Thursday, December 13, 2007

2001 Wimbledon SF: Rafter def. Agassi

Rafter def. Agassi: 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6.
Classic: No.
Rating: 91.

The Plot:
A repeat of the previous years semi-final. Rafter had had a miserable year with injuries, but had come through the draw at Wimbledon in usual athletic form. Agassi too was playing well, and the match was highly anticipated because of the classic semi-final the two had played the previous year. Added to that, Pete Sampras had gone out in the 4th round to a certain Roger Federer, which would mean that there would be a new Wimbledon champion for the first time since 1996.

The Match: An in-form Agassi has the initiative in the 1st set where he breaks Rafter in 3rd game, playing some unbelievable tennis. He breaks again in the 5th game. Agassi is serving great and Rafter is not able to return effectively. Agassi takes the 1st set 6-2. In the 2nd game of the 2nd set Rafter breaks at 30-40 when the ball takes a terrible bounce on Agassi's side of the court. Rafter saves 2 break points in the 3rd game with some great serving, but it is clear that his volleys are not as sharp as usual.

In the 3rd set Rafter seems to find some of the form from the previous years semi-final and plays some great volleys, but it is Agassi who breaks in the 6th game and takes the set 6-3. In the 4th set it seems to be Agassi who is on top again, but in the 6th game Rafter breaks when Agassi gets two line calls that he thinks are bad - one of which certainly looks so on the TV replay. Later, a frustrated Agassi loses his serve and the set 6-2.

In the 5th set Rafter loses serve in the 1st game, and almost goes down a double break. Agassi plays incredibly well and holds serve until he serves for the match at 5-4, when suddenly Rafter plays the most inspired tennis to break and level the match 5-5. The players test each other on serve but hold until 7-6, when Rafter breaks Agassi, winning the match on his 3rd match point.

The bottom line: The match is very good, but the level of play is not consistently as high as it was in the previous years' semifinal. It is fair to say that Agassi plays better for most of the match, and Rafter is aided in the 4th set by a dicey line call. Rafter plays his best in the 3rd set and in the 5th set after almost losing his serve again at 0-2. At the best of times the match is as good as the 2000 semi-final, but that is not quite the case in sets 1 and 2. Agassi plays great throughout and his passes and lobs are a joy to watch, and in the highly dramatic 5th set Rafter plays some stunning volleys. The match is very entertaining and gets my recommendation, but I hesitate to call it a classic.

Bonus info: Agassi receives a code violation in the 5th set after yelling an obscenity at the lines-person on the line where he repeatedly feels that bad calls are made. Note though that it is not the same line-judge on that line in the 5th set as it was in the 4th.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

1984 Wimbledon Final: McEnroe def. Connors

McEnroe def. Connors: 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
Classic: No, but very entertaining.
Rating: 88

The Plot:
This match may have been McEnroe's finest moment on a tennis court. The match was highly anticipated and it was expected to be close. It was anything but. McEnroe was brilliant from every part of the court and never gave Connors, who had unexpectedly defeated him in the 1982 Final, a chance to get into the match.

The match: McEnroe opens the match by holding serve to love and then goes on to break Connors in the next game. McEnroe is as sharp as you would ever see, and Connors has to play a very good game to hold serve to 1-3. But McEnroe continues to dominate, and breaks again and wins the set 6-1.

Connors loses his opening service game in the 2nd set, and is down 0-4 before he holds serve. McEnroe is untouchable and takes the 2nd set by playing an unbelievable return game to break Connors. Everything is going McEnroe's way, even the net-cords turn out in his favour.

Connors manages to hold serve until 2-2, but McEnroe breaks to take a 4-2 lead, and wins the match as he breaks Connors to love in the final game.

The bottom line: This has to be the most brutal beat-down in the history of Wimbledon. It surpasses the 1999 Wimbledon final and the 1991 US Open final. The only comparison may be the Federer's drubbing of Hewitt in the 2004 US Open final. McEnroe has 2 unforced errors in the whole match and is serving as well as I've ever seen. Connors is clearly trying to get into it, but anything he comes up with is answered by McEnroe. The match is not boring to watch because McEnroe is so brilliant and Connors keeps trying very hard. It is a must-have for the McEnroe and/or serve-volley enthusiast, even if the storyline in this match is very thin.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

1992 US Open SF: Edberg def. Chang

Edberg def. Chang: 6-7, 7-5, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4
Classic: no.
Rating: 77.

