Season Reviews

The Best Matches of the 2012 ATP Tour

With the tennis season over for another year I thought it'd be a good time to take a look back at some of the best matches that we've had the pleasure of witnessing ever since play got underway on the 1st of January 2012 at the Brisbane International.

Rather than me rattling off my favourite matches that Roger's played this year (I'll be doing that in another post ;)) I thought I'd do something different and get a range of opinions on the matter.

About a week and a half ago I emailed a few tennis bloggers whose blogs frequent and asked them the question: what was your favourite match of the year on the ATP Tour and why?

Here are their answers:

Cincinnati Masters 1000 First Round: Haas d. Nalbandian, 6/7 7/6 6/3

Jesse Pentecost – The Next Point

Jesse - The Next Point This was, for me, a very strong contender for match of the year, despite the fact that it occurred between two unseeded veterans in the opening round of the Cinncinati Masters. However, even if a sense of occasion counts for a lot, it’s isn’t everything. The tennis was superb, adventurous and delightfully all-court, and intriguing narratives curled and whipped fitfully around each man as he strode out to play. There was, of course, drama. That matters, too.

Tommy Haas, on his umpteenth comeback, was in the midst of an Indian Summer – highlighted by defeating Federer for the Halle title – and had returned to the cusp of the top 20. Meanwhile on the very afternoon that Haas won Halle, across the Channel in London David Nalbandian was famously defaulted from the Queens final after kicking a linesman. He hadn't won a match since. Added frisson came from the previous week, when this same pair had met in the opening round in Toronto (the tour has a way of throwing up these repetitions), which Haas had narrowly won.

Haas moved ahead 5/2 in the first set, and appeared to be cruising when Nalbandian stepped it up, saving multiple set points, eventually forcing a tiebreaker, which he took to love behind some unusually strong serving. The Argentine then held a match point in the second set, but could not convert. Haas took the ensuing tiebreaker. The third set hinged on a marathon eighth game, with Nalbandian serving. He couldn’t quite hold and Haas eventually and painstakingly broke through, and then served it out. Perhaps fittingly, given that the afternoon had already witnessed a torrent of winners, it ended with an ace.

Nalbandian had lost his fifth match in a row, while Haas won the 496th of his career.

Madrid Masters 1000 Final: Federer def. Berdych 3-6 7-5 7-5

Marina aka Penabaza – Forum

Marina aka Penabaza So, what tournament and what match could I pick?! Hmmm – not an easy task, since Roger played almost 80 matches in his 2012 season (if I got that number correct). I am not a statistics person; never was and never will be, but I will pick the Madrid Open final against Tomas Berdych.

The Madrid Open victory was Roger’s 74th career title and brought him back to Number 2 in the ATP world rankings.

Roger now holds the record there with three titles and will be the ONLY champion on blue clay, since the tournament will go back to red next year.

Another reason why I picked this match was because it was Roger’s first title on clay after winning Roland Garros back in 2009 😉

Roger Federer doesn’t stop to amaze me and I’m always looking forward to see him play again. December will be a boring month for us Roger/Tennis fans. With only some exhibition matches of Roger in Brazil and Argentina. But Roger deserves and needs his rest, after such a long year on the tour again. Time to spend with his family and to refill the tank before he’s going back to the court and starts practising again. Looking forward to see his 2013 schedule asap!

I was lucky to see Roger twice this year. In Fribourg during Davis Cup against USA and in Basel in October. He’s my Maestro, my hero and my everything and I congratulate him on his amazing 2012 and look forward for everything that will happen in 2013.

Wimbledon 3rd Round: Federer def. Benneteau 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 7-6, 6-1

Kyle Johansen – Lefty Advantage

Kyle - Lefty Advantage My favourite tennis match of the 2012 ATP season came between Roger Federer and Julien Benneteau from the 3rd round of Wimbledon. Federer had to crawl back from a two-set deficit and was two points away from losing in the 4th set.

Why was this my favourite match of the year? Well, for one, it was a high-class grass court tennis match at a Grand Slam level. Two, Federer showed the qualities that make him the champion he is today. After the match, Benneteau remarked that you never know how Roger is feeling on court because he hides his emotions so well – his body language is the same regardless of whether he is playing amazing or is struggling to find his game.

