Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal bookended the four Grand Slams held in the 2019 season. Their cleanly-halving title wins are, however, only the tip of the iceberg concerning the rest of the matches that were played in each of the four events in 2019.
Here’s taking a look at five-best men’s matches that were played in the Slams. To elaborate, the list is subjective and in no particular order: Rafael Nadal vs Daniil Medvedev, US Open Final When Medvedev reached the final at Flushing Meadows, after dividing opinions with his snarkiness and sarcasm, it looked like the NextGen had finally arrived on the scene.
It was the fourth final for the 22-year-old in as many tournaments, in a run that began in Washington, before moving onto Montreal and Cincinnati and halting at the fourth Major of the year. Unsurprisingly, Medvedev’s run made hearts skip beats.
Nadal was the favourite but could the youngster spring one last surprise? And he did come close in doing so. The then 18-time Grand Slam champion eked out a two-sets-to-love lead but Medvedev stormed back to win the next two sets and keep the match precariously poised.
However, at the end of four hours and 49 minutes, the experience had its decisive say as Nadal claimed the win 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-3. The Mallorcan’s third win in New York also put him the closest he had ever been to upstaging his oldest rival, Roger Federer in the number of Slams won.
Novak Djokovic vs Roger Federer, Wimbledon Final The Serbian won this 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6(4), 4-6, 13-12(3) by out-manoeuvring Federer with his patience. The match would remain indelibly superimposed for how the Swiss squandered two match points, on his serve, in the fifth set at 8-7.
However, the tone of the match had been long set before those two match points in how Djokovic parried Federer’s focused assault of shot-making. This match was a war of attrition and Djokovic’s unshakeable mindset – perhaps, bolstered by his past series of wins against Federer – forced his older rival to return without his 21st Slam that day.
On the other hand, vis-à-vis Federer, the loss once again showed that despite his greatness, the then 37-year-old was human. It also prompted concerns about whether the eight-time Wimbledon champion would be able to look past this defeat.
But his 103rd title in Basel and a win over Djokovic in the round-robin stages of the ATP Finals brushed this spectre of gloom aside. Stan Wawrinka vs Stefanos Tsitsipas, French Open Fourth Round Ever seen a one-handed backhand being unleashed with full control, precision and power? That is what this match was all about – the backhand battle.
Wawrinka was trying to get to the business of a tournament that he had won before. Tsitsipas was bidding to reach the quarter-finals of a Slam for the second consecutive time in his career. It was the first meeting between the two and, before the match, it was the three-time Major champion who was under pressure as he tried to regain his form after injuries left him hobbling.
The sixth-seeded Greek player equalled the match on two occasions – at the end of the second and fourth sets – but the 24th-seeded Wawrinka kept him in abeyance long enough to win 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 8-6. Gael Monfils vs Denis Shapovalov, US Open Third Round He made a breakthrough in 2017 but since then, Shapovalov had struggled to keep up with his peers.
In 2019, things changed for the better for the Canadian although not all results went his way. An example of this was this match of his against Monfils. The match swung sharply from one side of the net to the other. From looking he would gain a two-sets-to-love lead, Shapovalov went down two-sets-to-one.
In the fourth set, he also faced a match point. But the 20-year-old played his heart out, saved the match point before going down in the fifth. Monfils won 6-7(5), 7-6(4), 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3, chalking up another victory for the older generation.
Yet, the result also proved that the younger lads were more than just token threats on paper and that the future was theirs to own. Roberto Bautista Agut vs Marin Cilic, Australian Open Fourth Round One could consider this an unlikely choice among the others.
But it is the seeming lack of importance of this result in the panorama of the rest that makes this match special. Before this match-up, the 2018 Australian Open finalist Cilic had gotten an opportunity to make to the second week at Melbourne Park courtesy of Fernando Verdasco shanking two match points in their third-round meeting.
Against Bautista Agut – who, then, was among the few players to have remained unbeaten in the few days’ old 2019 season – Cilic faced a tougher opponent. After losing the opening set 6-8 in the tie-break, the Spaniard steered the match in his direction by winning sets two and three, losing just five games across the two sets.
The Croatian fought back by winning the fourth set but there was no comeback lined up for him, this time around. Bautista Agut took the win in the end, 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Honourable Mentions Dominic Thiem vs Novak Djokovic, French Open Semi-final – 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5 The Austrian rode out the storm – literally and figuratively – to make it to his second-straight French Open final.
Djokovic who insisted the match be postponed on account of the fierce winds that churned the clay failed to make it to the final of the event for the third year since completing the non-calendar Slam after his maiden title there, in 2016.
Roger Federer vs Sumit Nagal, US Open First Round – 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 The Indian qualifier stunned everyone – including Federer, himself – when he won the first set against the five-time former US Open champion.
Federer would go on to win the match but Nagal’s assertiveness in the match forced the Basel-native to dig deep in the crevasses of his tactical coffer. Nagal’s efforts also elicited memes about how close his name sounded with that of Nadal.
As the season wound down, these died down but the match remains vivid in the mind’s eye. Andrey Rublev vs Stefanos Tsitsipas, US Open First Round – 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(7), 7-5 Two of the NextGen players took on each other and it was the lower-ranked one who came out triumphant.
It was a quirky turn of events for Tsitsipas, who had started off the year’s Slams’ journey with a semi-final Down Under. Rublev reached the fourth round, subduing Nick Kyrgios in straight sets along the way (in the third round) but he met his match as another fellow youngster Berrettini stalled him decisively.