Andy Murray Wimbledon Epic among the best Grand Slam games of 2021 | ATP circuit
Last week ATPTour.com took a look at the best matches from the ATP Tour of 2021. Now we will reflect on the best matches from the Australian Grand Slam in New York.
An Andy Murray thriller under the roof at Wimbledon and Frances Tiafoe digging deep at the US Open are among the three of the best five Grand Slam games of the season.
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5) Wimbledon, second round, Andy Murray d. Oscar Otte 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
This is what Wimbledon fans live for: descending darkness, Sir Andy Barron Murray leaving everything out there on the grass of center court, playing every point as if his life depended on it. Truth be told, that’s also what Murray lives for.
This is why the 34-year-old was still playing the second round of this year’s Wimbledon tournament – 16 years after his debut there and for the first time in four years – after a pair of career-threatening hip surgeries . The second, in January 2019, concerned two metal implants. And while Bob Bryan has undergone a similar hip resurfacing procedure, playing doubles is a world away from the dreaded singles wear and tear.
Murray’s season had started small, in a Challenger in Biella, Italy (he lost in the final) and he had only played five games before Wimbledon as a wild card. After knocking out 24th seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in four sets, he faced German qualifier Oscar Otte, a 27-year-old ranked world No. 151. Otte reached the second round by beating Arthur Rinderknech 13-11 in the fifth set – the game took two days.
Later, Otte will reveal that he shed tears while watching the documentary relating Murray’s injuries.
In 12 previous Grand Slam meetings with qualifying, Murray had claimed 11 wins, but that story seemed irrelevant when he found himself down two sets to one. This one was a mess; after winning the first set (and leading 3-1 in the second), Murray suffered many unforced errors and bad decisions. The lanky, bearded German kept him off balance with a consistent lineup of big serves. Murray struggled to keep his feet on the slippery slope that makes Wimbledon so unique. He later attributed this to his lack of match play.
At this point, however, Murray began to channel his previous exploits on center court: victory in the final over Roger Federer at the London Olympics in 2012, major titles in 2013 and 2016. With the score of 2-2 at the fourth, the setting sun forced the roof to close. This was the end of Otte.
Murray won the fourth set with two winners, a volley and a backhand. The fifth was a flagship film by Murray, supported by unbridled cheers from viewers. The last shot was a lob for a winner but that didn’t matter. Murray, against all odds, had survived.
“I enjoyed the ending,” he told the crowd, preaching to the choir. “The middle part not so much. What an atmosphere to play. The whole crowd was amazing but there were a few guys in there who were getting their act together. I needed everyone’s help tonight.
Photo credit: Mike Hewitt / Getty Images
After his second surgery, Murray said it was for “the quality of life” and to decrease the daily pain he was feeling. But a return to elite tennis has always been his goal. And while he would lose to Denis Shapovalov in the third round, Murray had reached it.
“It was tough,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I always play because of times like this. Why would you want to give up on this? The vibe last – I mean, it was good the whole game, but especially the last hour and a half was great.
“I still enjoy it.”
4) Australian Open, second round, Stefanos Tsitsipas d. Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-4
Eight years earlier, the world was full of possibilities for Thanasi Kokkinakis. The 17-year-old Australian reached the Australian Open junior final, losing to compatriot Nick Kyrgios. He would later win the Wimbledon junior title with Kyrgios and advance to the US Open junior final, before losing to Borna Coric.
Based on recent performances, however, this shouldn’t have been a great game. Kokkinakis, who comes off his first Australian Open match win in six years, had a long history of injury and illness. He ended up at No.267 in the FedEx ATP rankings and was playing on a wild card. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, was ranked No.6, had made a semifinal appearance in Melbourne on his CV (beating Roger Federer en route in 2019) and had lost just four games in his first round victory over Gilles Simon.
At 22, the Greek was looking to become the youngest Australian Open champion since Novak Djokovic in 2008. He had never lost a Grand Slam match against a player ranked as low as Kokkinakis, but after losing a tight tie-break in the first set over a double fault that suddenly looked like a possibility.
