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.