The plot:
Edberg came back to defend his US Open title in 1992. But unlike the previous year where he had dominated, this year he struggled. 20 year old Chang had struggled, too, through long matches, but it was his best showing at the Open ever. It would be Edberg's serve-volley versus Chang's returns and passes - on paper, a mouthwatering encounter.

The match: Edberg breaks serve in the opening game, but as he steps up to the line to serve he is called for a foot-fault immediately, then double faults repeatedly, loses his serve, and so our bumpy 5 1/2 hour ride starts. Chang then takes the lead, looks to be in control at 5-2, then Edberg comes storming back, but Chang wins the 1st set in a tiebreak. Edberg has 8 double faults in the first set alone.

In the 2nd set Edberg incredibly gets 8 straight first serves in and takes a 4-0 lead. Then Chang comes storming back, but Edberg wins it 7-5. The players fumble their way through sets 3 and 4 in a similar way. For a while it seems that Edberg may win the 4th set and put this awful, error-laden match out of its misery, but no, we have to endure a 5th set where Edberg seems tired, almost goes down two breaks of serve before he gathers himself and then incredibly is let back into the match by Chang, who in my opinion displays a formidable lack of mental fortitude. Edberg wins the 5th set 6-4 when Chang's return of serve sails wide.

The bottom line: I've often heard people refer to this as a classic, but it is nothing like that. It is a somewhat entertaining topsy-turvy match full of unforced errors and double faults. At times the level of play is so atrocious that you just pray that the match will end. It is a great credit to Edberg that he was able to win when playing so badly, but it reflects poorly on Chang's ability that he is not able to take advantage of Edberg's poor play. I can't recommend this match at all.

Stat of the match: Edberg served 18 double faults in the match, 8 in the first set alone.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

2000 Wimbledon SF: Rafter def. Agassi

Rafter def. Agassi: 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4.
Classic: Yes.
Rating: 96.

The Plot:
Patrick Rafter was bidding to reach the Wimbledon final for the first time in 2000. But first he had to defeat the best returner in the game, Andre Agassi, in the semifinal.

The Match: Both men take a few games before they settle in, but there are no breaks of serve until 5-6, when Agassi plays a poor service game to lose the set. Rafter gains the momentum and breaks in the 2nd set to go up 2-0, before Agassi comes roaring back. Both men are playing great tennis, but Agassi finds a higher gear and breaks Rafter with some phenomenal returns and passes to take the 2nd set.

The 3rd set is a strange affair. Agassi seems to be in the drivers seat, but he plays a horrible game to lose his serve and give Rafter a 5-3 advantage. Agassi breaks back, and holds serve until 5-6, when he again plays a horrible game to lose the set. Agassi then breaks Rafter in the opening game of the 4th set, and manages to maintain this advantage throughout the 4th set, even though Rafter is putting a lot of pressure on Agassi.

The 5th set is a tense affair. Rafter faces break points against him in the opening game, but gets out of it. At 3-2, Rafter breaks Agassi, playing some great tennis, and then holds onto the break advantage until he serves out the match at 5-4.

The bottom line: Rafter plays a tactically very smart match: On serve he sticks to his serve-volley game, but on the return games he uses a slow backhand slice that begs Agassi to attack the net. Agassi does not volley competently to do so, and so must hit winners off these slow shots, which creates a lot of unforced errors. Rafter plays many spectacular volleys at net; Agassi produces many good passing shots and lobs. The contrast in style makes for a great match. Rafter is playing his very best, but I feel Agassi is just slightly below his best, and he seems to get frustrated at times. All that said, this is an absolutely classic encounter, overflowing with spectacularly played points.

Available in the Wimbledon classic match series.

Monday, November 26, 2007

1985 Australian Open SF: Edberg def. Lendl

Edberg def. Lendl: 6-7, 7-5, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7
Classic: Yes.
Rating: 95

The Plot:
Stefan Edberg won his first Australian Open in 1985, at 19 years of age. In the semifinal he had overcome then-world no. 1 Ivan Lendl who was going for the 3rd Grand Slam title of his career.

