Sunday, January 13, 2008

2005 Australian Open SF: Safin def. Federer

Safin def. Federer: 5-7, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 9-7.
Classic: Yes!
Rating: 100.

The Plot:
An argument can be made that this is the best tennis match played since the 1980 Wimbledon final. Safin defeated the seemingly invincible Federer in a 4 1/2 hour match, ending temporarily Federer's strangle hold on tennis' major titles.

The match: The first set is scintillating tennis from the word play, but there are no breaks of serve until Safin serves 5-6. Federer breaks to take the set, and seems to be in the drivers' seat. But Federer then goes off the boil a fraction and Safin breaks in the 3rd game if the 2nd set. Holding onto this advantage, Safin levels the match at 2 sets a piece, before Federer picks up his game again and plays an immaculate 3rd set. The 4th set is thrilling tennis, but goes to a tie-break in which Federer has match point at 6-5, and Safin saves it with positively brilliant play. Eventually Safin prevails to take the match to a deciding 5th set. Federer is treated by the tour trainer early in the 5th set, and seems to be tiring. Federer barely hangs on to hold for 3-5, and faces match points when Safin serves for the match, but he saves them to get back on serve. He saves match points again at 4-5, and again at 6-7. Safin continues to hold serve with relative ease, and at 7-8, Federer goes down 15-40 in his serve to face another two match points. Federer saves the first with an ace, but loses the 2nd (7th total), when he falls while retrieving Safin's shot, and Safin then safely steers the last shot into the open court.

The bottom line: The level of tennis in this match is probably the highest I have seen since the legendary 1980 Wimbledon final (Borg def. McEnroe). It surpasses Sampras/Courier's 1995 AO quarter final and the Rafter/Agassi Wimbledon 2000 semi-final. In the category of spectacular points, winners and "gets", there is an abundance. One may object that Federer is ailing in the 5th set, but he plays so well when it really counts, and it adds to the drama of the match. So a perfect score of 100 points it is for what is undoubtedly one of the finest matches in tennis history.

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