final, but also from her continent. Wimbledon saw another popular champion in Kvitová, winning her 1st slam title, where she beat Sharapova and, forming a pattern we would see a lot over the coming years, we had 4 different slam winners, with Stosur beating Serena in the US Open final.

In those days Serena losing a slam final was pretty unusual as was being slamless during a whole year. Federer would end the year without winning a slam too, for first time since 2002. Spain beat Argentina at home on the clay in the Davis Cup final.

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Post by sirfredperry on Fri 03 Apr 2020, 9:13 am

2011-
Djoko's 43-match unbeaten run at the start of the year was staggering. It should be noted that the Big Four were all fit and in form that year. Nadal, in particular, had had a stellar 2010.

Yet Djoko dominated Rafa, and everyone else, during those first few months. My personal disappointment was that, for once, I would not have minded Rog losing to Djoko in that French semi.
I was convinced Djoko would have beaten Rafa in the final. One of the great we'll-never-knows of sport.

Although Djoko was later to win four slams in a row, I think 2011 was his greatest year considering the quality of the opposition.

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Post by Henman Bill on Fri 03 Apr 2020, 9:09 pm

The Wimbledon 2011 final was a fairly poor final, Nadal was really off that day and even some forehands missing.

The 2011 US Open final was for me the standout Nadal-Djokovic encounter (not just of that year, but perhaps of their entire rivalry over all the years). Many people remember the 2012 Australian Open more as the standout, but I think the 2011 US Open had more sustained quality, and the best rallies, however it was 4 rather than 5 sets and for some people 5 sets = classic and 4 sets = not classic.

The 2011 US Open final was also the ultimate slugfest and for some people it wasn't actually what they were looking for in tennis - long rallies and often few winners - but of course some of those were just frustrated Federer fans. In any case, it was the match the highlighted more than ever that tennis had changed, that serve and volley was dead, and that longer rallies and slower courts were now the order of the day.

Incidentally, Federer, even though he was clearly number 3 that year,clearly behind the other two, actually played well for much of the year, I don't think his level dropped, I think the other two (Nadal in 2008-2010 and Djokovic in 2011) has simply increased their level. Federer had a very strong finish to 2011 though, winning numerous tournaments around October and November that were an oft forgotten but critical factor in him later getting back to no 1 mid next year.

Similarly, Nadal didn't really decline from 2010 to 2011, he was more or less the same player, but Djokovic was just on an unbelievable run in the part of the season where Rafa tended to gather the most points.

People remember 2011 as Novak's great year, but it was really the streak from Australian Open through to his loss to Federer at Roland Garros that was his best. After that he managed to peak for the US Open when needed but was physically fading after that for the rest of the season.

Murray was knocking on the door in 2011, but still hadn't quite made some improvements that were needed to his game....

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Post by No name Bertie on Sat 04 Apr 2020, 7:48 am

While this thread reviews the years I would be interested in hearing peoples thoughts on players peak physical conditioning.  

For example was Nadal's physical peak in 2008 early 2009 when he won the French, his first Wimbledon title, the Olympic Gold medal, the Davis Cup and his first Australian Open.  After that he started having significant chronic issues with his knees (tendonitis) and eventually he withdrew from Wimbledon 2009. Yes he had a successful 2010 but was he a bit degraded physically compared to 2008?  Did anyone notice a difference in his movement, his bending low at the knees, his style of play over that period.  

Then his epic battles with Djokovic in 2011 and the first half of 2012 seemed to have physically degraded Nadal further, he missed the US Open 2012 and Australian Open 2013 through injury, but when he returned he was never the same on the grass of Wimbledon, not reaching a Wimbledon quarter-final until 2018.

Would Federer's physical peak have been somewhere in the range of 2004 - 2008?

Here I am focusing on physical strength, flexibility, explosiveness, speed around the court, reaction speed, ability to physically recover.

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Post by Henman Bill on Sat 04 Apr 2020, 11:33 pm

For Rafa I think 2008-2010 especially 2009 from the Australian Open to the Soderling loss.

Djokovic in his 2011 unbeaten streak and again in 2011 US Open and 2012 Australian Open.

Federer from 2004 US Open to 2007 Australian Open.

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Post by MrInvisible on Sun 05 Apr 2020, 4:24 pm

Onto 2012...

We started the year with that epic gruelling Australian Open final encounter between Djokovic and Nadal, clocking in at 6 hours.  I remember anticipating it being a long match, and seeing them knocking up - I went out for a few hours, anticipating them to have completed a 3 or 4 hour marathon, only to see them still going strong in early stages of 5th set.  I did catch up and see the full match (in instalments) on replay later and don't think I've ever seen such a physical match in tennis sustained for such a long time.  It was scary at times, seeing those brutal long rallies.  When Djokovic came out on top I really did feel he had such a psychological edge on Nadal - such a close match yet Djokovic managed to win those crucial points - exactly the sort of thing Nadal had based his career on.

Murray lost to Djokovic in the semis, but unlike their encounter in final he really pushed Djokovic hard, losing in 5 tight sets.  There was a sense perhaps that Murray was showing signs of being able to maintain his highest levels for the biggest matches at the business end of the tournament.  The 'big 4' pattern had continued with Federer losing in 4 sets to Nadal in the semis.  In the womens' the Li Na phenomenon had come and gone, but Clijsters put up a good defence of her title, losing in 3 sets to eventual champion Azarenka.  This was Azarenka's first slam, and she easily demolished Sharapova in that final.  I remember thinking that Azarenka really looked like she had the tools to win a few slams, but she would only add another slam title to this one.

Onto the French Open, and Djokovic had won the last 3 slams, having beaten Nadal in each of those finals.  Surely if he beat Nadal in yet another slam final, but on his favoured surface this would signal the beginning of the end for the Spaniard?  Some notable results in the quarters included Djokovic coming back from 2 sets to 1 down to beat Tsonga, and Federer beating Del Potro from 2 sets down.  Murray had a respectable tournament, reaching the quarters where he lost to Ferrer in 4 sets.  In the semis Djokovic got his revenge on Federer for previous year, sweeping him aside in straight sets, whilst Nadal demolished Ferrer in straight sets too.  In the end Nadal prevailed over Djokovic in the final - after all those slam final defeats to his rival, this was a great response from Nadal.  The final was decent, and v intriguing with the significance of it but not quite a classic, and Nadal did turn the screw in the 4th and final set.

Onto Wimbledon, and Murray had worked through a tough draw (Karlovic, Cilic, Ferrer, Tsonga) demonstrating he had developed into a really accomplished grasscourt player.  Federer had now gone a long time without a slam and pundits were starting to wonder if that was it for him.  He'd had an easier draw than Murray though did have to play Djokovic in the semis, who he dispatched in a v impressive performance.  The final was v tricky for me - as a Federer fan, but also a British tennis fan and Murray admirer - who to support?  Given the historical significance and that Murray was aiming to be 1st British player in 75 years (!) to win Wimbledon I backed Murray.  After the baseline duels of the 4 successive Nadal v Djokovic slam finals, the slices, angles, all court play and change of pace in the Murray v Federer match was pleasant to watch.  At the end, when Federer prevailed I did feel for Murray when he got a bit emotional.  He'd started the match strongly, getting himself into an excellent position winning the 1st set, and with chances to win the 2nd - did feel he'd had his opportunities in the match and he'd let Federer back in it.  I was starting to worry that these final defeats were taking their toll in Murray - time after time he'd got to a final, done a lot of the hard work, only to encounter one of the greats of the game.  The 2012 Wimbledon was when Nadal had that loss under the roof to a hard-hitting Rosol.  This was the beginning of a phase when Nadal had some early losses to big flat hard-hitters at Wimbledon.

Onto the Olympics, held at Wimbledon, and Murray sustaining his fine grasscourt form.  Looking back, the London 2012 Olympics actually took a while to get going - 'Team GB' didn't win many of the early medals, and it wasn't until that glorious 'Super Saturday' that things really took off.  This feelgood glow also transferred over to the crowds spurring on Murray in the tennis competition.  In the semis Murray saw off Djokovic, whilst Federer had that epic match with Del Potro, coming through 19-17(!) in the deciding 3rd set.  I was personally glad for Del Potro to pick up the bronze medal, where he beat a slightly deflated Djokovic.  In the final, of course Federer had been affected by the Del Potro epic and was a bit flat, but nevertheless Murray put in a v assured confident performance, with no dips, beating Federer in straight sets, to win the gold and get revenge from the Wimbledon final.