The Match: Stefan Edberg is playing superb tennis in the first set and has numerous break-chances against Lendl, who seems slightly agitated. But Lendl is able to save all the break points he face, and the set is decided in a tie-break. In the tie-break, Edberg's level suddenly drops, and Lendl wins the set. The 2nd set is an exact reversal of the first, as it is Lendl who has all the break opportunities against Edberg's serve, without ever converting. Finally, it is Edberg who breaks in the 11th game to take the set.

The 3rd set proves a disaster for Lendl, who seems irritated and edgy. But he gets his game back on track in the 4th and breaks Edberg to take a 2-1 lead. Edberg breaks back to draw even at 4-4 when rain delays the match.

When the match resumes, Lendl has regained his composure and breaks Edberg with some stunning returns. He takes the set 6-4, and then breaks Edberg in the 1st game of the 5th set. But the lead is a brief one as Edberg breaks back in the next game. The players hold serve for the remainder of the match, but it is Edberg who is wearing down Lendl. He has break points when Lendl serves 3-4, three match points at 4-5, and match points again at 6-7. Lendl hangs on, but when serving at 7-8, he goes down 30-40, and Edberg finally wins the match with a passing shot down the line.

The bottom line: This is a highly dramatic, superbly played tennis match. Edberg plays excellent tennis throughout, and so does Lendl except for in the 3rd set. Both men serve and volley (Australian Open was played on grass at that time), and in addition to many fine net-points there are also many great passing shots and lobs. This is without doubt my favourite Edberg match of all time, and it is astonishing to see how brilliant he was even as a 19-year old. The match gets my warmest recommendation.

Bonus info: In the last game of the match, Lendl's smash goes under the net, but the umpire doesn't see it. Luckily, Edberg returns it for a winner, but is clearly surprised that there is no call from the umpire.

Friday, November 23, 2007

1999 Wimbledon Final: Sampras def. Agassi

Sampras def. Agassi: 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
Classic: No, but a must-have for Sampras fans.
Rating: 86

The Plot: Sampras put in possibly his greatest performance ever at Wimbledon in this 1999 final. Agassi was playing amazing tennis prior to this final after having miraculously won the French Open the month before. But Sampras put his foot down and showed who was the master at Wimbledon with a performance reminiscent of Edberg's defeat of Courier in the 1991 US Open final.

The Match: Early in the 1st set things are tight, and Agassi has 4 break chances early on Sampras' serve. Sampras saves them all with great serves, and then seems to kick into a higher gear, as Agassi lets down his guard in the next game. From then on Sampras is completely dominant for the remainder of the match. He takes the first set 6-3. Agassi gets a bad start on the 2nd set and loses serve, and is in danger of going down a double break. He doesn't, but all attempts at getting back on level terms are thwarted by Sampras. In the 3rd set Agassi manages just barely to stay on serve until 5-5 when he drops serve, and Sampras serves out the match in the next game.

The bottom line: Sampras is overwhelmingly dominant, and Agassi is not at his best. Sampras is a joy to watch as he not only serves great, but also plays some great volleys, including two spectacular diving volleys. But unless you're a great Sampras fan (like me), you probably don't need to see this match.

Monday, November 12, 2007

1988 Wimbledon final: Edberg def. Becker

Edberg def. Becker: 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Classic: Almost
Rating: 90

The Plot: This is the first installment in a series of 3 consecutive Wimbledon finals played between Becker and Edberg from 1988 to 1990. In 1988, Stefan Edberg won his first Wimbledon title by defeating 2-time champion Boris Becker in a match that took 2 days to complete due to rain. Edberg, who had come back from 2 sets down against Mecir in the semifinal, was decidedly the underdog, having lost most of his previous matches against Becker, and Becker was hungry to regain the title he first won at age 17, in 1985.

The Match: Edberg gets a quick start and takes a 3-0 lead, but Becker starts to return Edberg's high-bouncing serve better and gets back on serve. At 3-2, rain delays the match. When the match resumes (a day later), Becker runs off another 3 games to make it 5-3, and eventually wins the set 6-4. (I believe there is another rain delay?)

The 2nd set is a tight affair, and both men are playing excellent tennis amid cold, windy conditions. It goes to a tie-breaker which Edberg takes, playing great tennis. Having gained the momentum, Edberg starts to play with more confidence in the 3rd set and starts to return Becker's serve better and breaks early in the set. Becker is getting very frustrated with his inability to return Edberg's kick-serve and is screaming at himself and throwing his racquet. Edberg wins the set, and seems to only get better in the 4th set where he is blanketing the net in his trade-mark fashion. Boris loses his serve twice to go down 4-1. Edberg serves for the championship at 5-2, and wins on his first championship point as Becker drills a backhand into the net-cord.

