The month of year-enders is here. In four of the biggest men’s tennis tournaments of the year, the “Big 3” stepped up and how. Sure, the season with ATP Men’s Tennis 2018 had some fine performances by the next generation of young male tennis players – Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alex de Minaur, Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov made huge breakthroughs in an era dominated by the older players, while Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev continued to prove that they are just an inch or two away from challenging the champions on the biggest stages.
But in the four Grand Slams – at Melbourne, Paris, London and New York – it was the experience and timeless skills of the “veterans” that stood out. Proof lies in the fact that their names are a common occurrence in the best-of-5-set year-end list of any season.
Here are 3 of the best men’s Grand Slam matches of 2018:
3. Australian Open Final (Federer defeats Cilic)
36-year-old Roger Federer came into the 2018 season on the back of a Laureus Athlete of the Year award and a season in which he stunned everyone with two Grand Slams after a 5-year lean period at an age when many of his old friends have been retiring. He started 2018 in the same vein, and it was the Australian Open Final on a hot January night that brought out the best of Federer’s hot-and-cold season. Marin Cilic had no blisters this time, and he pushed the Swiss master to the brink – overcoming a break deficit in the fourth set to take the Final into a nerve-wracking fifth. Federer then faced two break points in the opening game of the final set. After saving them, he didn’t look back and raced to his second consecutive Championship match victory over Cilic after Wimbledon 2017. Federer cried 9 years after Nadal had made him cry. This time his tears were joyous. It was to be his biggest moment of the year – a level of tennis he failed to reach for the next ten months. It was also the best Grand Slam Final of 2018 – the others were straight-set blowouts.
2. Wimbledon Quarter-final (Nadal defeats Juan Martin Del Potro)
If there is one player that can defeat the towering Argentine and his frightening forehand on his best day, it is Rafael Nadal. The quarter-final at the SW19 was an instant classic – a five-hour-long five-setter that arguably produced some of the best tennis ever seen on a Wimbledon court. Del Potro was on a high, beating Federer to win his first ATP Masters 1000 just a few months ago. Nadal was on a high after a crushing French Open victory. They clashed, and the World no. 1 had to be the warrior we all know him to be – he blew a 6-3 lead in the second set tie-break, lost the third set too, and then somehow against the run of play won the fourth and fifth sets by a 6-4 scoreline. The fifth set had some stunning tennis, where even though Del Potro was calling the shots and earning break points, it was Nadal who pulled through with sheer grit and determination. Both players embraced for almost a minute – Nadal knew that JMDP had almost pulled a Nadal on him after being on the verge of going two sets down. Little did we know then that what was to follow was easily the best and most significant tennis match of the year.
1. Wimbledon semi-final (Djokovic defeats Nadal)
The context: Rafael Nadal was two matches away from wresting away the ‘Greatest of All Time’ title from Federer. All he had to do was defeat World no. 22 Novak Djokovic, who hadn’t won a Slam in more than two years. All he had to do was crush the Serb the way the Serb had been crushing himself. The context: Novak Djokovic had match-point at the Queen’s Championship a fortnight ago against Marin Cilic. It was his first Final in more than a year. He lost it. But he had shown sparks of the man that had gone missing. He was then to choose his greatest rival, his most fierce competitor, against whom he still had a 26-25 winning record, to mark his return to the top of men’s tennis. The final scoreline: 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (9), 3-6, 10-8. Djokovic thwarted Nadal when nobody expected it anymore. For 5 hours and 15 minutes, the two traded blows and played the level of tennis reminiscent of their legendary 2012 Melbourne Final. Djokovic was down 15-40 a couple of times in the final set here, but he fought back repeatedly until he earned his own match points on Nadal’s serve in the final three games. Nadal saved some at 8-7, but he went 0-40 down at 9-8 and never returned. He was beaten on his best day – and it was a familiar name at the other end. Yet another chapter in the greatest modern rivalry in men’s tennis had been written. Two days later, Djokovic lifted his 13th major. Two months later, he lifted his 14th.