This would set up Murray nicely for US Open, where he reached the final having beaten Lopez, Raonic, Cilic and Berdych en-route, to play Djokovic.  The big 4 pattern didn't play out this time - Nadal withdrew due to knee injury, whilst Federer lost to Berdych.  Had the draw opened up for Murray?  Perhaps, but he still had to beat Djokovic.  Murray got off to a dream start, 2 sets up, then it was real tension as Djokovic came roaring back to level at 2 sets all.  Having lost all those slam finals this was now a real mental test for Murray to pull through, which he did, no doubt buoyed from his confidence at taking the Olympic Gold.  First British slam mens' singles winner in 70-odd years - and what a relief Murray had finally bagged the slam title his talent and hard work deserved.

For Djokovic, it was an anti-climatic end to a year which was always going to struggle to match his 2011 dominance. He wasn't maintaining quite the same level as 2011 and had lost a little bit of that aura.  For Nadal, it looked like his days of winning slams away from Roland Garros were over.  And for Murray, the start of something big perhaps.

In the womens' Sharapova was the surprise winner at French Open, achieving that rare feat of a career slam.  Serena came bouncing back strongly after her slamless 2011 and 1st half of 2012, beating Radwanska at Wimbledon and Azarenka at US Open.

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Post by Calder106 on Mon 06 Apr 2020, 9:38 am

While agreeing that the Del Potro match would have taken a lot out of Federer I have always felt that the crowd was a big factor in the emphatic way Murray beat him in the Olympic final. Federer has huge popularity and in nearly every match he plays has the vast majority of the crowd in his favour. Even in the Wimbledon final earlier that summer the support was about 50/50. However in the Olympic final Teem GB were on a roll and virtually the whole crowd was supporting Murray. It was so alien for Federer not to be able to get motivation from the crowd.

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Post by sirfredperry on Mon 06 Apr 2020, 10:11 am

I recall that Federer went about ONE HOUR without winning a single game in that Olympic final of 2012. Yes, Fed was tired after his marathon semi, but Andy played really well.

Fed, and a number of the other players, said it was totally different playing an Olympic match than a normal one. It was far more emotional, he said.

Total dominance in the big events by the Big Four in 2012. Was this - cumulatively - their best year?


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Post by Henman Bill on Mon 06 Apr 2020, 10:48 pm

Thanks for your good write ups!

I think Federer won the rivalry against Murray in 2012 for good, because he made it 3-0 in slam finals, which was more important than the fact that Murray for years lead the overall head to head by winning at masters series quite often.

I thought Murray played extremely well in the Olympics final in 2012, and quite likely would have won it regardless of the longer semi. Draw permitting, the extra rest can sometimes be a fair reward for whoever won their semi most effectively.

A lot of people talked about how Murray was mentally stronger with Lendl but I think the changes to his game in 2012 were at least as important. Compared to 2011, his forehand became stronger and more reliable and nobody played to it as the weaker side any more. His serve was a bit better as well in 2012. Yes, very tense US Open final though as you say.

I actually managed to attend the last three days of the French Open in 2012 (actually four because it went over to the Monday). However, I think I was a little unlucky - had I attended FO 2011 I would have got a classic semi and final, or the classic semi of 2013 had I gone the next year. Or had I attended any other slam final of 2012 I would have got some more classic matches.

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Post by No name Bertie on Tue 07 Apr 2020, 12:43 pm

Rather than Federer not upping his level in the Olympics Final, Murray didn't lower his level in the Olympics Final.  Murray had a mental barrier when coming up against Federer and Nadal in semi-finals and finals in the Grand Slams.  He might start off well but then would fade.  He didn't do that at the Olympics.

MrInvisible wrote:2012... Onto the Olympics, held at Wimbledon... In the semis Murray saw off Djokovic, whilst Federer had that epic match with Del Potro, coming through 19-17(!) in the deciding 3rd set. I was personally glad for Del Potro to pick up the bronze medal, where he beat a slightly deflated Djokovic. In the final, of course Federer had been affected by the Del Potro epic...
But Del Potro with less rest beat Djokovic. And the match was played two days after the semi-final. And all matches were best of three until the final.

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Post by MrInvisible on Thu 09 Apr 2020, 2:55 pm

Onto 2013...

Firstly a mention for the Masters series titles, every single one was won by Nadal or Djokovic, with exception of Miami, which was won by Murray. We did get a variety of losing finalists though - Del Potro, Federer, Raonic, Isner, Ferrer and Wawrinka. On the latter, it is worth noting that until now he had been a real underachiever - v flashy but frustratingly inconsistent. However at start of the year he appointed Swedish 'super-coach' Magnus Norman, who had worked miracles with Soderling.

Nadal skipped the Aus Open due to injury, and his place in the 'big 4' was taken by Ferrer, who around this time was consistently the best of the rest. Ferrer reached the semis where he lost to Djokovic, whilst Murray beat Federer in a topsy-turvy 5 setter in his semi-final. Murray managed to bring his A game for the first 2 sets in the final against Djokovic - which were of v high quality and shared one apiece. However, once Djokovic won that 2nd set, he pretty much ran away with rest of the match as Murray found he was unable to maintain the intensity of earlier in the match, unlike Djokovic who finished strongly. One of the memorable matches of tournament was Ferrer coming back from 2 sets down to beat Almagro (a tough competitor back in the day) in the quarters. In the womens' Azarenka defended her title against a resurgent Li Na. It was to be the last of Azarenka's slam titles though.

Federer's run to the semis at Australian Open was probably as good as it got for him in what was a pretty lean year for him in 2013. At Roland Garros, where he'd been pretty consistent over the years, he lost in the quarters to Tsonga, who, after Ferrer, was probably next 'best of the rest' at this time, though clay was not usually his best surface. Murray skipped the tournament due to injury. The draw conspired to bring Djokovic v Nadal semi-final, and this really did eclipse the final, Nadal prevailing 9-7 in an epic 5 setter, a claycourt encounter between the two which finally lived up to the billing and probably my favourite match between the two. Ferrer easily beat Tsonga in the other semi, to reach a deserved final, but unfortunately had little answer for a rampant Nadal in the final. In the womens' final, Serena beat Sharapova - another match contributing towards that v dominant head-to-head Serena had over one of her rivals.

Wimbledon 2013 saw some big early shocks, in contrast to the fairly dependable pattern we'd had in most of the past few slams. Nadal lost to Steve Darcis in the 1st round, which even surpassed his previous year's loss to Rosol for shock value. Federer didn't do much better, losing to Stakhovsky in 2nd round, who put in a v assured, aggressive performance in doing so. This tournament was the first Wimbledon since 2002 that neither Federer nor Nadal had made the final. As for Murray, he had a pretty straightforward draw early on, but had a big scare in the quarters, going down 2 sets to the tricky and underrated Verdasco. Verdasco was reeling off lots of his big forehands and serving impressively in those 1st two sets against Murray whose old enemy passivity returned. However, the danger of the situation seemed to spark the necessary reaction and Murray came roaring back to level the match - however, it was a pretty tight, and nerve-racking 5th set against a resurgent Verdasco, which he only just edged 7-5. Murray beat Janowicz (remember him) in his semi whilst Djokovic saw off Del Potro in an entertaining 5 setter in the other semi. The expectation on Murray from the media and British sporting public going into the final was no less than a year before. To be honest many British tennis fans were expecting a tight tense match, like that 5th set in previous year's US Open final. Murray however took control from the beginning in what was a v assured, confident performance, with surprisingly little tension given the historical significance, to beat Djokovic in 3 sets to be the 1st British male Wimbledon singles champion since Fred Perry in the 1930s. At the time I did feel that whilst Djokovic was overall a better player, that on grass Murray was clearly the more accomplished and natural of the two. The big shock in the womens' was Serena losing in 4th round to Sabine Lisicki. Lisicki went on to reach the final, continuing her fine form with some great serving and big groundstrokes. However, she lost to the unconventional Bartoli in the final, whose early-ball timing and counter-punching style was working to perfection.