The bottom line: The first two sets are classic, but then Becker's level seems to slip in the 3rd and 4th set. Edberg is playing great tennis throughout: Not as smooth as he would become later in his career, but he blankets the net beautifully and his backhand passing shots are amazing. While the story-line of the underdog winning after losing the 1st set is obviously compelling, I don't feel the match is a "classic" because Becker fades so badly in the 4th set. But it is a very enjoyable match, in particular for those who remember the Becker/Edberg rivalry.

Availability: Why Wimbledon has not released the Becker/Edberg finals as a box-set is beyond me. I have a version recorded from TV with Dick Enberg and Bud Collins doing the commentary for NBC, and they're just awful to listen to. Try to get a BBC version if you can, which can only be better.

Friday, November 9, 2007

1995 Australian Open QF: Sampras def. Courier

Sampras def. Courier: 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-3.
Classic: Yes
Rating: 96

The Plot: This is the famous match where Sampras starts crying at the beginning of the 5th set. Sampras coach, Tim Gullikson, had flown back to the U.S. after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Courier knew all about this, being a close friend of Sampras and having had dinner with Sampras and his team the night before. Sampras had struggled in previous matches, and Courier must have liked his chances to turn around his losing streak against Sampras.

The Match: Courier makes an all-out attack on the shaky Sampras backhand from the start of the match, and Sampras, who seems a little despondent at times, is only hanging in there because of his serve. There are no breaks in the first two sets, which are rich on fierce backhand-to-backhand exchanges, and Courier wins sets 1 and 2 in tie-breakers. Then in the 3rd set, Sampras starts to play a lot better and breaks Courier twice to take the set.

In the 4th set, Courier breaks in the 5th game, and seems well on his way to victory as he consolidates the break to go up 4-2. But Sampras once again seems to raise the level of his game and breaks back. Eventually, he wins the set as Courier misses an easy overhead on set-point.

At the beginning of the 5th set, a fan yells out "Do it for your coach, Pete", which causes tears to well up into Sampras eyes. Serving at 1-1, he can barely keep his composure and Courier, famously, yells over the net "We can do this tomorrow, you know." Sampras, feeling that Courier is mocking him, then serves aces to get out of the game. Courier's level seems to drop from then on in the 5th set and he loses serve a few games later, and Sampras serves out the match.

The bottom line: This is one of the most dramatic tennis matches I have ever seen. The level of tennis is very high throughout, and the ball is being struck as hard as you would ever see. The baseline rallies are exciting stuff, and Sampras adds some variation by serving and volleying on the 1st serve most of the time. There are many great points, winners and "gets". I feel perhaps that Sampras performance is a fraction below his best in sets 1 and 2, and Courier is not playing his best in set 5. Other than that, this is an almost perfect match, both for its drama and its high quality tennis. It is highly recommended

1991 US Open final: Edberg def. Courier

Edberg def. Courier: 6-2, 6-4, 6-0.
Classic: No, but a must-have if you're a big Edberg fan.
Rating: 87

The Plot: Edberg played possibly his best tournament ever at the 1991 US Open. In the final, Edberg played one of the very best matches of his career, beating Courier (the French Open champion) in the most emphatic fashion.

The Match: It is a hot day in New York, and the on-court temperature is in the 90's (F). Both players seem a little lethargic at first. In the 3rd game, Courier runs into trouble on his serve and the game goes to 6 deuces before Edberg breaks. A few games later Edberg hits top form and is near perfect for the rest of the match. He takes the set 6-2. In the 2nd set, Courier puts in a great effort to turn the tide of battle, but he is broken early in the set and can't recover against Edberg, who is playing out of his mind and holding serve with ease. After losing the 2nd set Courier is clearly deflated and is bageled as Edberg unleashes a storm of winners from every part of the court.

