2018 was one of the finer years of this decade for the men’s tennis world. It saw crowd favorites lift titles, some established players finding their feet, a remarkable resurgence story and a young gun standing his own among modern greats. Clearly, it produced some all-time classics at the biggest stage of them all- Grand Slam. Look back at the five-set Grand Slam matches that etched their way in memoirs of the game.
#5 Kevin Anderson def. John Isner – Wimbledon SF: 7-6 (6), 6-7 (5), 6-7 (9), 6-4, 26-24
2018 has been Kevin Anderson’s career best show at any Grand Slam in many ways. It also included arguably his two greatest matches, one of them was his remarkable comeback from 2 sets and match points down against Federer and second was this match.
Kando beat the man of long 5 setters, John Isner after 6 hours and 36 minutes, in a match that had 50 games in the final set. This might well have been the match that prompted Wimbledon to introduce a TB at 12-12 in the fifth. It was the longest Grand Slam semi-final at SW19 and the third longest tennis match ever.
“You feel like it is a draw, but someone has to win. John is a great guy and I feel for him. If I was on the opposite side, I don’t know how you take it – getting through something like that is quite different.” said Anderson. The duo blasted a total of 102 aces past each other before the American finally crumbled.
“I competed hard. That’s what it comes down to. That’s what I have to be proud of. It stinks to lose, but I gave it everything I had out there. I just lost to someone who is just a little bit better at the end and I guess he just won a little bit more of the bigger points.” said John.
#4 Roger Federer def. Marin Cilic- Aus Open Final: 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1
If you’d ask even the most ardent Fedfans, they’d have been satisfied with just 18 majors. At the end of 2016, even that dream looked distant. Fast forward to Jan 2019 and Federer was on the cusp of making it 20. Fairytale, right? Between him and his 6th title Down Under, stood Marin Cilic, the guy who famously swept Roger aside in US Open 2014 and most likely denied him the elusive 18th!
What followed were 5 dramatic sets- though not always of the highest quality- with a match that changed the momentum on multiple occasions. Roger Federer was the last man standing for the 20th time in his career after surviving an emotional rollercoaster against Cilic in just over 3 hours. His game swung from outright genius shotmaking to pretty average, at times below average play, that saw him staring at another 5th set heartbreak in Australia. However, just like the previous year, Federer prevailed, this time over the Croat.
“I had my chances. I think I froze in the [second-set] tie-breaker. And I got nervous in the fourth set. I couldn’t stop the bleeding, almost. He was in control, calling the shots. My mind was all over the place in the fourth set, like, ‘Don’t mess it up.’ I had to get lucky at the beginning of the fifth set. And I could see he was feeling it.”
#3 Rafa Nadal def. Juan Martin del Potro- Wimbledon QF: 7-5, 6-7 (7), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4
Andy Murray came up with “This fifth set is one of the best sets of tennis I’ve ever seen live,” while he was doing his stint as a commentator. Sir Andy summed up what majority of us felt while watching this centre court classic at the Grand Slam.
It took Nadal everything he had in his arsenal to stop the Tower of Tandil. Rafa led 6-3 in the second set TB as well, before squandering the set to Delpo, thanks to a costly double fault. He then had to come back from 2 sets to 1 down to prevail.
“He played well. I believe I increased a little bit the level in the fourth and the fifth. But the fifth, he was playing huge. It was so difficult to stop him,” Nadal said. “I am very happy the way that I survived a lot of important points in that fifth set.”
JMDP had his chances but just couldn’t cross the finish line. It was surely the most tense match at The Championships this year.
“At the moment I’m feeling sad after almost five hours of running and playing this high level against the No. 1 in the world, and I lost. It’s not good for me. But maybe tomorrow or after tomorrow when I get home and I watch the match or some points again, I will be glad with my level, with my style of game,” Del Potro said. “I think Rafa in the end deserves to win once again.”
#2 Rafael Nadal def. Dominic Thiem- US Open QF: 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5)
Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem produced an all-time Flushing Meadows classic when they faced off in the Quarter Finals. Both, playing on their second favorite surface were locked in a tussle that lasted four hours and 49 minutes, by the end of which the top-seeded Spaniard prevailed.
“[It was] very demanding in all aspects. [It was] a very tough start for me,” Nadal said. “After that first set, then the match became more normal. Tough match against a great opponent.”
It was undoubtedly Thiem’s best showing at a grand slam event, falling short eventually, on what could have been his greatest career win! Thiem hit 74 winners and ended up winning 171 points to Rafa’s 165. Outmuscling Rafa on several occasions and serving the Spaniard a bagel in the opening set. The outcome was fittingly decided in a final set tie-breaker.
“I’m going to remember this match, for sure. Tennis is cruel sometimes, because I think this match didn’t really deserve a loser. But there has to be one. And I would say if we skip the first set, [it] was a really open match from the beginning to the end. The way it ended up in the fifth set tiebreaker, there it’s 50/50.”
#1 Novak Djokovic def. Rafa Nadal – Wimbledon SF: 6-4, 3-6, 7-6, 3-6, 10-8
Apart from its insane quality of tennis on display, this match tops this list because of how it turned Novak Djokovic’s 2018-potentially career- around and it probably included the most important play(shot) of the year, when Djokovic hit a cross court passing winner to save break point at 7-7 in the final set. Oh, not to forget how it was a virtual final of the most coveted tournament of the game- Wimbledon.
“I’m really, really pleased. I was very emotional after the match, as well, because it’s been a long 15 months for me, trying to overcome different obstacles,” Djokovic said. “To be where I am at the moment is quite satisfying.”
Narratives aside- and leaving out the roof controversy as well- the two heavyweights of men’s tennis produced jaw-dropping shot-making throughout the 5 hours and 15 minutes of this Herculean saga at the Grand Slam. Both ended up with identical winners and unforced errors numbers.
“Normally I am very critical with myself,” Nadal said. “I hit great shots. I played aggressive. I missed balls, not too many, but I missed some ones. When you play with that intensity, with that level of risk, that level of passion, sometimes you go over. [I have] nothing to complain [about]. I think I played a great match. I have not much more inside me. I gave it my best, and that’s it.”
(Featured Image Credits: Getty Images)