Top 10 Great Men's Singles Australian Open matches in the open era

The Australian Open has produced some great matches over the years, but fewer than Wimbledon or the US Open. In the open era the event had a long period of decline which ended in 1983. Since then there have been a number of very disappointing finals and one of the main reasons for this is that there have been a series of what the Aussies call 'bolters' who have reached the final. These are players outside the top 10 who have had some great wins and made it to the final, but have then usually been overwhelmed by the favourite (there was a bolter in the final every year from 2001-08 apart from 2005). Borg never played any classic matches at the Australian (he only entered once). McEnroe never made his mark at the Australian in the same way that he did elsewhere. Connors never returned to play in the Australian after losing the 1975 final. There have still been some memorable matches though. The Safin-Federer match was an all time classic. Agassi and Sampras played their best Grand Slam match at the Australian. Many of the greats of the late 1980s played matches against each other at the Australian. The crowds at the Australian are excellent, providing a great atmosphere.

Judge for yourself the Top 10 Australian Open matches selected by this website by watching excerpts of the matches.

 

1. Djokovic v Nadal 2012 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, two of the toughest competitors in the history of the game, played a match just short of six hours in the 2012 final. It was the longest match in the tournament's history. After Djokovic took a two sets to one lead it looked inevitable that he would win. He was outplaying Nadal. Then during the fourth set Djokovic started to suffer physically, unsurprising considering he'd played a five hour match in his semi final. Djokovic started not to play quite as well and Nadal pounced, taking the fourth set on a tie break. Then as the fifth set began Djokovic's fatigue grew worse. Nadal looked to be a little tired too. However, Djokovic was still not beaten. Nadal broke and led 4-2 and missed an easy shot at 30-15. This was all Djokovic needed to get a second wind, though he was still considerably below the level he'd been in the second and third sets. It became a battle of extreme wills and Djokovic in the end proved victorious. Although the fifth set didn't showcase both players at their best, it did contain drama of the highest order. It may seem as if Nadal let the match slip at 4-2 in the fifth, but the reason he was still in the match was mainly due to Djokovic's level dropping in the fourth set. Nadal is going to find it very hard to beat a fully fit Djokovic in Grand Slams to come. However, Nadal shows in every match, even if he is being outplayed by Djokovic, that he will continue to fight for every point.

 

2. Safin v Federer 2005 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Marat Safin was one of the game's great underachievers. Anyone who saw this epic match against Roger Federer will know what Safin was capable of. He had arrived on the scene in 2000 when he had dismantled Pete Sampras in the final of the U. S. Open. Then his form dipped. He returned to form in the 2004 Australian Open winning an epic semi final against Andre Agassi before losing tamely to Federer in the final. Safin was determined to play better when the two met in the 2005 semi final. Federer seemed on course for victory when he led 5-2 in the fourth set tie break with his two serves to follow. Safin came back to level at 5-5 but then dropped the next point. Serving at match point, Federer hit a drop volley. Safin scampered forward and hoisted a lob. Federer then ran back and attempted the shot between the legs and lost the point. Two points later Safin had won the set to level at two sets all. In the fifth Safin established a 5-3 lead. He served for the match and had two match points but Federer broke back. Then at 4-5 Safin again had match point and had a chance to hit a winner but Federer won the point and the game. At 6-7 Federer saved two more match points but at 7-8 he finally succumbed. Safin then went on to beat home favourite Lleyton Hewitt in the final but it was his last Grand Slam title.

 

3. Wilander v Cash 1988 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the first Australian Open final at the new stadium at Flinders Park (now Melbourne Park). Mats Wilander had won the tournament twice on grass at Kooyong. Pat Cash had reached the final at Kooyong in 1987 and lost in five sets to Stefan Edberg. Both players had endured long semi finals. Cash (seeded four) had beaten world number one Ivan Lendl and Wilander (seeded three) had beaten the number two seed Edberg. The Aussie fans loved Wilander but there is no doubt where their loyalties lay when he took on Cash. The Aussie had first come to Kooyong as a spectator in 1975 when he had witnessed the great Newcombe-Connors final and he loved the event. He wanted to win the title badly. The fifth set was an epic but Cash eventually lost it 8-6. The crowd were devastated. Injuries plagued Cash for the remainder of his career and after 1988 he was never one of the main contenders at Grand Slam events. Wilander went on to win the French Open and U. S. Open and became world number one at the end of 1988. Then he lost motivation and slipped down the rankings. An Aussie never got as close to winning the title again and the last home champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

 

4. Federer v Nadal 2017 final    

This was hyped as being the greatest tennis match of all time. Whilst it may have been the biggest tennis story (or certainly one of them) and a great match, it probably wasn't the best match in the tournament's history. It was not as long and gruelling as Nadal's 5 hour semi final 5 set win over Grigor Dimitrov, but the fifth set built to a great climax. Nadal got an early break and clung on to it until 3-2, when Federer's relentless attacking play was rewarded with the break back and from then on he didn't lose another game. A remarkable triumph for a man of 35 playing arguably his best ever match.

 

5. Nadal v Federer 2009 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the most eagerly anticipated final for many years. Rafael Nadal had survived a five set epic against Fernando Verdasco to book his place in the final. This was the first time Nadal had met Roger Federer since the 2008 Wimbledon final. Federer was desperate to win, as he hadn't beaten Nadal in an important match for years. He was also looking to equal Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles. Nadal was trying to win his first Australian Open title. From the start the quality of play was superb. Unlike the Wimbledon final, Federer wasn't serving well, which meant his groundstrokes had to be at their best, which they were. For four breathtaking sets they fought it out. Had it been a long fifth set this match would have been the best in Australian history. But Nadal, who had been on court for ten hours out of the last fifty two, outlasted Federer, who began to show signs of fatigue in the fifth set. Federer was devastated and broke down during the presentation ceremony. He had given everything he had but it still wasn't enough to subdue the remarkable Nadal.