Onto the US Open, and Federer's year went from bad to worse, losing in 4th round to Robredo, surely one of his worst ever slam losses. What about Murray, defending champion and now on a high from winning Wimbledon? A reasonably solid 1st week, but in the quarters lost in straight sets to Wawrinka. Murray was too passive at times, admittedly but Wawrinka was in red hot form, despatching winners from all over the court. Gasquet had one of the best wins of his career, beating Ferrer against who he'd always struggled, from 2 sets down in the quarters. However, he inevitably lost to Nadal in straight sets in the semis. Match of the tournament had to be Djokovic v Wawrinka semi-final - pulsating 5 setter with Wawrinka demonstrating the new partnership with Magnus Norman was starting to pay off. Djokovic prevailed as Wawrinka ultimately ran out of steam but Stan had shown how to push Djokovic with an aggressive baseline game. Onto the final, and one of Nadal's most impressive results and performances, a 4 set win against Djokovic - at this point, I really felt Nadal had turned round that match-up in his favour, beating Djokovic in a big final on his (Nadal's) least favourite surface, fast hardcourts. This was Nadal's 13th slam title, and he was really closing in on Federer now. In the womens' Serena won her 17th slam title, beating Azarenka, in a 3 setter, the first two of which were tight, before a one-sided final set. Azarenka was still a force on the hardcourts at that stage, but not for much longer, as a combination of injury and personal issues took their toll.

In the Davis Cup, for the 2nd year running the Czech Republic won the trophy, this time having beaten Serbia in the final, and having defeated Argentina 3-2 away on clay in the semis. That 2 man team of Stepanek and Berdych did achieve a lot in the competition. Djokovic won the ATP World Finals beating Federer in final in 2 tight sets. This started to signal the end of Federer's dominance in the competition, and Djokovic's own subsequent dominance of it.

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Post by Henman Bill on Thu 09 Apr 2020, 8:47 pm

Thanks for this. You've definitely jogged my memory of a few things I'd half forgotten about and hadn't thought about for years.

Ferrer and Almagro were solid dependable players, but it would have been a surprise if they ever won a slam. They would consistently, reliably get to quarter and semis but rarely seemed to beat players above their own ranking. Even on a good day, they just didn't have the weapons or game plan to derail the top guys. You could perhaps think it more likely that a harder hitting player ranked 20 or 30 would have a purple patch combined with a good draw to win a slam, than Ferrer or Almagro.

The Stakhovsky was quite the upset - perhaps one of the top 5 upsets since I've been watching tennis (along with Rosol, Soderling, Bastl amonst others..you know it's a memorable upset when you don't even have to name the opponent for tennis fans to know what you are referring to!). It was amazing to see that relentless serve and volley from Stakhovsky. The 4th set tiebreak was very close. He could easily have lost it. Right to the last point I thought Federer would win. Surely he would have won a 5th set. Stakhovsky, unlike Rosol and Soderling, never seemed to build on the win and move up the rankings, and never did anything else of note.

The Nadal-Djokovic French Open 2013 encounter was real class and quality and entertainment. It would be my favourite match between them but for one thing...the net touch from Djokovic, which Rafa called out, on a smash. At the time Djokovic suffered in the smash department and with a bit more confidence in smashes, even just winning that one point, might have made a difference. So that was slightly annoying to see a crucial and who knows potentially even decisive point decided in that way. Took the edge of it for me and it wasn't the same match after.

I kind of agree that in 2013 Murray seemed the best grass court player - at the time he was the holder of Wimbledon, a finalist the previous year, and the holder of the Olympics and his grass game just looked better than Djokovic's, as well as benefitting from home support there. You would not have guessed that Djokovic would end up winning so many Wimbledons after that.

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Post by No name Bertie on Thu 09 Apr 2020, 9:33 pm

Here is another analytical question as this period is reviewed chronologically.  What is it about the particular physicality and skill sets of Rafael Nadal that makes him so potent and consistent on clay that doesn't work for him off the clay as well?  And what precisely was it that made him so ineffectual on the grass post 2011 up to 2018?

Mr Invisible has mentioned above that this was due to Nadal meeting up with big flat hard hitting players, but surely Nadal also encountered these players during his 2006 - 2011 runs at Wimbledon where he reached the final five times.  Post 2011 I have heard the reason why he didn't do so well at Wimbledon was because he couldn't readily bend down low at the knees, which is what is needed on grass against the flat hard hitting players, where the ball tends to skid rather than bouncing.

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Post by MrInvisible on Fri 10 Apr 2020, 10:48 am

@Bertie, I think there's several factors explaining the struggles Nadal had between 2012 and 2017 at Wimbledon:

1) As you've alluded to, the requirement to bend down low on the surface, and impact this had on his knees.
2) He's always tended to play himself into the tournament at Wimbledon, finding his form over the first few rounds, even in the earlier years when he had better results (e.g. that 5 setter with Robert Kendrick). Skipping the warm-up tournaments (usually Queens) as he tended to do later impacted on this even further. Once he reaches the 2nd week at Wimbledon it needs either Djokovic/Federer to beat him or a big server in red hot form and he's generally less vulnerable.
3) In 2018 and 2019 it was clear that Nadal had worked hard on adapting his game, developing a greater set of options to win on grass - look at his matches during those years at Wimbledon in comparison with 2007-2011. During those earlier years, he was winning using his classic claycourt game, teeing up to the big forehand. Whilst he does still construct a lot of rallies on grass this way, he has developed the serve into a more potent weapon on grass, the backhand slice is lower and deeper than before, and he's developed very effective dropshots and angled volleys. During 2012-17 I would argue he hadn't yet developed this more rounded game on grass, with ability to win shorter points, and therefore came unstuck early on.

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Post by Henman Bill on Sat 11 Apr 2020, 6:38 pm

Good analysis on Wimbledon, above.

As for the clay, points are longer, and then benefits players with stronger fitness/physicality. Some of it could be down to chance, the roof closing in 2012 and then Rosol playing the best set of his life at that moment. Rosol would have won that set against Federer, or Sampras, or anyone.

On clay, it is harder to hit winners all the time due to slower courts, very difficult to do so without also making a lot of unforced errors. So this benefits someone like Nadal, who for the most part, isn't trying to hit winners but forcing the opponent's error, or waiting for the error.

A well put together 26-min highlights of the Rosol match is here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCO1DbPSRL4 Rafa seems to be struggling with the low grass balls here. Quite different to clay, where with the high bounce, it just gave him time to wind up big shots.

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Post by No name Bertie on Sat 11 Apr 2020, 7:32 pm

I remember the Nadal naysayers saying that in the second week of Wimbledon the courts turned to dust - equivalent to clay.  That was being said during the 2006-2011 period when Nadal was challenging Federer for dominance at Wimbledon.  They also mentioned that the grass and surface had been changed which made the courts slower - they kept repeating a comment that Mr Henman mentioned about the courts playing more slowly - maybe something to do with the change in the grass used (a more hardy grass) or something to do with the construction of the court.  But Henman mentioned that during the start of the rise of Federer - who was a baseliner rather than a serve and volleyer.  The changes was said to favour baseliners like Federer against the more aggressive serve and volleyers who used to dominate at Wimbledon, before the rise of the baseliners.  However other people said it was more to do with the change in string technology, that allowed baseliners to have better control of the ball placement (luxion strings or something).

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Post by JuliusHMarx on Sat 11 Apr 2020, 9:36 pm

From an earlier point about the relative physical peak(s) of the big three, it was quite rare that even two of them peaked at the same time, let alone all three.

Luxilon strings were around earlier - Kuerten won the FO in 1997 using Luxilon - and credited the strings for his wins (I assume there's an element of self-deprecation in that). My understanding was that they imparted more spin, thus favoured top-spinners, rather than flat hitters - especially useful on clay.

Federer wasn't a baseliner (check out his early matches at Wimby) but he wasn't an all-out serve and volleyer either. He certainly adapted and became more of a baseliner when the grass conditions started to suit that style of game more.