Ultimately, Federer survived one of the biggest scares he has ever had, and went on to win his 17th Grand Slam by beating Djokovic and Murray back-to-back in 4 sets. For being an amazing display of skill, heart, courage, and passion, this match is my favourite of the 2012 tennis season.

Wimbledon 2nd Round: Rosol def. Nadal 6-7 6-4 6-2 2-6 6-4

Amy Fetherolf – The Changeover

Amy - The Changeover Watching a member of the so-called “Big Four” in the early rounds of a Slam is often uninteresting. Occasionally, there will be minor drama or rust (see: Murray dropping a set to Ryan Harrison in the first round of the 2012 Aussie Open, but winning in four sets.), but there's usually nothing much to see.

When Rafael Nadal walked onto Centre Court at Wimbledon to play World No. 100 Lukas Rosol in the second round, there was no reason to believe this match would be anything different than the status quo. When Rosol squandered three set points, and Nadal won the first set in a tiebreak, 11-9, conventional wisdom would suggest that the Czech would likely fade away in straight sets.

Instead, Rosol played the match of his life, beating Nadal in a titanic five set battle. When he had chances to falter, he came up with incredible shotmaking that blindsided Nadal. After the determined Spaniard leveled the match at two sets apiece, Rosol, with steely resolve not frequently seen in lower-ranked players, simply never allowed Nadal the opportunity to get back into the deciding set after earning an early break.

What makes this match so compelling is that Nadal was not playing poorly, hitting 19 aces, 41 winners, and just 16 unforced errors. Many times when a top player loses to a much lower-ranked opponent, it is because the top player is not playing their best. Not so this time. Rosol was unquestionably the better player that day. Rosol's incredible stats: 22 aces, 65 winners, and 29 unforced errors.

French Open Quarter Final: Djokovic def. Tsonga 6-1 5-7 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 6-1

Melinda Samson – Grand Slam Gal

Mel at Roland Garros This year I was lucky enough to attend all four grand slam tournaments, so I've picked one of the ATP matches that I saw live; the French Open quarter-final match between Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

The atmosphere created by a Parisien crowd watching a French player play the world No.1 was fantastic. And the twists and turns in the score line made every minute of the four hour plus match fascinating.

Djokovic won the first set easily, then Tsonga won the next two before Djokovic saved four tense match points and went on to win the match in five sets.

This match had all the elements that make tennis memorable; great players, great tennis and great atmosphere.

Australian Open Final: Djokovic def. Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5

Matthew Lambert – Tennis Stats

Matt - Tennis Stats The Setup: Djokovic has just completed what is probably the greatest season in the history of tennis, and the question on everyone’s mind is whether he can sustain it into 2012. After losing to Djokovic in 6 finals, including Wimbledon and the US Open, Nadal’s ego is been battered and bruised. He has withdrawn to Mallorca to lick his wounds, where he and Uncle Tony have spent a brief off-season focusing on one and one thing alone: how to beat Novak Djokovic.

The match: Most importantly, the quality of tennis was absolutely incredible, with the two most consistent players in the game trading crushing blows in an endless stream of pulsating baseline encounters.

Nadal edged a tight first set 7-5, before Djokovic came on strong, taking the next two sets 6-4, 6-2 and taking a 4-3, 40-0 lead on the Nadal serve. Clinging on to the match by his fingertips, Nadal somehow clawed his way back from the brink. As he saved break point after break point, Nadal became more and more pumped up. By the time the 4th set reached a tiebreak, he was positively frenzied. When Rafa finally closed out the set, he dropped to his knees, fists pumping furiously. It was a fantastic moment, probably my favourite of the season.

A turbo-charged Nadal then ran out into a 4-2 lead in the deciding set, but now it was Djokovic’s turn to find an extra gear. The Serb hit back, and with the scores level at two sets all, four games all, the two gladiators embarked on an epic 32 shot rally. When Djokovic finally pushed a backhand long, he collapsed onto his back, chest heaving up and down like a drowning man dragged to shore.

Both players were at the limits of their physical and emotional endurance, but it was Djokovic who found a final burst to push himself over the finish line. He dropped to the court once again, this time in triumph as well as exhaustion.