The bottom line: If Courier had been able to give Edberg more resistance, as he does in the 2nd set, the match could have been a classic. Instead, he seems to spend sets 1 and 3 being upset with the linesmen and the noisy New York crowd. Edberg's performance is flawless from midway through the 1st set. There are many brilliant volleys from Edberg (along with some fine winners off the ground) for the serve-volley enthusiast to marvel at, but I hessitate to recommend the match unless you're a big Edberg fan (like me.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

2001 Wimbledon 4th rd.: Federer def. Sampras

Federer def. Sampras: 7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5.
Classic: Yes
Rating: 93
Available from: Wimbledon Classic Matches (search

The Plot: This is the only match that Federer and Sampras, arguably the two greatest players of the last 20 years, ever played on the ATP tour. At the time, Federer was a 19 year old player making his Centre Court debut, and Sampras, 29 years of age, was a 13-time Grand Slam champion (7 times at Wimbledon) in the twilight of his career. That day, Federer ended Sampras reign at Wimbledon and announced his arrival at the top echelon of the pro game.

The Match: There are no breaks of serve in the 1st set, and both men are playing superb tennis, serving and volleying most points. The set is decided in a tie-break. In the 2nd set, Federer has numerous chances to break Sampras serve, but can't convert. Eventually, it is Sampras who breaks to take the set 7-5.

Federer finally breaks Sampras in the 3rd set, but Sampras breaks back immediately. However, when Sampras is serving at 4-4, he misses a slam-dunk overhead at break point, and Federer serves out the set in the next game.

Sampras plays his best tennis in the 4th set tie-break, hitting at one time a 136mph 1st serve, and taking the tie-break 7-2. The 5th set is a thrilling affair, as both men face multiple break points against their serve, but save them with great play. But when Sampras serves at 5-6, Federer hits several great returns to earn two match points at 15-40. He takes the first with a return winner down the line - and sinks to his knees in triumph.

The bottom line: Federer plays an outstanding match: He is never nervous, he sticks to his game plan, he serves almost as well as Sampras, and plays all the big points well. Sampras is playing very well, too, but he seems to believe for too long that Federer will let himself down, and when he raises his level in the 4th set it seems too late. Federer winning the 1st set gets the plot going, and the crowd senses what may happen (they are very loud at the end.) My only real misgiving is that the match is a little bit short on exciting points and winners, at least from Sampras end of the court. All the same, it is a great match and no tennis enthusiast should miss it.

Bonus info: Tears of joy well up in Federer's eyes as he sits down after the match. It wouldn't be until 2003 we would see those tears of joy again, when he won his first Wimbledon Championship.

Wimbledon DVD release: I don't find the official Wimbledon release is very well produced. There is no real introduction, and throughout the match you can faintly hear the commentators communicating with the technical staff in the background. It seems that the DVD has been rushed to the market.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

1980 Wimbledon Final: Borg def. McEnroe

Borg def. McEnroe: 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6.
Classic: Yes!
Rating: 100

The Plot: Possibly the most famous tennis match in memory. Bjorn Borg was gunning for a 5th straight Wimbledon title, but a young John McEnroe, whose game was seemingly tailor made for grass, was standing in his way. The two were already engaged in a tense rivalry after meeting in the US Open final the previous year (which McEnroe won.)

The Match: McEnroe gets an unbelievably quick start against Borg, who is out of sorts attempting to return McEnroe's heavily sliced serve. But McEnroe, owing possibly to fatigue from his previous matches, can't keep up the level, and Borg works his way into the match in the 2nd set. Fully in control, Borg breaks to take the 2nd set, cruises through the 3rd and is seemingly on his way to victory when he breaks McEnroe late in the 4th set. But when Borg is serving for the match at 5-4, McEnroe suddenly produces the most thrilling tennis, and breaks Borg.

The 4th set goes to a tie-breaker. This is the most famous tie-break in tennis history, in which Borg has 5 match points (in addition to two held during the 4th set), and McEnroe has 7 set points. Eventually McEnroe prevails to take the match to a deciding 5th.

In the 5th set, Borg raises the level of his game, winning 28 of 31 points on serve in the set. McEnroe is tiring, and is on several occasions down 0-40, but gets out of trouble every time. But when serving at 6-7, McEnroe goes down 15-40 and Borg finally wins the match with a cross-court passing shot.