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Post by MrInvisible on Mon 13 Apr 2020, 11:06 pm

Its an interesting one - they did change the grass at Wimbledon but I can't put my finger on when exactly.  In the 1990s it was felt that the spectacle wasn't as good as it could be - was getting a bit too serve dominated.  Probably a bit harsh on Sampras who was the dominant player at Wimbledon in this era.  He had a reputation of being a bit dull and methodical, and unfortunately ended up in a few forgettable finals.  Sampras was an amazing talent but when he was up against other big-servers it wasn't always the most entertaining - that's why the match-up with Agassi was so important then to bring the contrast in styles.

Federer's 1st Wimbledon title in 2003 was different to the others that followed.  That 1st year he literally followed virtually every serve up to the net and played a classic serve-volley game.  Had the grass changed then or did that come later?  I can't really say.  In 2003 I recalled he played big servers, some of whom were out-and-out serve-volleyers (Lopez) whilst others (Roddick, Phillipoussis) were attacking baseliners.  I don't recall him coming up against players with the supreme defensive skills of Nadal and Djokovic, or return game of Murray that year.  

I did personally worry after that Djokovic-Nadal final in Wimbledon 2011 that we were heading into an era of attritional tennis at Wimbledon with long drawn out rallies (which I'm v happy to see on clay, but not grass) but limited volleying or variety.  However, both players adapted their game over recent years, to add more slices, volleys and variety, and Federer has played a more net-based game than in previous years, whilst the likes of Cilic and Raonic have done well, coming to the net behind their big serves.  

Of course, the epic Isner v Anderson acefest semi-final of a couple of years ago was a bit of a 1990s throwback but normal service (pun intended) was resumed in the final, with Djokovic reasserting the natural order.

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Post by MrInvisible on Thu 16 Apr 2020, 4:31 pm

Onto 2014...

In the Australian Open, the match of the tournament was Wawrinka getting his revenge over Djokovic from previous year's US Open, by beating him in a pulsating 5 setter in quarter-finals which he won 9-7 in final set.  Federer had had a bad 2013, not won a slam title since Wimbledon 2012 and some were starting to wonder if he was going to call it a day soon.  A consequence of this poor run of form was a slip down the rankings and seedings.  However, the main victim of this was Murray who had to play Federer in quarters and lost during a v impressive performance from Roger.  Federer also beat Tsonga earlier on so clearly had a decent tournament, though Nadal beat him comfortably in the semis. Wawrinka beat Berdych, who had now reached semis of all slams, a decent achievement in this competitive era. In the run-up to final it was felt unlikely Wawrinka would be able to bring his best form from the Djokovic match and trouble Nadal, but on the day Wawrinka got off to a great start, finding his form and firing winners against a shell-shocked Nadal.  Unfortunately, the match was then affected by injury, with Nadal picking up injury early on during 2nd set.  The warrior that he is, Nadal played through the pain to pick up a set and keep the match competitive.  He was clearly in discomfort and when the match was concluded in 5th set after he'd struggled on there was sense of anti-climax despite Wawrinka's achievement - a feeling that there would be an asterisk with this title despite being the player of the tournament and deservedly winning it.  In the womens' it was a feelgood win with Li Na beating Cibulkova to finally win the Australian Open after losing 2 finals in past 3 years.  Serena lost in 4th round to Ivanovic.

Djokovic quickly put behind him his Australian Open disappointment by winning Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back - the former in a tight 3 setter against Federer, the latter in a straight sets win over Nadal.

In the claycourt season, things were bit different compared to previous years, in that Nadal didn't win Monte Carlo (Wawrinka beat Federer in final) Barcelona (won by Nishikori) or Rome (where he lost in final in straight sets to Djokovic).  He did win Madrid though, after Nishikori retired in 3rd set.  Maybe just maybe things were going to pan out differently at Roland Garros.  In the event, Nadal went on to win yet another French Open title, defeating Djokovic in 4 sets - the first two being v even and competitive, before running away with rest of the match.  What about Wawrinka, new Australian Open champion and winner of Monte Carlo?  Lost in 1st round to Garcia-Lopez.  Federer went out early too, in one of the shocks of the tournament, in 5 sets to Gulbis, who went all the way to the semis, where he lost to Djokovic.  Another good solid showing on the clay for Murray who reached the semis, with a good straight sets win over Verdasco, though Andy did lose comprehensively in straight sets to Nadal in their semi-final.  Sharapova, hardly renown for her claycourt pedigree earlier on in career, picked up her 2nd French Open title, beating the young Romanian Halep, who impressed, though ultimately got bit nervous in final.

During this year's Wimbledon, Djokovic's link up with Becker a few months ago was starting to pay dividends - he was slicing more, coming to the net more and playing a more varied all-court game on the surface than previously.  Out of the big 4 players, Nadal was the 1st to lose.  He'd reached the 2nd week, unlike last couple of years, and got his revenge on Rosol along the way, only to lose to a big-hitting inspired Nick Kyrgios, who, at the time, looked v dangerous with a lot of potential.  Murray was the next to fall - in the quarters to Dimitrov, who played such a skilful yet aggressive grasscourt game that day that has sadly been seldom repeated since by the Bulgarian.  It was a straight sets demolition - Dimitrov looking like he'd come of age, outclassing Murray in every department, and Murray being bit subdued, missing too many 1st serves and staying at the baseline too much.  Djokovic found himself down 2 sets to 1 against Cilic in his quarter, but came roaring back, to run away with rest of the match.  Djokovic beat Dimitrov in the semis, in 4 sets, but it was a close match.  Federer had a straightforward straight sets win over Raonic in his semi.  The final proved to be a very entertaining contest, going the distance to 5 sets, Djokovic coming out on top, benefiting from the work on volleying with Becker, but Federer showing signs that he could still compete at the highest level.  In the womens, it was a more one-sided affair, with Kvitová beating Bouchard for the loss of just 3 games to claim her 2nd Wimbledon title.  The biggest shock came in 3rd round when Cornet beat Serena.  Halep put in another good tournament, reaching the semis.

Tsonga won Toronto Masters with Federer picking up Cincinnati.  Unusually we ended the year with 4 different mens' slam winners, with another 1st time winner coming through, in a completely unexpected final line-up, Cilic beating Nishikori.  At the time, it did feel things were starting to open up, with Wawrinka and Cilic coming through and proving they could compete at highest level - the 'big 4' looked to be expanding into a wider group of slam contenders, especially as Cilic and Nishikori had beaten Federer and Djokovic in their respective matches in semis.  The final wasn't great, but it is worth noting Cilic's performance on not dropping a set from the quarters onwards against Berdych, Federer and Nishikori.  This US Open final was the 1st time since 2005 Australian Open that neither Federer, Nadal (who didn't play) or Djokovic had reached a slam final.  Murray lost a lot of points from Wimbledon and Torono/Cincinnati, so fell down the rankings - consequently meeting and losing to Djokovic in the quarters. Wawrinka lost in 5 sets to Nishikori in the quarters.  In the womens' a dominant Serena did not drop a set to beat Wozniacki and win her 18th slam title, drawing her level with Navratilova and Evert.  Halep and Kvitová both lost early, in 3rd round.

Federer, who'd already had a much better year than 2013, won Shanghai whilst Djokovic won Paris.  The end of year ATP finals were slight anti-climax in that Federer pulled out of final against Djokovic with back injury.  Perhaps this was precautionary (who knows) but Federer was able to successfully team up with Wawrinka to win the Davis Cup final against France.

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Post by sirfredperry on Sun 19 Apr 2020, 8:49 am

I guess 2014 was the year when it became clear that Fed was not going to go gentle into that good night but would rage, rage against the dying of the light.
It could be argued that, apart from injury-hit 2016, Rog has continued this raging til now.
As MrI said, the USO in 2014 did seem to mark a turning point, especially as Stan had won the AO earlier in the year.
The Man was able to use this as a springboard. Cilic was to make two more GS finals but Nishi - too often injury-prone - has not really been able to push on.
It's still something of a shock to realise it's almost six years since Bouchard was in that Wimbledon final. A lot of water under the bridge for the Canadian since then.
Thanks, MrI, for these yearly reviews. I look forward (to looking back) to the rest of the decade.