The significance: After his exceptional 2011, Djokovic knew that the other three top guys would come at him incredibly strong this season, and he laid down a vital marker at Melbourne Park by beating first Murray and then Nadal in two epic encounters.
Nadal lost this battle, but he took a giant stride in the Serbo-Spanish war which has been played out across the battlefields of the ATP tour in recent years. He proved to the tennis world, and, more importantly, to himself, that even when Djokovic plays at his peak, Rafa has the commitment and the ability to live with him.

Wimbledon 2nd Round: Rosol def. Nadal 6-7 6-4 6-2 2-6 6-4

Picked by: Foot Soldiers of Tennis

Potito Starace - Epitomises Foot Soldiers of Tennis Wimbledon 2012 offers Federer fans nothing but fond memories, but it also staged my match of the year earlier on and it came in the meeting of Rafael Nadal and Lukas Rosol. As someone who focuses on the lower end of the tennis circuit, it's always interesting to see how the ‘journeymen' fare on their occasional meeting with the elite.

Sometimes it can be painfully one sided, as Paolo Lorenzi tends to find against Novak Djokovic, but every now and then things unfold differently. Such was the case for Lukas Rosol's encounter with Rafael Nadal. Rosol is a big man with a big game, but one that wouldn't be loaded with sophistication.

Not that he needed that. He just hit Nadal, the player you associate with physical endurance and endless topspin, clean off the court. You can argue the conditions helped, and they did, and I am sure Rafa fans will point to his fitness, but it simply doesn't happen that one of the elite four gets pummelled.

As well as the absurdly successful yet high risk play of Rosol's tennis, it was compelling to watch Nadal struggle to deal with his failure to control the match, highlighted by his attempt at intimidation into bumping into Rosol during a changeover. It was Don't you know who I am?? met with I don't really give a damn.

There have also been plenty of lower ranked players who have been in such promising positions, Alejandro Falla spring to mind, who crack when they realise what's within reach. The way Rosol served out the match was simply magnificent.

Even during the game, you sense this was one of those odd contests where everything fell just as it needed to for the underdog. But no matter that Rosol has largely, quietly, returned to the circuit. It still made for a match of the year.

French Open Quarter Final: Djokovic def. Tsonga 6-1, 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 6-1

Brodie – Mind The Racket

Mind The Racket After 27 minutes, there was only one player on the court worth talking about. Leading having won eight of the first nine games, Novak Djokovic was pushing Tsonga around at will regardless of who was serving. The crowd was silently shocked.

Suddenly, two unreturnable serves from Tsonga each followed by a grunt and a subsequent roar from the French crowd. Their man was alive. Suddenly the Bat signal had appeared in the sky and the Frenchman transformed from your boring, run of the mill tennis player into a multiple tools, ball crushing, line painting super hero. His movement, power and unpredictability had him creating chances as well as playing ridiculous defense and winning points he had no business in even being in.

Unfortunately for Tsonga, Djokovic is still Djokovic. While cracking in the crucial moments of sets two and three, the ends, and losing them both 7-5, he pushed the fourth set to a tiebreak. Barely. It was all set for Tsonga to make his big break through at Roland Garros and qualify for the semifinals.

What follows is made for tennis and Roland Garros lore. The clear favourite, every ounce of momentum and the capacity crowd on his side, Tsonga failed to cross the match point finish line. Four times.

It was like watching Batman corner The (D)Joker for their final encounter. Everyone knows the expected outcome. Instead, the Joker pulls out a gun, shoots Batman, the movie ends, the lights come on and you are left stunned in your chair with bits of popcorn stuck between your teeth wondering it is what you just saw. The plot wasn't just lost, it came crashing to a devastating, miraculous end as Djokovic took the fourth set tiebreak 8-6 and then cruised through the fifth set to take the match, 6-1. Djokovic would lose to Nadal in the Roland Garros final, but it was a crushing loss for Tsonga who hasn't looked quite as good since.

World Tour Finals Round Robin: Del Potro def. Federer 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-3

Joanna – mariposaxprs

Joanna As a Del Potro fan, I think he’s played many memorable matches this year, starting with his SF win over Berdych at Rotterdam. His performance at the Olympics, in both the SF and the bronze-medal matches, was a promising sign of progress on his weakest surface.

That’s why Del Potro’s victory over Federer at the WTF RR is my personal favorite for 2012. He became the only player to have defeated the Maestro twice at the World Tour Final. In Fed’s 11-year stint at the WTF, Fed has maintained an astounding 42-9 record – he’s only lost once to Hewitt, Nalbandian, Gonzalez, Simon, Murray, Davydenko and Djokovic.