It was an ATP Cup-like atmosphere at the Rod Laver Arena; Kokkinakis was supported by the cheering crowd which included family and friends as well as Kyrgios. Kokkinakis, who had saved his first eight break points, finally broke on his ninth and Tsitsipas won the second set.
Statistically, Kokkinakis was dominated in the fourth set but he was phenomenal in the critical moments. Saving a match point, he forced a tie-break, winning it with a winning backhand on the line. The fifth set belonged to Tsitsipas – in his first Australian Open game to go the distance – as his heavier shots and form advantage became the deciding factor. Kokkinakis, his beleaguered serve, was ultimately shattered in Game 5 and Tsitsipas forged a decisive advantage.
Under a standing ovation, the two charismatic and temperamental players met at the net, four hours and 32 minutes after their debut.
“I just want to go for an ice bath right now,” Tsitsipas said afterwards, “That’s all I can think of. Thanasi is a great competitor and a great fighter.
“He hasn’t been able to play all these years due to injuries he had, and that was a real shame because we were missing someone who wasn’t there with us on the tour. I am very happy to see him back in competition at a very high level.
For Kokkinakis, who drew 23 aces in the loss, it was his best moment in 2021, a year that saw him play just six tour-level games. And a reminder of what he is capable of.
In the end, Tsitsipas hit an astonishing 78 winners. He beat his quarantined training partner Mikael Ymer in the third round, Matteo Berrettini in the fourth and Rafael Nadal in the fourth (in five sets) before falling to Daniil Medvedev in the semi-final.
“I fought like a real warrior there,” Tsitsipas said. “It was an incredible ending with a lot of emotion and a great spirit.”
3) US Open, third round, Frances Tiafoe d. Andrei Rublev 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-1
Photo credit: Matthew Stockman / Getty Images
In a sport with more than its share of extraordinary stories, consider the unlikely trajectory of Francis Tiafoe:
Her mother, Alphina, escaped the civil war in Sierra Leone when she obtained a rarely granted visa to the United States. Frances Sr., working on a construction crew at a junior tennis center in College Park, Md., Was eventually offered a job as a janitor. It was there that their son learned to love the game, and ultimately master it.
In 2014, Tiafoe met another 16-year-old in the US Open junior quarterfinal, Andrey Rublev. The American won in three sets and they wouldn’t meet again until seven years later in the same place – with considerably higher stakes. This time Rublev – ranked No.5 in the world – was a big favorite.
So it’s no surprise that Rublev had the third set, and a formidable advantage, on his racket at 6/5 in the tie-break. But rushing a second serve, the Russian double faulted in the net and Tiafoe escaped with the set – sending the Arthur Ashe stadium crowd late into the night into hysteria. Tiafoe astutely worked the spectators and they helped him take a 4-2 lead in the fourth. Rublev returned, winning four straight games and the game was tied.
Friday night had long passed to Saturday morning when Tiafoe dominated the Russian, winning six of the last seven games. He played aggressively, with unearthly confidence, hitting 14 winners – an average of two per game – and finished with a total of 69.
It was 2:14 a.m., and what was left of the crowd roared after a three hour and 45 minute classic. Tiafoe walked stoically towards the net, congratulated his opponent, put down his racquet – then ripped his from his shirt. He jumped to the edge of the bleachers and raised his arms in triumph, nodding his head.
“You are the reason I did it tonight,” Tiafoe said. “You guys have been with me all along.
“I lost a lot of difficult matches on this pitch. I wasn’t going to leave this court winless tonight.
Funny footnote: He was tied for the fifth final result in US Open history. Incredibly, Tiafoe coach Wayne Ferreira was involved in the other 2:14 end, losing a memorable four-set game to Younes El Aynaoui in 2002.
It was the second year in a row for Tiafoe in the fourth round of the US Open, but he would lose four sets to Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“I love these games,” Tiafoe told the crowd. “That’s what you work for. That’s why you spend time playing the best guys in the world. These are the matches I’m getting up for.
“I want these guys. I want to put it on my CV. I went out today and I was like, “I’m going to beat him”. I grew up with this guy, I don’t fear any of these guys. Let’s go on.”
Learn more about our Best of 2021 series here.