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Post by MrInvisible on Tue 21 Apr 2020, 6:15 pm

Before reviewing 2015-2019 I thought I'd do a quick summary of slam title wins and year end top 10 for 2010-14:

No. slam wins:
Nadal: 8
Djokovic: 6
Federer: 2
Murray: 2
Wawrinka: 1
Cilic: 1
Losing slam finalist:
Djokovic: 6
Murray: 4
Nadal: 4
Federer: 2
Soderling: 1
Berdych: 1
Ferrer: 1
Nishikori: 1

Year end No. 1

2010:
1. Nadal 2. Federer 3. Djokovic 4. Murray 5. Soderling 6. Berdych 7. Ferrer 8. Roddick 9. Verdasco 10. Youzhny

2011:
1. Djokovic 2. Nadal 3. Federer 4. Murray 5. Ferrer 6. Tsonga 7. Berdych 8. Fish 9. Tipsarevic 10. Almagro

2012:
1. Djokovic 2. Federer 3. Murray 4. Nadal 5. Ferrer 6. Berdych 7. Del Potro 8. Tsonga 9. Tisparevic 10. Gasquet

2013:
1. Nadal 2. Djokovic 3. Ferrer 4. Murray 5. Del Potro 6. Federer (!) 7. Berdych 8. Wawrinka 9. Gasquet 10. Tsonga

2014:
1. Djokovic 2. Federer 3. Nadal 4. Wawrinka 5. Nishikori 6. Murray 7. Berdych 8. Raonic 9. Cilic 10. Ferrer


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Post by MrInvisible on Fri 24 Apr 2020, 6:59 pm

Onto 2015, and hoping at least someone's still reading this Smile

In the Australian Open, we had another Djokovic v Murray final, and this followed pattern of their previous final there - two high quality intensely contested opening sets, going either way, before Djokovic ran away with the rest of the match.  The win was Djokovic's 8th slam title, drawing him level with such illustrious company as Connors, Lendl and Agassi.  The biggest shock was Federer losing in the 3rd round to Andreas Seppi.  Nadal did better, but ended up losing in the quarters to Berdych.  Both these losses were to players that both Federer and Nadal had commanding head-to-head wins against, and there was a feeling at this stage of the year that time that their slam-winning (Nadal away from Roland Garros) days were coming to an end.  Wawrinka had another 5 setter with Djokovic, in their semi-final, which certainly had its moments, but Djokovic was able to last the pace and prevailed 6-0 in the 5th.

Djokovic was unstoppable for a while afterwards, winning both Indian Wells and Miami, before going on to win Monte Carlo and Rome.  Murray had a good win, picking up the Madrid claycourt masters.  Going into that year's French Open there was a real sense of the momentum being with Djokovic.  Nadal had fallen down the rankings and the big shocker in the draw was that he was due to play Djokovic in the quarters.  This showdown had a big build-up, but proved to be anti-climatic, with Djokovic winning in a surprisingly one-sided 3 set match.  The result may not have been a massive shock but the manner of it was.  Murray had another good showing, reaching the semis, with a win over Ferrer.  He also pushed Djokovic to 5 sets, the closest Murray had come to reaching the final, and very impressive.  Wawrinka beat Federer in straight sets in the quarters, a match confirming that Stan was now the Swiss topdog for a change, then Tsonga, before his final with Djokovic.  With Djokovic having done the hard work and beaten Nadal there was a real sense of expectation here, that Djokovic would final complete his career grand slam.  Stan though had other ideas, playing some truly inspired tennis to stun Djokovic in the final.  Djokovic did not play bad but just ran into a player at top of their game.  There was now an element of doubt on whether Djokovic could win the one slam title to have eluded him.  Meanwhile Serena defeated the relatively surprise finalist Safarova who put in a decent display to push her to 3 sets.

What would Djokovic's response be after this setback?  Well, he went on to win the two remaining slams, defeating Federer in both the Wimbledon and US Open finals.  Disappointment for Federer at missing out - the matches were reasonably competitive (both went to 4 sets) but there was a sense of inevitability in both of them.  However, after a bad 2014 and a poor start to 2015 Federer was now back at the top seriously challenging in the slams at least, and talk of retirement was looking more distant than it had done recently.  At Wimbledon, Nadal had another early loss, this time to the unorthodox Dustin Brown, whilst Djokovic was pushed hard in 1st week by Anderson who took him to 5 sets.  Gasquet was the surprise semi-finalist, beating Wawrinka in an entertaining 5 setter.  Federer beat Murray in 3 sets in their semis - from the match I recall Murray played decently, but Federer really played at a v high level - this match was a sign that Federer was 'back in business'.  Serena beat Sharapova in the women's final.

Federer continued his improved form by winning Cincinatti whilst Murray won the Toronto Masters.  In the US Open, there was an early loss for Nadal, losing in 3rd round to Fognini who out-hit him with his dazzling winners.  Nadal was continuing to struggle away from Roland Garros - surely his days of winning slams away from the clay were over?  Anderson reached the quarters for the 1st time, beating Murray in 4th round, and Wawrinka showed signs of greater consistency, reaching the semis, though lost out to Federer who got his revenge from French Open meeting earlier that year.  The womens' final was a surprise, an all-Italian affair with Flavia Pennetta beating Roberta Vinci.

Djokovic carried on dominating, winning the Shanghai and Paris Masters, whilst Murray and Team GB had a great end to the year, picking up a historic Davis Cup title - a fantastic achievement given the number of years GB had been out of the world group.  With some good wins over US, France and Australia, Murray put in some great performances over the year, but was also assisted with the likes of Dan Evans and James Ward pulling off some good wins in singles rubbers.  Great achievement also for Leon Smith who had clearly managed to coax some great performances from all his squad.

The year ended with Djokovic in complete dominance, Federer in a happier place than Nadal, and Wawrinka having caught up Murray on 2 slams and playing his part in the 'big 5'.

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Post by sirfredperry on Sat 25 Apr 2020, 8:45 am

As ever, a good account of a year. I always felt that GB were fated to win the DC that year. Murray was unbelievable and Belgium away was always going to be a winnable tie.

I thought that when Djoko failed to win the French in 2015 that that would be it for him at RG. He was also a set up in that title match with Stan. Has he ever lost a GS final after winning the first set? He can't have lost many matches at all after going a set up. Just shows how well Stan played.

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Post by Oioi on Sat 25 Apr 2020, 9:03 pm

Thanks for continuing this series! I remember enjoying the 2015 season quite a lot after what I felt was a bit of a lull for the sport in 2014, though that's possibly got something to do with Murray struggling that year after coming back from back surgery! I recall really enjoying Murray's style of play in 2015 under the tutelage of Amelie Mauresmo, especially on clay. It didn't win him slams, but I feel he used much more variety that year than he did during his slam winning years of 2012-13 under Lendl where I felt he played more of a generic baseline game which wasn't as interesting to watch imo. Winning the Davis Cup was a great effort, think he won 10 of the 11 rubbers the UK needed to win it. Not sure whether he'd trade that win for another slam tbh!

Another memory I have of that year is Federer being hyper aggressive in the second half of the season which was awesome to watch. The invention of the "SABR" was a particular highlight and I'm surprised he hasn't continued doing that as much as it brought him a decent amount of success against Djokovic iirc. The US open final was a tough outing though as he had so many chances to break but had an awful conversion rate. That match could easily have gone the other way had some of those big points played out differently.

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Post by Henman Bill on Thu 30 Apr 2020, 3:59 am

Just catching up on this.

Agree that the 2015 Djokovic-Federer slam finals were simultaneously quite competitive and tight and yet the result did have a feeling of almost inevitably about it at the same time.

For a little while around this period, Djokovic and Wawrinka was arguably the best rivalry in tennis, or at least the best matches. Interestingly, when Djokovic beat Stan 12-10 in the AO 2013 his lead in the rivalry was 12-2, with both Stan's win's coming in minor tournaments when Novak was a teenager. Novak then extended this to 15-2 throughout the rest of 2013.

So it wasn't really a great rivalry at this point, Novak had dominated it totally, but with Stan having one notable but losing performance.

So it wasn't until Stan actually scored the win 9-7 at the 2014 Australian Open that it really became a properly good rivalry, since that was actually his first win over Novak since Vienna 2006.

From 2014 to present day the rivalry is 4-4; overall is 19-6.