The Bottom Line: I have often felt while watching this match that modern-day tennis is being invented right before our eyes. The tennis of 1980 is of course very different from today's tennis because of the use of wooden racquets. Baseline winners are virtually non-existent, and attacking tennis means rushing the net. Both men serve and volley mostly, which was the style of the day on grass. Yet a contrast of style is apparent: Borg often stays back on 2nd serves, and he is overall so much more adept on his ground strokes and passing shots. McEnroe is a virtuoso at net, of course, but his returns and ground-strokes are rather lacking. But during the best parts of this match, Borg and McEnroe produce such thrilling and fast-paced tennis with incredible winners, passes and volleys, that you're left wondering how they could do that without modern day graphite racquets.

Even though Borg has a slow start and McEnroe seems a little tired at times, it is overall hard to imagine a more superbly played tennis match. So I am giving this highly dramatic and thrilling match a perfect score of 100.

Availability: This match is available on DVD in Wimbledon's Classic Match series. Check out or similar places online.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

2006 Rome Masters Final: Nadal def. Federer

Nadal def. Federer: 6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6,7-6
Classic: Yes
Rating: 95

The Plot: Nadal had established himself as the King of Clay by winning his first French Open the year prior to this match, where he beat Federer in the semis. Two weeks before this Rome final Federer had lost to Nadal at the Masters series in Monaco in a somewhat lack-luster final. All the pressure was on Federer to show that he could beat Nadal on clay before the French Open.

The Match: Federer gets an early break in the 1st set but is unable to hold on to it. Nonetheless, it is clearly Federer who is in control of most rallies and he wins the 1st set in a flawlessly played tie-break.

However, Nadal raises the level of his game in the 2nd set and Federer's level drops slightly. With no breaks, the 2nd set goes to a tie-break, but Nadal is in the ascendancy now and takes it. In the 3rd set Nadal is dominating Federer in the rallies and Federer is missing some crucial forehands.

But just as one might expect that Federer is out the match, he returns to his better play from the 1st set. He breaks Nadal twice and takes the 4th set 6-2. He then goes on to get an early break in the 5th set, but just like the 1st set, he can't hold on to it. As things tighten up towards the end of the 5th set, both men have chances, but none greater than Federer, who holds two match points on Nadals serve at 6-5. Nadal survives to send the set to a deciding tiebreak. Federer again is up in the breaker on two occasions but can't hold on - and Nadal wins it 7-5 on his first match point.

The bottom line: This is no doubt the best ATP match played in 2006 and is in many ways the great French Open final between the two that we never had. The level of play is sky-high, Federer is attacking the net with great success and Nadal hits topspin forehands like no one but Nadal does. It makes for a nice contrast in playing style. My only criticism is perhaps that the match is a little monotonous with many of the points following similar patterns, and that the slow clay doesn't allow Federer to hit as many miraculous winners as you see on faster surfaces. Nonetheless, this match is likely to go down as the best match the two ever played, and it is highly recommended.

Stat of the match: Federer won 64 of 84 points when he came to the net (76%).

Sunday, October 28, 2007

1989 French Open Final: Chang def. Edberg

Chang def. Edberg: 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
Classic: Yes
Rating: 93

The Plot: Michael Chang became the youngest ever man to win a grand slam singles title when he won the 1989 French Open. En route to the final, he beat heavy favourite Ivan Lendl in the 4th round in a match that tennis enthusiasts still talk about frequently. Stefan Edberg, the fluent Swedish serve-volleyer, had made a surprise run to the final, beating Boris Becker in a 5-set thriller in the semi-final.

The Match: Chang comes out firing and makes quick work of Edberg in the 1st set. But the Swede works his way into the match and takes control in the 2nd set. Once in control, Edberg is playing unbelievably well, serving and volleying with great authority, and even though Chang keeps getting the ball back, Edberg is on it every time. From breaking Chang late in the 2nd set, Edberg wins 7 consecutive games and is cruising in the 3rd set.

Edberg breaks Chang in the 1st game of the 4th set but is broken back immediately. Edberg has break chances in every Chang service game in the 4th set (9 total), but can't convert. Eventually Chang breaks Edberg at 5-4 to take the match into a deciding 5th set.

Edberg breaks Chang in the 1st game of the 5th set, only to be broken right back. Edberg looks tired and is broken again. Though he has several more break chances in the set, he can't convert. Serving at 2-5, Edberg goes down 15-40 and nets an easy forehand to hand Chang the match.