 

6. Agassi v Sampras 2000 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi had both emerged onto the scene in the late 1980s. Although Sampras was the first to win a Grand Slam title (beating Agassi in the U. S. Open final in 1990), he then struggled to find his form over the next couple of years and a lot of people were starting to wonder whether he might be a One Slam Wonder (it's hard to believe that now, looking back). Agassi had come close a number of times and finally won his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon in 1992. In 1993 Sampras won Wimbledon and began his dominance of the game. Sampras loved playing Agassi. Sampras knew that he had to play his best against Agassi but he nearly always did. When Sampras was serving well, even the great returner Agassi struggled to return his serve. Agassi loved to be in control when he was on a tennis court. When he felt in control then he was unstoppable. In many matches against Sampras, Agassi had a look of panic in his eyes. Agassi had managed to beat Sampras in the Australian Open final in 1995 but Sampras was emotionally drained after finding out his coach was gravely ill the day before surviving an epic match with Jim Courier in the quarters. In their 2000 Australian Open meeting there were no off court distractions. Although Sampras was slightly past his peak he gave everything he had to try and beat his old rival. Leading two sets to one, Sampras had a mini break in the fourth set tie break but Agassi fought back. There were several amazing rallies in that tie break. Agassi had a set point and as he prepared to return serve there was a look of complete determination in his eyes. He played a brilliant point to win the set and then won the fifth set 6-1 for an amazing win. Two and a half years later Sampras and Agassi faced each other for the final time at the U. S. Open. Once again the look of fear was in Agassi's eyes and Sampras won to record his sixth win in Grand Slams against his old rival. Agassi had just three wins to his name (at the French Open in 1992 before Sampras was at his peak and those two Ausy Open wins).

 

7. Newcombe v Connors 1975 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the one outstanding match in the tournament's decade of decline from 1972-1982 when the event was held over the Christmas and New Year period. John Newcombe had opted not to play the 1975 event and enjoy his Christmas break instead. Then 10 days before the tournament was due to start he spoke to the organisers, who confirmed that Jimmy Connors would be playing in the event. Newcombe changed his mind and entered the tournament because he wanted to play Connors. In their only previous Grand Slam meeting at the U. S. Open in 1973, Newcombe had won easily en route to the title. Then in 1974 Connors had won his first three Grand Slam titles and seemed unstoppable. People were questioning whether Newcombe was over the hill. He was determined to prove them wrong. He hadn't long to prepare for the event but ran long distances every day in an attempt to build up his endurance. Newcombe came close to losing in the semi finals against his doubles partner Tony Roche but eventually won the fifth set 11-9. Newcombe was on top form in the final and he needed to be, because Connors was at the peak of his powers. At 5-3 in the fourth set Newcombe served for the match but Connors fought back magnificently. The set went to a tie break, which Newcombe eventually won. It was the last of Newcombe's seven Grand Slam titles and probably the sweetest.

 

8. Sampras v Courier 1995 quarter final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the match where Pete Sampras cried on court for his coach Tim Gullikson, who had fallen seriously ill during the tournament (the brain tumour which was to take Gullikson's life had begun to affect him). Jim Courier was eager to try and return to the top of the game after dropping down the rankings in 1994. He began well by taking the first two sets on tie breaks. Sampras took the third but Courier got a break in the fourth and led 4-3 with his serve to follow. Then there was a long game in which Courier had his chances to lead 5-3 but he wilted under the pressure and Sampras seized his chance. A few minutes later Sampras had won the fourth set 6-4. In the early stages of the fifth Sampras could no longer contain the emotion that had been raging inside him all day and he started crying. Courier, not knowing what the problem was, offered to come back and finish the match the next day. Sampras wasn't sure how to take this comment and it seemed to make him snap out of his grief. Sampras went on to win the match and reached the final but admitted (in his autobiography) to being emotionally drained in losing to Andre Agassi (who was in good form at that time).

 

9. Laver v Roche 1969 semi final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the most difficult test Rod Laver had to overcome in the course of winning his historic second Grand Slam. Back in 1969 if you lived outside Australia and you wanted to follow the Australian Open you had to read about it in the newspapers. It wasn't like Wimbledon, which was televised all around the world. Tony Roche only won one Grand Slam singles title but he was a formidable opponent. The two Aussies battled it out for five long sets which contained some great rallies. Eventually Laver proved the victor. Although he had several more five set battles in claiming the last three legs of the Slam, none of them were tougher than this match.

 

10. Roddick v El Aynaoui 2003 quarter final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was a match that didn't look like it would ever end. It had a fifth set of epic proportions. Andy Roddick was seeded nine and was a few months away from his first Grand Slam title. Younes El Aynaoui had spent most of his career as a journeyman, but as he approached thirty he began to rise up the rankings and made it inside the top 20. El Aynaoui had a match point at 4-5. Roddick saved it. Then both players kept holding serve. Finally Roddick broke, but El Aynaoui broke back. Would the match ever end? Roddick and El Aynaoui decided to give a couple of ball boys their rackets to see if they could finish it! Eventually Roddick did win the final set 21-19. It had been one of the longest sets of tennis since the introduction of the tie break in the first four sets in the early 1970s. This match had drained Roddick and he lost in the semis to Rainer Schuttler.

 

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