The other feature of this rivalry was how the slam matches were 50-50 encounters between too great players while the others were just strolls for Novak as if Stan were still a 30ish ranked player.

Slam head to head is 4-4. All others 15-2 with both Stan's two in 2006 when Nole was about 18.

Stan has won the last three slam meetings without requiring a 5th set in any. The rivalry has actually tipped steadily in Stan's favour over time.

https://www.atptour.com/en/players/atp-head-2-head/novak-djokovic-vs-stan-wawrinka/D643/W367

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Post by MrInvisible on Sat 02 May 2020, 1:09 am

Onto 2016, which proved a momentous year for both Djokovic and Murray.

At the Australian Open, the big shock was Nadal losing in the 1st round (!) to Verdasco. Djokovic had a tough 5 setter against the stubborn Gilles Simon in the 4th round. Wawrinka went out in 4th round in 5 sets to Raonic, whilst Murray and Federer pretty much sailed through the draw. Onto the semis, Djokovic had a more straightforward 4 set win over Federer than their matches in 2015. Now there was a real feeling that Djokovic had Federer's number. Murray meanwhile was taken to 5 sets by an impressive and improved Raonic. Onto the final, and it was a more one-sided affair than the most recent Djokovic v Murray Aus Open final - a poor start from Murray, and the match only really coming alive in a tight 3rd set which Djokovic edged in a tie-break. I've always been a bit puzzled on why Murray struggled so much in all those finals with Djokovic. Was it a match-up issue? Seems unlikely as Murray won 2 of his slams beating Djokovic in final twice at Wimbledon and US Open, and also pushed him to 5 sets on clay at 2015 Roland Garros. Djokovic is so comfortable on the Australian Open courts, but why has Murray not been able to bring his best tennis for most of time in those finals, having played so well to get there. Looking at his career, I always felt Murray could have won an Australian Open title or maybe another US Open, given the game he had. On the womens', 2016 was when Serena's dominance in slam finals started to crack - she lost in a good quality final to Kerber, who managed to exploit Serena's comparative lack of movement by relentlessly playing the angles and taking ball early. Serena v Sharapova quarter-final may not have proved remarkable at time, but 5 weeks' later it was revealed that Sharapova had failed a drug test for this match, and hence her doping ban came into effect. The Aus Open was also one of Konta's streaky tournaments - she got through to the semis.

Djokovic dominated again through the Spring, winning the Indian Wells and Miami double, beating Raonic and Nishikori in the respective finals. The claycourt build-up to Roland Garros was more mixed - Nadal won Monte Carlo, Djokovic won Madrid and Murray won Rome, beating Djokovic in straight sets, a truly impressive achievement.

The French Open promised to be an intriguing affair, with Djokovic's quest looking a bit more in peril given Wawrinka's performance in last year's final, and surely Nadal would bounce back. Unfortunately, Nadal succumbed to injury in 3rd round, and with no slam since 2014 and growing injury problems, there were doubts on his long-term future. Federer was also struggling with injury and did not compete - I believe this was the 1st slam he had missed for a long time. One of the weirdest matches was Murray going 2 sets down to the tricky Stepanek in 1st round - however, Murray turned it round, only to struggle in 2nd round against a French wildcard. However, he came good, and produced one of the results of his career, defeating last year's champion Wawrinka in semis to reach the final. I personally think Murray's runner up trophy at French Open is one of his underrated achievements. He even took the 1st set off Djokovic in the final, only for Djokovic to step up a gear and avoid his chance slipping away. With Nadal out and Wawrinka taken out by Murray, surely it was Djokovic's destiny to win the elusive French Open title, and so it proved. A massive achievement for Djokovic, particularly as he'd completed a non calendar year grand slam. Many pundits were also tipping him to win the full set of slams in 2016 such was his dominance. Serena reached the final but lost again, and was unusually overpowered by Muguruza, who really did look like she could dominate the game back then.

Onto Wimbledon, where Federer had returned. The big shock was Djokovic losing in the 3rd round to Querrey - this marked a period where Djokovic, having fulfilled his big achievement at Roland Garros, lost some intensity and started to have a few issues in his personal life. Nadal was still out injured, whilst Murray eased through the draw, other than a 5 setter with Tsonga in the quarters. Federer survived a tough 5 setter with Cilic in quarters only to succumb in 5 sets in semi-finals to Raonic, who was playing the best tennis of his career. This Wimbledon final felt different - Murray was the favourite, and the match-up with Raonic worked in his favour. In the event, Raonic played v well and straight sets didn't quite reflect how close it was at times, but a well deserved win for Murray, all the hard work and improvements since 2015 finally coming to fruition. Meanwhile, a morale boosting win for Serena, getting her revenge on Kerber from Australian Open in the final.

Djokovic won Toronto Masters whilst Cilic picked up Cincinatti. At the Rio Olympics, Murray carried on his fine form from Wimbledon, to pick up his 2nd Olympic singles gold medal, a great achievement. Like in 2012, Del Potro played an important part, this time beating Djokovic in the 1st round. He went on to take silver, taking Murray to 4 sets in an entertaining final.

At the US Open, Federer was again out, his season finished for the year due to the back injury he'd picked up earlier in year. Nadal played, but lost in 4th round to Pouille. Murray lost to Nishikori in a topsy turvy 5 setter, whilst Djokovic was back on track. However, he was to meet his new nemesis Wawrinka, in the final, and Stan once again came up with some scintillating winners in an all-court display to beat Djokovic in 4 sets - like the 2015 French Open, Djokovic didn't play bad at all, and it was a fairly close match, but he was just outplayed by an inspired Wawrinka. Kerber won her 2nd slam title, beating Pliskova in final, and clearly looking the best womens' hardcourt player.

In Davis Cup, there was another fairytale win, this time for Argentina, with Del Potro digging deep to inspire his squad to victory (they beat Croatia away in final) - there were some good performances from Pella and Schwartzman too, with both players going to achieve decent results subsequently in their career.

The main story for rest of the year though was Murray's assault on the number 1 spot - a gruelling run seeing him win China Open, Shanghai Open, Vienna, Paris Masters and the ATP finals, where he beat Djokovic in final to secure a hard-won and richly deserved number 1. This fantastic achievement though sadly was to come at a great cost to Murray with the subsequent injury struggles. If Murray hadn't chased his number 1 ranking dream so single-mindedly, could he have stayed at top for longer and maybe even picked up another slam? I guess we'll never know - maybe his body was already on borrowed time, and the gruelling schedule at end of 2016 just accelerated it a bit.

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Post by sirfredperry on Sat 02 May 2020, 5:38 pm

Thanks, MrI, for another good round-up of a year.

I think you're right to think that Murray probably did himself in going for the number one spot at the end of 2016. In fact, he would probably have got there, in any case, in early 2017, as Djoko lost a lot of points.

In the end, Andy had an indifferent start to 2017 but was still top for around 40 weeks.

Few would have thought, at the end of Fed's injury-hit 2016, that Rog would bounce back so well that he would take three of the next five slams.



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Post by Henman Bill on Sat 09 May 2020, 4:10 am

Yes, Murray should have won an AO by now. Do we think the fact that it was a slower court made it more physically gruelling playing matches with perhaps more rallies and more court time over two weeks than Wimbledon? And then the heat, you are not exactly growing up used to that heat if you are from Scotland. Maybe Murray went into some of those finals already 10% off his game and a bit weary.

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Post by MrInvisible on Wed 13 May 2020, 5:11 pm

Onto 2017...

An exhausted but jubilant Murray had reached his lifelong ambition getting to world number 1. Djokovic had split with Becker, after a v successful 3 year partnership and Federer was poised to make a return after his longest ever stint out of the game since turning pro. Surely though the lack of match practice would count against him and he'd need time to ease back into the tour.

