In a year packed with memorable results and surprising upsets, it took some time to narrow the best matches of 2012. But here, in chronological order, are the ones that really stood out due to the quality of play and their impact on a historic year in tennis.
Djokovic defeats Murray 6-3, 3-6, 6-7 (4), 6-1, 7-5, Semifinals, Australian Open. In a reprise of the previous year’s final, this time it was Murray, aided by his newly hired coach Ivan Lendl, who pushed Djokovic to five sets and almost turned the match around in the final set. Playing with more offense and grit than previously seen, Murray showed he wasn’t the same man who stumbled in the big moments before at the Majors. Though he lost, Murray’s effort earned him high praise and set the tone for what would be his best season ever that included winning the Olympic gold medal and his first ever U.S. Open title.
Djokovic defeats Nadal 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5, Finals, Australian Open. A bruising, grinding battle from start to finish, Djokovic looked on the verge of defeat before he hit a final winning forehand to end the nearly six hour encounter. The longest Grand Slam singles final in the sport’s history gave Djokovic his fifth Major title and helped cement his position as the No. 1 player in the world by year’s end.
Roddick defeats Federer 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-4, Third Round, Miami. Despite his losing record against Federer, Roddick put on a vintage display of his big-serving, aggressive tennis that allowed him to win what would turn out to be his last match against the Swiss superstar. The match was not only Roddick’s best result of his final season on tour but in a many ways a tribute to Roddick’s legacy as the flag bearer for American men’s tennis over the last decade that included winning the U.S. Open and being No. 1 in the world.
Rosol defeats Nadal 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, Second Round, Wimbledon. Who is Lukas Rosol? That was what Nadal and the entire sports world asked after the unheralded Czech journeyman ousted Nadal in five scintillating sets. Both men played at a high level throughout, but it was Rosol’s self-admitted trance in the final set that saw him hit winners from every corner that stunned all those watching, including Nadal. The defeat was the last time Nadal appeared on a tennis court as a knee injury sidelined him for the rest of the year.
Federer defeats Murray 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4, Finals, Wimbledon. With an entire nation cheering him on, Andy Murray attempted to become the first British man to win Wimbledon since 1936. And for awhile he looked on the verge of doing just that by matching Federer’s all-court style with an aggressive game that produced stunning rallies. But Federer proved too much in the end and went on to claim his seventh Wimbledon title while Murray’s teary runner-up speech endeared him even more to his country.
Azarenka defeats Stosur 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (5), Quarterfinals, U.S. Open. Though Azarenka romped through the first set, defending champion Stosur proved she wasn’t ready to give up her title so easily. Hitting aggressive winners and pulling even with the World No. 1 late in the final set, Stosur narrowly missed out on upsetting Azarenka who won the final two points in the tiebreak. Both women earned new fans after that entertaining and thrilling encounter.
Ferrer defeats Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-7 (5), 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4), Quarterfinals, U.S. Open. A meeting that could be best described as a hardcore tennis fan’s ideal match, it may not have been a marquee match for some but it soon turned into one with both Ferrer and Tipsarevic enduring shifting momentum, grinding rallies and saved match points. Enthralling right up through the final set tiebreak, Ferrer prevailed to reach the semifinals but both men earned a well-deserved standing ovation from the crowd on hand at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
S. Williams defeats Azarenka 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, Finals, U.S. Open. What looked like a foregone conclusion for Williams early on went down to the wire after Azarenka stormed back in the second set. And then when it looked like Azarenka, up 5-3 in the third set, seemed assured of victory, it was Williams who reeled off point after point to find herself suddenly the champion. One of the best women’s finals in a Major in some time, Williams’s title capped off her best summer ever that included winning Wimbledon and two Olympic gold medals.
Azarenka defeats Kerber 6-7 (11), 7-6 (2). 6-4, Round Robin, WTA Championships. In retrospect, this match summed up both women’s stellar 2012 seasons in many ways. Kerber’s great court defense and lefty power against Azarenka’s stifling backcourt offense and her confidence in being No. 1 in the world proved a perfect combo as both women pushed each other everywhere around the court in over three hours. Azarenka won the battle and helped to cement her year-end top ranking, but Kerber more than proved why she is now top five in the world and a real threat to everyone in the WTA for 2013.
Djokovic defeats Federer 7-6 (6) 7-5, ATP Finals 2012 London (title match). An amazing display from both players, with Federer getting off to a superb start at the start of both of the sets, just before Djokovic showing his fighting spirit and turning the match around. Some ferocious hitting marked this last grande finale of the year (at least on the ATP Tour – the Davis Cup final was going to follow).
Berdych defeats Almagro 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 2nd Singles Rubber, Davis Cup Finals. With both players having a well-known run in at the Australian Open earlier in the year, Berdych’s pre-match comments that Almagro was the “weak link” on the Spanish team set the tone for an unpredictable showdown in front of a partisan Czech crowd. Great shotmaking, tense moments and nerves from both men culminated in Berdych winning in five sets and putting his Czech team on course to win their second ever Davis Cup title.