This is a guest post from Kyle Johansen who blogs at Lefty Advantage, it's a response to my Top 5 post and looks at Kyle's Top 20 matches played by Roger in Melbourne. Please visit his blog – http://leftyadvantage.blogspot.com/ and follow him on Twitter: @KJOttawa. Anway, enough from me, here's Kyle:
With the 2012 Australian Open less than a week away from starting, I thought I would get into the spirit of the first major of the year and count down what I think are the 20 best matches Roger Federer has played at the Australian Open. I was inspired to do this after reading Jonathan's post, who counted down the top 5 Federer matches at the Australian Open.
I slightly disagreed with his list, and then came to the conclusion that a list of 5 matches was just not going to cut it. I think the Australian Open has produced some of Federer's greatest tennis ever, and the list needed to be 20. Some matches were beautiful displays of Federer playing his best, others were hard-fought dramatic victories, and some were even losses. But all the matches I have included were all displaying Federer at his best in some way or another. So without further ado, here we go. Starting with number 20:
20: Federer vs Lleyton Hewitt, 2004, 4th Round
Unfortunately, this is the only match in which there are not any suitable highlights of on YouTube. However, there was one fantastic defensive point, maybe the greatest defensive point ever played, which I will show. It was so amazing that it is the only common highlight of this match.
The defense Federer showed in that point was just pure anticipation and reflex. His speed, timing, and precision was unmatched by any player back in 2004, and it was a joy to watch.
So why is this my #20 match? Well, for starters, it was a high quality match, with the score being 46 63 60 64 in Federer's favour. But what impressed me the most about Federer in this match was his mental toughness. Just a few months before this, he lost a devastating Davis Cup tie against Hewitt, a match in which he was up two sets to love. Hewitt had also gotten the better of Federer in many of their encounters before that. With this match though, the tide turned, and Roger has only lost one match to Hewitt since. This match, in my estimation, is the one match that set Federer apart from the pack and started his run of dominance.
19: Federer vs Marcos Baghdatis, 2006, Final
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This match was the final test for Federer in his quest to win his 7th Grand Slam. Before this, he had taken part in 4-set victories over Nicholas Kiefer and Nikolay Davydenko, and a 5-set classic with Tommy Haas, so needless to say he was “match ready.” Coming into the match, Federer was the heavy favourite over the 20 year-old Cypriot, but he soon found out that the victory would not be easy. He lost the first set 7-5 and went down an early break in the 2nd set before finding his rhythm and putting away the young Baghdatis in the final three sets. The final score was 57 75 60 62. The tennis was very high quality throughout the entire match, and especially in the first two sets, when it was very tight. What amazed me most about this win for Roger is what came before it. As I mentioned, he had played 13 sets in the three matches previously, but even way before that, he came into the Slam with a bad right foot, which he injured in late 2005. This contest really showed Roger's unyielding mental fortitude at the time, and showed the world that he could win the hard way just as convincingly as the greatest fighters in tennis before him. For what this match meant to Federer, this 7th Grand Slam title-clinching win comes in at #19.
18. Federer vs Stanislas Wawrinka, 2011, Quarterfinal
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This match against his fellow countryman Wawrinka was just an exhibition of great shotmaking. The match was never close (61 63 63), but it was the quality of tennis by Federer that was so wonderful to watch. Whenever I watch the highlights of this match I always turn to the game at 5-3 in the second set. In that game alone, there are multiple highlight reel points from Federer, including a tweener lob, an around-the-net backhand, and an anticipatory return much like the Hewitt point I showed above. Roger was on fire this day, and that is why it is #18.
17. Federer vs Fabrice Santoro, 2008, 2nd Round
This match was about as easy as it gets for Roger, but that's not why it's here. The match was won 61 62 60 by the Swiss Maestro, but the shots that both Federer and Santoro pull off in this match are absolutely off the charts. Fed knew it would be a very simple match, so he changed up his style, choosing to serve and volley and he got into many Santoro-like points of the cat and mouse variety. It was extremely entertaining to watch for a 2nd round match, and that is why I have it on this list.
16. Federer vs Tomas Berdych, 2009, 4th Round
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This is one of the greatest comeback performances in tennis history, plain and simple. Berdych started out of the gate on fire, winning the first two sets. Federer scraped and clawed back in the 3rd and 4th sets until the 5th set came. Federer got out to a 3-0 lead after some very inspired play and won the 5th set 6-2. I watched the entire match live and stayed up until the early hours of the morning, and my heart was racing the entire time. When Berdych took the 2nd set and I realized Fed had to win the next three sets, I thought it was impossible. Berdych was looking quite unstoppable. But Roger fought so hard and it paid off in the end. For the valiant effort of the great Swiss, in a match that has to go down as one of Roger's most gutsy matches, this gets my nod as #16.