The biggest shock of the Australian Open came in the 2nd round with Djokovic losing to Istomin, one of the biggest upsets in his career particularly at his favourite slam. Clearly something was amiss with Djokovic - lost a bit of focus having won Roland Garros previous year, and the personal issues were starting to rear their head. One notable early match was Karlovic outlasting Zeballos in a marathon 5 setter, going to 22-20 in the 5th set, having lost the first 2 sets with Karlovic inevitably breaking the record at Aus Open for most aces served in a match. Murray meanwhile was not able to capitalise on Djokovic's early exit, going down in 4 sets to an inspired net-rushing Mischa Zverev. Nadal had a tough early match against Alex Zverev before easing through draw against Monfils and Raonic. His semi-final against Dimitrov proved to be a real humdinger, a top quality 5 setter, with Grigor pushing Nadal all the way, and belatedly showing signs of being able to mix it at the highest level. Federer meanwhile impressed in a straight sets dismantling of Berdych in 3rd round, going on to beat Nishikori in 5 sets in 4th round, and Wawrinka in another 5 setter in semi-final to set up the much-anticipated dream final with Nadal. It was the first time in a number of years since the two had met in a slam final, and whilst it didn't quite live up to the very high expectations it was a v enjoyable match with some great rallies at times. Federer looked a bit more confident at key moments than in previous encounters, and Nadal didn't quite seem to have that intensity and physicality of before though it did go the distance. Nadal wasn't quite so dominant on the forehand whilst Federer's backhand had turned into a more potent weapon. It was Federer's first slam since 2012 and caused ripples in the game. Serena was the womens' champion defeating a surprise finalist, her sister Venus in 2 reasonably competitive close sets in a fairly entertaining match.

Federer didn't stop there - he went on to win the Indian Wells and Miami Masters back-to-back, beating Wawrinka and Nadal in the respective finals - an astonishing achievement to back up his Aus Open comeback triumph. Normal service was resumed in the claycourt season with Nadal winning Monte Carlo and Madrid. Alex Zverev impressed in winning Rome. Federer decided to skip the claycourt tournaments to concentrate on Wimbledon.

At the French Open, the ever improving Thiem had the result of his career so far, beating Djokovic in the quarters, only to lose in straight sets to a dominant Nadal in the semis. Murray had had a poor year until now, but had a good tournament at Roland Garros, seeing off Del Potro, up and coming Russian Khachanov and Nishikori en-route to the semis, where he ran into Wawrinka. This was a keenly fought contest until Wawrinka took the 4th set on a tie-break and easily come through in the 5th set against a visibly tiring Murray. Around this time Murray was starting to show some of the wear and tear his run to number 1 on 2016 had inflicted on him. The final, which proved to be Wawrinka's last slam final, was his most underwhelming of his 4 slam finals, and, perhaps feeling the effects of his semi-final with Murray, he was not able to bring his best tennis. That said, Nadal was flawless, keeping his level at an extremely high level even whilst his opponent could not match the intensity, and having not won the title since 2014 Nadal was particularly hungry. It was also a special historic 'decima' - 10th French Open title for him. For Wawrinka this pretty much marked the end of his days challenging at the top and Magnus Norman knew the writing was on the wall, calling time on the partnership at the end of the year. In the womens' final Halep came up short again, going down in a tight 3 setter to the free-hitting Jelena Ostapenko, who hit winners from all over. The Latvian though has pretty much sunk without trace since.

Onto the grass and Murray was clearly showing signs of injury - he struggled at Queens going out in an early loss and was evidently carrying the hip injury at Wimbledon. Nevertheless he managed to get through the draw, defeating potentially dangerous opponents Dustin Brown, Fabio Fognini and Benoit Paire, before succumbing to Querrey in 5 sets. The manner of Murray's defeat, losing the 4th and 5th sets 6-1, really highlighted his injury discomfort and he sadly and inevitably called it a day for the year shortly afterwards. Nadal had a better tournament than previous years, reaching the 4th round, where he went out to big serving Muller in a long extended 5 setter. Djokovic eased through the 1st week, only to retire injured in 2nd set in his quarter-final with Berdych. Like Murray, Djokovic's exploits in 2016 were catching up with him. With Djokovic, Murray and Nadal out, it was a great opportunity for Federer, who duly obliged, beating Dimitrov, Raonic and Berdych with a minimum of fuss before facing Cilic in the final. If memory serves me correct, the final was marred a little bit by Cilic's blisters, but Federer was impressive nevertheless, serving well and playing aggressively to win in straight sets. Muguruza beat Venus Williams in a match which was initially competitive in tight 1st set before a 6-0 whitewash in 2nd set.

Onto the US Open, the strangest slam of that particular year, which was hit by withdrawals - Wawrinka with a knee injury ending his year, Murray out with his hip injury and Djokovic with an elbow injury. Logic would suggest one of Federer or Nadal winning. Federer though lost to a resurgent Del Potro in 4 sets in the quarter-finals. Nadal had a dream of a draw all the way til semi-finals, where he beat Del Potro in 4 sets. The other semi-final was one few would have predicted, Anderson vs Carreno Busta. Credit to Anderson, he'd beaten some decent players en-route - up-and-coming Coric and in-form Querrey, but no-one of Big 4/5 calibre. He did show some fight in the final, playing well, but was always going to struggle in the match-up with Nadal, who won in 3 straightforward sets. Certainly one of Nadal's easiest slam titles, with a very soft draw, but over a long career these things balance out and it was the flip side to facing Djokovic in all those finals in 2011-12 and running into all those tricky opponents early on Wimbledon over the years. Sloane Stephens was the unexpected winner of the womens' title, beating Madison Keys in a one-sided final.

Federer picked up his 3rd Masters 1000 title of the year, beating Nadal in final at Shanghai whilst the Paris Masters final was an altogether more unexpected affair which saw Jack Sock beat Filip Krajinovic. Sock was the surprise qualifier gatecrashing the end of year ATP finals, a tournament more entertaining than previous years, with Dimitrov beating Goffin in a very enjoyable final. At the time some felt both players could use this as springboard to big things in 2018, though this was not to happen. France finally won the Davis Cup, beating Goffin (2017's nearly man) and his much lower ranked Belgian team-mates, to fulfil the potential that generation of players had otherwise not really delivered during their careers.

Nadal was the year end number 1, for 4th time in his career.

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Post by sirfredperry on Tue 19 May 2020, 1:20 pm

Federer's return in 2017 was staggering, possibly even to Rog himself.

He was probably hoping to stay fit and be reasonably competitive - not to start winning Slams and Masters 1,000-pointers again.

It was a pity Murray had done himself in getting to number one the year before. He would have made it to the top sometime early in '17 in any case due to Djoko's fall off.

Andy still managed 40 weeks at number one, but it could have been a lot more.


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Post by Henman Bill on Wed 20 May 2020, 4:45 am

The AO final started at about 5am I think in my time zone in Chile. There was one shot in that AO final a while later, maybe around 8am or a bit later, where having sat quite silently for several hours I jumped up and yelled and woke up everyone in the house.

Some of you might remember the point. It's not quite the same watching it back now, but with the tension at the time (look at the scoreboard)....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDv6uCyq8OE

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Post by No name Bertie on Wed 20 May 2020, 5:55 am

Henman Bill wrote:The AO final started at about 5am I think in my time zone in Chile. There was one shot in that AO final a while later, maybe around 8am or a bit later, where having sat quite silently for several hours I jumped up and yelled and woke up everyone in the house.

Some of you might remember the point. It's not quite the same watching it back now, but with the tension at the time (look at the scoreboard)....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDv6uCyq8OE
AO 2017 vs AO 2009.

There was a time when Nadal completely got the better of Federer - Nadal's top spun ball to Federer's backhand completely dominated Federer - it bounced too high for Federer's single handed back hand.  

So what changed between 2009 and 2017?  Was it more to do with Nadal losing the ability to put 4000 or so rpm on his top spin or something else?

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Post by MrInvisible on Mon 25 May 2020, 12:01 pm

@Bertie: For me, late period Nadal has a different game to his earlier incarnation - the forehand is not quite as reliable, but he has a bigger serve, a stronger backhand (with good slice options) and a greater desire to come forward. Federer has also changed his game - his backhand is more reliable than it was earlier in career, and he's made more use of chip and charge and blocked returns, which have proved very effective. Away from clay, late period Federer's game matches up much better to Nadal's than earlier in the career. In a lot of points in Aus Open 2017 final Federer's backhand more than held its own against Nadal's forehand (which had lost a bit of zip compared to earlier).

