On Monday, ATPTour.com began its Season in Review series by revealing the fifth through third-best Grand Slam matches of 2020. We continue the series by looking at the two best major clashes of the year. Later this week we’ll also look at the biggest comebacks and upsets at the Slams this year before turning our attention next week to the best matches, comebacks and upsets at ATP Tour tournaments.
Video courtesy Tennis Australia
2) Nick Kyrgios d. Karen Khachanov, Australian Open, R3, 25 January 2020 (Read Report)
Nick Kyrgios started the 2020 season with a clean slate, characterising himself as a “new and improved” Nick. Already a fan favourite Down Under, he became a legend by spearheading relief efforts to combat the awful bushfires that devastated Australia in the lead up to the tournament. Even before he entered Melbourne Arena for his clash against Karen Khachanov—then ranked nine spots above him at No. 17 in the FedEx ATP Rankings—the well-lubricated evening crowd was ready for a party, singing Sweet Caroline in unison. Little did they know that they should have been pacing themselves, as they were in a four tie-break, four-hour, 26-minute clash for the ages.
It all started innocently enough, if a Kyrgios match can ever be labelled as such, with Nick taking the first two sets 6-2, 7-6(5). The combustible Aussie, dressed in a fluorescent kit and on his best behaviour, raced out to a 4-2 lead in the third set, and it appeared as though he was off to the races for a highly anticipated fourth-round showdown with Rafael Nadal. But the Russian masher, as it turned out, was just getting warmed up. He broke back at love in the seventh game, then fended off a match point in the third-set tie-break before sending the match to a fourth set.
The Russian saved another match point in the fourth-set tie-break at 6/7, and he sent the match into a fifth set three points later as a Kyrgios backhand sailed just wide. Of course, the match went to yet another tie-break (this time a first-to-10 Match Tie-Break), and Nick converted his third match point, more than two hours after his first.
The crowd had seemingly willed the gutted Kyrgios to victory and when Khachanov’s final backhand sailed wide, they went ballistic as the Canberra native dropped his racquet, fell to the ground and then laid flat on his back for a spell before staggering to his feet to celebrate the win. It may have been a “new and improved” Nick, but in many ways, it was vintage King Kyrgios stuff on the court—under-arm, and fake under-arm serves, drop shots aplenty, and dozens of impossible winners.
“It’s emotional,” Kyrgios said after his 6-2, 7-6(5), 6-7(6), 6-7(7), 7-6(8) win. “That’s definitely one of my best wins of my career, I think…This is just epic man, I don’t even know what’s going on. Honestly my legs feel about 40kg each. I was losing it mentally a little bit… I thought I was going to lose, honestly.”
Video courtesy Tennis Australia
1) Novak Djokovic d. Dominic Thiem, Australian Open, Final,
Credit Dominic Thiem for taking on the toughest jobs in tennis. In 2018 and 2019, he tangled with Rafael Nadal, the toughest hombre in the world on clay, in the final at Roland Garros. And earlier this year, on a clear night under an open roof, he took on Novak Djokovic in the final of the Australian Open. Nole, then a seven-time champion at the event, had never lost a semi-final or final at the Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific.
At the time, Thiem had never beaten Djokovic on a hard court, and, to make matters worse, the Serb had a big extra incentive to win: an eighth title would allow him to overtake Rafael Nadal as the No. 1 player in the FedEx ATP Rankings. Thiem may have been taking on the toughest tests in tennis, but prior to 2019 he wasn’t exactly acing those exams. The Austrian standout was just 7-15 versus the Big Three prior to 2019, and although he led the ATP Tour with 211 wins from 2016-9, before 2019 he was 15-32 against the Top 10.
But in the year leading up to the Aussie Open final, Thiem was starting to turn the tide. In 2019, he won two of his three matches against Djokovic, including a big win in the semi-final at Roland Garros in five sets. He was 3-0 versus Federer that year and he split a pair of meetings with Rafael Nadal. And so, Djokovic came into the match as the favourite, but Thiem was clearly inching closer toward the Serb’s throne.
Thiem knew he wouldn’t beat Djokovic playing it safe, so he came out of the gates going for winners and the game plan seemed to be working as he raced out to a two-sets-to-one lead.
Djokovic would later admit that he started to “feel really bad on the court” after losing the second set due to dehydration. He was frustrated with both his opponent and the chair umpire, who cited him for consecutive time violations in the second set. At 1-1 in the fourth set, Thiem had a break point that could have given him a stranglehold on the match. But Djokovic surprised him with a crisp serve-and-volley combo winner to stave off the threat.
“Probably one point and one shot separated us tonight,” Djokovic said of the point. “(It) could have gone a different way… I kind of regained my energy and strength midway in the fourth set and got back into the match. I was on the brink of losing the match.”
Thiem didn’t have another break point in the fourth set, which he dropped 6-3, and then the Serb took command in the fifth, breaking Thiem in the third game and then closing out a scintillating 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win in three hours and 59 minutes.
“I think there’s not much to change,” Thiem said after the match. “In the last two sets, I definitely gave everything I had. Novak is part of three guys who are by far the best players ever who played tennis. If you play a Grand Slam final against him, it’s always going to be a match where very small details are deciding.”
Thiem lost the battle but the confidence he gained in pushing the World No. 1 to the limit in Australia may have helped him later in the season, as he captured his first major in New York and later exacted a small measure of revenge on the Serb, beating him in the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals.
Source: Tennis – ATP World Tour