Del Potro’s victory at the WTF was his second consecutive win over Fed, after defeating Fed in Basel. One interesting factoid: Of Del Potro’s 4 career wins over Fed, 3 have now taken place on indoor HCs.

As both a Del Potro and Federer fan, I like watching each player get irritated with himself in this match-up. Del Potro chided himself after hitting unforced errors, while Fed yelled at himself in German (during the Basel final, the commentator had remarked that Fed spent more time rolling his eyes at himself after losing a point).

While both players smiled after hitting their respective tweeners at 4-4 in the first set, the match quickly grew serious. The points DelPo played to reach first deuce on Fed’s serve at 4-4 in the first set were particularly entertaining, featuring swift volleys and the rare BHDTLs.

I like Del Potro’s celebration after this victory — he gave a little hop and a skip. His celebration after defeating Fed for the second time this year was an unfettered expression of joy, unlike his more restrained celebration at Fed’s hometown tournament in Basel two weeks earlier. To me, it encapsulated the progress he’s made on indoor HCs this year. Prior to 2012, Del Potro had never won a title on indoor HCs. Now he has three, and has taken a firmer hold of his place in the top 8.

Wimbledon 2nd Round: Rosol def. Nadal 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4

Stephen Kelly – Shank Tennis

Steve - Shank Tennis When you're perennially drawn to the underdog, you get get used to disappointment. On the biggest stages, unheralded players exceed themselves, get within sight of the finishing line and then fall apart. It happens every year. It was going to happen to Lukas Rosol when he stepped up to serve for the match against Rafael Nadal, right?

Not exactly. Three aces and a thumping off-forehand winner put paid to any notions of nerves from a player the pre-match markets had given a 1.26% chance of victory. It was the definitive anti-choke and a fitting end to a superb match that featured the dream combination of high quality play and a bit of bad blood between the players.

That Nadal finished on the losing side despite hitting 42 winners to 16 unforced errors says a lot. It was a phenomenal performance from Rosol and nothing he has done since suggests it was anything but a once-off freak performance to be savoured.

Australian Open Semi Final: Djokovic def. Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5

Adame Gale – Tennis Martian

Adam - Tennis Martian I had to think long and hard about this, but in the end my vote goes for Djokovic-Murray in the Australian Open semis. It had so many of the ingredients of a great contest: anticipation, quality, twists and turns, and a great finish.

Both men stormed to the semis with the loss of only one set, to set up a rematch of last year’s final. But would it be as one-sided as that encounter? I was on the edge of my seat before the match even began…

While Djokovic took the first set, Murray was playing with surprising, sustained aggression, and clawed back to a set all. I was teetering by the time the third set reached a tie-breaker, and Murray actually won it.

Suddenly, before our eyes, the great underachiever, finally playing the way we’d long said he should, was two sets to one up against the undisputed world number one at a major! This was momentous, stupendous, astonishing and…temporary. Djokovic –of course -snatched the fourth set 6-1 in a blistering comeback.

So it all came down to the fifth. I’d climbed back onto my chair by this point, to witness the final, nerve-tingling grapple for a place in the title match. Despite Murray’s best efforts, an adrenaline-fuelled Djokovic was just too good. He took it 7-5 in the fifth, to the roars of the Aussie crowd. Awesome.

What was your favourite match of 2012? Let me know in the comments below, and if you'd like to be added onto this list then just drop me an email via the contact form.

Photo Credit: Jiazi


Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.


    1. Cheers Kyle and thanks for contributing! @Mzemek made a pretty good call in the Federer vs. Fish one from Cincy being up there, I’d forgotten how good that one was actually but the highlights reminded me.

  1. Hmm, great selection in this post, I will pick one that is not featured on this post – the semifinal between roger and delpo at the olympics. epic match, the 19-17 score at the last set, drama and highly entertaining.

    1. It’s funny you should mention this -I was really torn between that one and the AO semi-final as my match of the year. You’re right -it was a fantastic encounter, such quality, such heart from both.

    2. Hey Conal,

      I think a few people were going to pick that, I think because I said ATP when I asked and used it in the title everyone thought it wasn’t going to be allowed but I wouldn’t have minded. Was a great match.

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