In a parallel world in 2020 at the moment, we'd be digesting the 1st day of play at Roland Garros and speculating if Thiem could finally beat Nadal there to win his inaugural slam. As it is we have to content ourselves with memories (and the occasional TennisTV classic rallies which pop up on my Facebook feed). So, into our tennis time machine we go once again to look back at the last decade, onto...

2018. Murray's number 1 ranking now seemed a long time ago, and he started the year with what he hoped would be a career-saving hip operation. Right on cue, at a time when British tennis was bracing itself for a more uncertain period, Kyle Edmund popped up with a sensational run to the Australian Open semi-finals, playing with supreme confidence and hitting some massive forehands backed up with powerful serving. Edmund did have the draw open up for him, but nevertheless beat Anderson in 1st round and Dimitrov in quarters, so was clearly in good form. The other surprise semi-finalist was Hyeon Chung, who beat Djokovic in the 4th round, in the big shock of the tournament - this was a match where the young Korean beat Djokovic at his own game. Chung also beat two rising stars in the tournament, Medvedev and Zverev. Sadly Edmund and Chung have both been unlucky with injuries at various points subsequently. Nadal reached the quarters, where he retired injured whilst trailing Cilic. Federer had an easier draw than a year ago, and had a fairly uneventful route to the semis. His semi-final with Chung was unfortunately curtailed by Chung sustaining an injury. The final between Federer and Cilic went to 5 sets, with Federer coming through surprisingly strongly 6-1 in the 5th. At this time of his career Cilic was playing some v good stuff but just seemed to have a bit of doubt at key moments in matches. This was Federer's last slam title (at the time of writing at least!). The women's final was pretty enjoyable, a decent 3 set encounter between surprise winner Wozniacki and Halep.

2018 was the beginning of the Masters events being shared out more equally - Del Potro winning Indian Wells, and Isner picking up Miami for one of the best results of his career. For British tennis we had Norrie popping up in Davis Cup and impressing on the clay against Spain, providing a further boost whilst Murray was recovering from his hip surgery.

Onto the clay, Nadal won Monte Carlo and Rome, with Zverev also doing well, winning Madrid, and taking Nadal to 3 sets in Rome. Federer skipped Roland Garros, whilst Djokovic had dropped down the rankings and went out to the unsung but inspired claycourt specialist Cecchinato in the quarters. Thiem hadn't had a great claycourt season up to now, but came good at Roland Garros, easily beating Zverev in quarters on way to the final. Nadal meanwhile had a surprisingly tough encounter in his quarter-final with Schwartzman, but had an easier time of it against Del Potro in the semis. The final was pretty one-sided - Thiem with a bit of stage fright on his slam final debut, and Nadal as strong as ever, winning in straight sets. In the womens' Halep was a hugely popular winner, finally coming good, beating Stephens in final after coming close in several slam finals before.

Onto Wimbledon, where Federer sailed through a somewhat kind draw in 1st week, only to eventually come unstuck in a serve dominated 5 setter, 13-11 in final set to Anderson. Cilic flopped early, losing in 2nd round to Pella, whilst Nadal was playing some great stuff and managed to beat Del Potro in a much tighter match, in 5 sets than their match at French Open. We had two epic, but contrasting semi-finals. Nadal v Djokovic was a contender for one of the best ever matches between the two - plenty of long brutal rallies, but also some exquisite dropshots and slices and a lot more volleying than previous grasscourt encounters between the two. I actually felt Nadal outplayed Djokovic for large parts of match, but somehow Djokovic was able to win the biggest points when it mattered. Anderson v Isner was more old-school 90s big serving (and a fair few volleys when they could return the big serves). There was an element of torture of the match - the physical impact it was having (despite the short rallies) on two players the wrong side of 30, but also the spectators, dying to be put out of their misery in that epic 5th set, which Anderson eventually won 26-24. The match forced Wimbledon to change their rules on 5th sets, coming up with the 12-12 tie-break. The womens' saw continuation of recent pattern with Serena reaching the final but coming unstuck, this time once again against the canny Angelique Kerber who won the title bit more under the radar this time.

Normal service resumed in the summer hardcourt slams - Nadal winning Toronto against rising star Tsitsipas and Djokovic winning Cincinnati against Federer. The US Open was notable for Serena's hissy fit against umpire Carlos Ramos in final, which lost her a few fans no doubt, though ought to be remembered more for the quality of Osaka's aggressive play. In the mens' the big story was Federer losing to Aussie battler Millman in the 4th round. The match of the tournament was Nadal beating Thiem in a pulsating 5 set quarter-final. For the 3rd consecutive slam, Del Potro ran into Nadal but this time was on winning side, Nadal retiring injured whilst 2 sets down. The final though was a fairly straightforward 3 set win for Djokovic over Del Potro.

Djokovic had a good finish to end of the year, winning Shanghai although surprisingly losing to young Russian Khachanov in Paris final and to an impressive Zverev in ATP world tour finals. Cilic made up for his slam final disappointments by winning the Davis Cup with Croatia, beating France in the final.

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Post by 88Chris05 on Tue 26 May 2020, 7:38 pm

2012 was my favourite year of the decade, unoriginal as that may be. The only downside was that Nadal was out of action for the second half of it, but that aside it's the closest we've had to the 'Big Four' (generous though some feel that is to Murray) all simultaneously looking strong, playing some of their best stuff and looking like threats at every Slam.

Actually thought the much-vaunted Australian Open final between Djokovic and Nadal that year was a little overrated, mind you. Very gruelling and dramatic, of course - but not a patch on the Nadal-Verdasco semi final three years previously, for example.

I think Federer's win over Nadal at Indian Wells and his back-to-back wins against Djokovic and Murray in the semis and final at Wimbledon were some of his greatest performances. Murray took the first set, of course, and even seemed to have a marginal edge in the second as it headed towards a tie-break...Then, out of nowhere, Federer conjured up one of the greatest single return games you'll ever see it, and in the blink of an eye the whole momentum and feel of the match had been transformed. He pick-pocketed Murray for the second set and fed off that momentum switch for the remainder.

Despite his multiple finals, before then I'd struggled to shake the feeling that Murray was fated to go down in history as a nearly-man at the Slams, but strangely enough even though he lost that Wimbledon final I felt he'd turned a corner, and that doubt started to disappear. As soon as he'd lost at Wimbledon, for whatever reason, I just felt absolutely sure that his turn was going to come at the upcoming US Open. Just one of those hunches which occasionally proves to be correct. Even when he surrendered that two set lead in the final, I was pretty calm and still utterly convinced he'd win.

I think I actually enjoyed Murray's great run in the Summer of 2012 more than his epic tear in 2016 which yielded the number one ranking.

As a side note, is Murray's 2016 the best one-Slam year of the Open Era? 'Only' one Slam, but nine titles overall across all surfaces, an Olympic gold, three Masters 1000 titles and a World Tour Finals victory against the other guy going for top spot. Not to mention his runner up spots in Melbourne and Paris.
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Post by Henman Bill on Wed 27 May 2020, 4:17 am

No name Bertie wrote:
Henman Bill wrote:The AO final started at about 5am I think in my time zone in Chile. There was one shot in that AO final a while later, maybe around 8am or a bit later, where having sat quite silently for several hours I jumped up and yelled and woke up everyone in the house.

Some of you might remember the point. It's not quite the same watching it back now, but with the tension at the time (look at the scoreboard)....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cDv6uCyq8OE
AO 2017 vs AO 2009.

There was a time when Nadal completely got the better of Federer - Nadal's top spun ball to Federer's backhand completely dominated Federer - it bounced too high for Federer's single handed back hand.  

So what changed between 2009 and 2017?  Was it more to do with Nadal losing the ability to put 4000 or so rpm on his top spin or something else?

Federer's backhand was better by 2017, although it was probably way back in about 2010-2012 when he really improved it rather than near 2017.

However, I don't think these matches were decided by changes in abilities or playing styles.

They were both very close matches which could have gone either way and were decided by a few points so don't read too much into the result.

Yes 2009 was not a tight 5th set but Federer could easily have won it in 4 and would have done so had his break point conversion and first serve % simply been no more than average on the day, but it was below par. On the other hand, he held his own in rallies better than expected.

In 2017 his first serve % was better. But who knows maybe that one point that I showed a clip of earlier if he loses that maybe he doesn't break in that game and loses the match.

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