The bottom line: The level of tennis is high throughout, particularly so in sets 2, 3 and 4. Chang runs everything down from the baseline, and Edberg blankets the net, making one incredible volley after another. There are many spectacular points and winners, in particular off Edberg's backhand wing. The many momentum shifts, the contrast in playing style between Chang and Edberg, the importance of the occasion, along with the compelling background story, make this match qualify as a classic. It is highly recommended.

Stat of the match: Edberg had 25 break chances in the match, but converted only 6.

Friday, October 26, 2007

My points system

Dear Reader,

I have decided to institute a points system for my match reviews. The system is inspired by Robert Parker's famous (notorious?) wine rating system, and here is how it breaks down:

All matches are given 50 points for starters. From then on:

Up to 30 points are awarded for the quality of play, 15 points for each player (I only plan to review singles matches.) Generally, few unforced errors and double faults, high first service percentage, good use of strategy, etc. will help to earn a high score in this category.

Up to 10 points can be awarded for the quality of the general plot/storyline of the match. Such things as twists and turns of the plot, emotions of the players, drama (e.g. spectacular recovery, crowd involvement, etc.), the setting or circumstance of the match (e.g. finals of Wimbledon, historical importance, rivalry, etc.) all count towards this

Finally, up to 10 points are awarded for other qualities of the match, including: Contrast of styles (e.g. baseliner vs. serve-volleyer), the number of interesting rallies, spectacular/special points, and spectacular or special shots, winners or "gets".

Of course, my notes on the match provide more detailed information. Generally, a match rated from 80-89 is a good to very good match, but there is a big difference between a 89 point match and an 80 point match. Matches scoring 90 points or more are most likely classics, and are worth purchasing to see. Matches scoring 95 or above are instant classics, and should not be missed by any tennis enthusiast. A match scoring 100 points is theoretically the perfect tennis match.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

1998 US Open SF: Rafter def. Sampras

Rafter def. Sampras: 6-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3
Classic: No.
Rating: 82

The plot: Rafter won the 1997 US Open and came back to successfully defend his title in 1998. En route, he met Pete Sampras who was closing in on Roy Emerson's all-time grand slam record of 12 career men's singles slams. The match was highly anticipated, and Pete was the heavy favourite, even though he had lost to Rafter a month earlier at Cincinnati.

The match doesn't live up to its promise, but it is fairly entertaining at times. The first two sets are well played, even though Sampras is struggling with his 1st serve, getting only around 35% in. Sampras wins the first set in an exciting tie-breaker, Rafter takes the 2nd set with a single break. In the 3rd set Sampras sustains an injury (his thigh cramps up), which hinders his movement for the rest of the match. Rafter seems to lose his concentration when this happens and dumps the 3rd set. But from the 4th set on, Sampras can't keep up, and Rafter goes on a stretch of winning 35 of 42 points on his serve at a time. Serving at 3-5 in the final set, Sampras falls behind 0-40, and Rafter wins on his first match point with a passing shot down the line.

The bottom line: Had Sampras been able to fight through his injury, it could have been a classic. Instead, he fades away badly after the injury. There are many lovely serve-volley points from Rafter for the serve-volley enthusiast, and the first two sets are well played and exciting.

Bonus Info: In a pre-match interview, Sampras was asked what the difference between him and Rafter was, to which he famously answered: "About 10 grand slams".

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Welcome to The Classic Match

Hi everyone! This is a blog about classic tennis matches. When tennis goes into the off-season (i.e. post-US Open) I keep myself entertained by watching old tennis matches I've recorded from TV over the years. This also allows me the opportunity to watch serve and volley tennis which has gone out of style in todays game. To me, that is the most beautiful and exciting style of tennis, and the best tennis matches are those that feature the contrasting styles of a serve-volleyer against a baseliner: McEnroe vs. Borg or Rafter vs. Agassi are classic examples.

Old tennis matches are hard to come by, unless you've been recording them from TV yourself for many years. There are a few places on the internet that sell old matches on DVD - do a Google search for "tennis matches on DVD". Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam that regularly release some of their greatest matches on DVD. You can buy them from Amazon, say.

I will provide you with reviews and comments on the best tennis matches I've seen over the years featuring top players of all eras. Federer, Nadal, Sampras, Agassi, Rafter, Edberg, McEnroe and Borg are some of my favourite players. You're welcome to chime in if you have comments.