15. Federer vs Lleyton Hewitt, 2010, 4th Round
Six years after Federer and Hewitt met in my #20 match in 2004, they met again in the exact same 4th round. The result was much the same, though even more extreme in Federer's favour. From start to finish Federer was at his absolute best and Hewitt could do absolutely nothing to counter his brutal attacks. Final score was 62 63 64, and Hewitt only really showed any hope at the end of the 3rd set when he broke Federer back to make it 4-4 but then Federer returned to glory and broke straight back in very emphatic fashion. The sheer brilliance of play from Federer's racket is why this match makes #15 on my RF Greatest AO Matches of All-Time list.
14. Federer vs Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, 2010, Semifinal
This match may be the most aggressive I have ever seen Federer play in his career. He was playing a very good player in Tsonga, who had just come off a great victory over Novak Djokovic, and then this happened. He got utterly destroyed by the Great Swiss, who was in full flow and did not miss a beat all night. The final score was 62 63 62. In the highlights, watch the movement, the precision, the speed, and the grace of Federer. It is truly a joy to watch.
13. Federer vs Gilles Simon, 2011, 2nd Round
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This was about as close to a nightmare as Federer fans have had over the course of his career. After the first two sets which Roger won 6-2 and 6-3, it looked to be a comfortable victory over the consistent Simon. But Gilles had given Federer many problems in the past and even held two three-set victories over him, so in this match-up, anything could be expected. Simon took the next two sets 6-4 and 6-4, and suddenly there became a possibility that Federer could go out in the 2nd round of a major! Simon was on fire and Federer had no momentum and it was a very tense situation. At 1-1 in the 5th, Fed got down 0-30 on his serve and had to fight to stay on top. Then at 3-2, Federer got a break point, and converted with a sweet push-pass past the Frenchman. He got up 5-2 but could not win the match after having three match points, so he was forced to serve it out, and did so in dramatic fashion, with an ace. It was an amazing match filled with all the drama that makes the early rounds so special, even if the drama doesn't usually come from one of the top players. For the play of both men on that humid night, I make this match number 13 on my list.
12. Federer vs Marat Safin, 2004, Final
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This match may have been disappointing to some fans considering the two men in the final. Safin was dog tired by this final after very tiring matches beforehand, and Federer was on his game. Still, this match proves a special one to me because Federer was still only a one-Slam player at this time and had just clinched the World #1 ranking in the semifinal (more on that next). After a back and forth first set, Fed took the match easily in the final two sets and showed why he would be dominating the game for the next 4 years.
11. Federer vs Juan Carlos Ferrero, 2004, Semifinal
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This match was a culmination of Federer's trials and tribulations since the start of his career. A win against Ferrero in the semis would give him the #1 ranking for the first time ever, and legitimize him as a permanent fixture in the upper echelon of tennis players for years to come. The match itself was brilliant play all around from Federer, but it was the occasion that impressed me. Under all the pressure, he was calm, cool, and collected, and didn't break a sweat in charging his way to his biggest feat to date in tennis. For that, this match is #11 on this list, and the 4th milestone of Fed's career, behind his first title, first Slam, and first Masters Cup.
10. Federer vs David Nalbandian, 2003, 4th Round
Federer lost this match, but it was a spectacular contest filled with amazing, aggressive tennis. Nalbandian won 64 36 61 16 63. This was before Federer's prime and very much in Nalbandian's and both men played stellar tennis. Even though Roger lost, I consider this one of his greatest Australian Open matches ever, which is why it is at #10.
9. Federer vs Tommy Haas, 2002, 4th Round
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This is another match that Federer lost, and again it was in 5 sets (76(3) 46 36 64 86), just like a year later against Nalbandian, but it was a very high quality match, which is why it is at #9. Even in 2002, Federer was arguably the most talented player on the tour, but he hadn't matured mentally, which is why he lost these close 5-set matches. Haas was near the peak of his power and it cannot be denied how much natural talent he had, along with Federer and Nalbandian. This match was just a joy to watch, and is one of the rare gems in Federer's career.
8. Federer vs Nikolay Davydenko, 2010, Quarterfinal
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I can honestly say that this is one of the strangest matches ever played. Davydenko opened on fire, taking the first set 6-2 in what was probably the best tennis he has ever played. Then in set 2 he got up 3-1, and had three break points to take a double break lead. Federer saved them, and then won THE NEXT 13 GAMES of the match to take a 2-6 6-3 6-0 2-0 lead. Davydenko fought back with a break at 3-2 Fed, then the momentum swung. Davydenko had three break points at 4-3 to all but take the 4th set, but Federer denied him with 5 straight clutch serves to hold. Then the Russian gave up his own serve at 4-4, and surely the match was over. Then Davy broke back to make it 5-5, but then got broken again! Federer finally put the match away with a forehand winner to win 26 63 60 75. It was the craziest match I have ever seen, with so many momentum swings, and that is why it is relatively high at #8 on my list.
7. Federer vs Juan Martin del Potro, 2009, Quarterfinal
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Simply put, this was Roger Federer at his very best. After a very hard 5-set match against Tomas Berdych the round before, Fed felt like letting off some steam, and the result was this genius performance. I watched the match live, and I expected a competitive match. Just over an hour later, it ended, and I was in total belief. As one of the greatest matches Federer has ever played, this ranks at #7 on my Australian Open list.
