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.