6. Federer vs Nikolay Davydenko, 2006, Quarterfinal
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This was one of the cleanest matches I have ever seen. Both Federer and Davydenko were ripping the ball from the ground and taking the ball early, and it made for some sick tennis. They split the first two sets, but then it got real. Davydenko had 6 set points in the third set, and Federer had one. Guess who took theirs? Roger. From there, he won the 4th set in a second straight tiebreak. The final score was 64 36 76(7) 76(5). It amazed me that Federer could come back from a 5-setter against Tommy Haas (more on that later), and then prevail in as physical a match as you will ever witness. The mental strength Roger had this entire tournament in 2006 was remarkable, a true testament to his greatness. For the sheer brilliance of the ball-striking in this match, it gets my approval as #6.
5. Federer vs Rafael Nadal, 2009, Final
This match may go down in history as the most heartbreaking Federer match ever. By the end, it literally brought him to tears. This match brings many bad memories to Federer fans such as myself, but man, was it an amazing match or what? The tennis was of even better quality than their epic Wimbledon 2008 clash, and even with the painful finish for Federer, it remains one of his greatest matches ever. For that, it must be #5 on my list.
4. Federer vs Tommy Haas, 2006, 4th Round
This match was a defining moment in Federer's career. In 2002 and 2003 as I have already mentioned, he lost epic 5-setters. He also lost the year before in 2005 to Safin in what I call the Greatest Match Ever Played. In this match, much like the Simon match in 2011, Federer got up early, taking a two sets to love lead, 6-4, 6-0. Then Haas came roaring back, winning the third and fourth sets 6-3 and 6-4. What was to come next was very huge for Federer. Three of the past four years he had lost at Rod Laver Arena in the 5th set, but this time he found a way. He won the final set 6-2 and went on to win the tournament. Even above the occasion, the tennis was remarkable from both men, and all of it put together makes it my #4 Federer Australian Open match of all-time.
3. Federer vs Andy Roddick, 2007, Semifinal
Watch those highlights and tell me that isn't the greatest single performance a tennis player has ever produced. Everything was clicking on this day and he, in my opinion, reached the absolute peak of his powers. Just the perfect match.
2. Federer vs Janko Tipsarevic, 2008, 2nd Round
Heading into the Australian Open in 2008, it was almost certain that Federer would breeze through his early rounds in the majors. Until Janko Tipsarevic came to town on one fateful night and played the match of his life. In the first set, Tipsarevic came back from 5-3 down to take the last four games and win the set 7-5. In the second set, a tiebreak was needed, which Federer won 7-1. After that, it was business as usual for Roger, right? Wrong. Janko won the third set 7-5 and the entire crowd was glued to their seats. Federer won the next set easily 6-1, and then came the deciding 5th. Tipsarevic was serving first so Federer needed to be at his supreme best, and he was. Federer hit 38 aces in total throughout the match, which was by far his best serving performance ever until the Wimbledon final in 2009. At 8-8, Tipsarevic was up 40-0 but then Federer upped his game. He went onto break in dramatic fashion with a cross-court forehand pass. He won the match 10-8 in the 5th, but came oh so very close to losing. I say it was Federer's gutsiest performance ever. After the tournament ended, Federer announced he had been suffering from mono during the Slam, so for him to beat a player who was playing as well as Janko was, in a 5th set at 10-8, was just remarkable. My #2 RF Australian Open match goes down as one of the greatest matches ever.
1. Federer vs Marat Safin, 2005, Semifinal
Here is the full match, in six parts, featuring JUST the tennis:
After watching that match, tell me that Federer vs Safin in the semifinal of the 2005 Australian Open is not the best match ever. I dare you. Both Roger and Marat were playing at their peak levels, and the result was the most entertaining, dramatic, and emotional experience you will find on a tennis court. Safin won the match 57 64 57 76(6) 97. The baseline rallies were some of the most intense rallies ever. In the 4th set tiebreak, Federer hit two jaw-dropping drop shots, and then held a match point, in which Safin lobbed him and the Swiss hit a tweener. It could go down as the most questionable shot Federer has ever hit, because he had time to run around and make the pass on his forehand, which would have won him the match. Nevertheless, Safin won in the end after 4 hours and 28 minutes of pure magic. Thank you Roger and thank you Marat for the unmatched tennis produced that evening, and for giving tennis fans a match that will be talked about for the rest of time. So there you have it, the Greatest Match Ever Played, at #1 on my list.
This thorough list took me about two hours to compile. I hope you enjoy reading my analysis and watching the matches as much as I enjoyed making this. Given how many classic moments Federer has given us at the Australian Open throughout his career, I only thought it would be fitting to give the favour back, and create this. Thank you to Roger and all of his opponents for these classic matches, and may we witness a few more classic Federer Australian Open matches before his days are done.
So long, goodbye, and happy pre-Australian Open week!
With great pleasure, Kyle – http://leftyadvantage.blogspot.com/