We’re taking another look into the rear-view mirror, this time reminiscing on several of the most memorable ATP matches of the two North American hard court giants. Some of them will stick with us for the tennis, others for the drama and still others because they were landmark events.
Here’s our final hard court hurrah:
The one… with a career win
Miami QF: Isner d. Nishikori 6-4, 6-3
John Isner entered a zone in this match, leaving fans, commentators, and his otherwise in-form opponent in utter disbelief. Everything that came off the American’s racket quickly spun into gold. Against one of the fastest and cagiest players on the planet, the No. 22 seed hit an uncanny 33 winners.
We’ve all seen Isner blast ace after ace past his opponents. We’ve seen him play authoritative first strike tennis with his forehand punctuating one-two punches.
What was unique about this match was how well Isner was returning. Nishikori isn’t known as a colossal server, but irrespective of that, Isner was simply on point, reading the No. 4 seed’s serve like a book. By match’s end, he won an astounding 42 percent of return points.
Many assert that it was the best match of Isner’s career, and I would be inclined to agree.
The one… with the Birthday Bash
Miami QF: Djokovic d. Ferrer 7-5, 7-5
Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer squared off in the Miami quarterfinals on an auspicious day for the Spaniard – his 33rd birthday. Rest assured, a match against Novak Djokovic on such a big stage is something Ferrer surely will have cherished, but it ultimately wasn’t the ideal birthday gift.
Not that Djokovic and Ferrer didn’t provide a spectacle, all the same. The No. 6 seed jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the opening set before the Serb rallied to win seven of the next nine games. Ferrer, a three-time title winner on the ATP World Tour this year, gave Djokovic his money’s worth.
The fans were treated to spectacular baseline exchanges as both men fought valiantly for nearly two hours. Ferrer’s resiliency was in full effect as he broke to stay in the match late in the second.
It wasn’t enough to capture the second set, but this was definitely one of the better matches over the last month.
The one… where Raonic breaks through
Indian Wells QF: Raonic d. Nadal 4-6, 7-6(10), 7-5
Rafael Nadal should have been feeling pretty well about his chances before the match. He had never lost to Milos Raonic, dropping just one set to the Canadian in five previous matches.
As an inevitable second set tiebreak unfolded, it looked as though Raonic would be eliminated once again, setting the stage for the first Big 4 semifinal in over three years. In what can be described as nothing short of a Houdini act, the No. 6 seed saved three match points, somehow stretching the match to a deciding set.
At 5-5 in the third, Raonic once again rose to the occasion, breaking the Spaniard on the back of a jaw-dropping lob that Nadal was unable to put back into play.
Raonic then did his part on serve to lock down one of the biggest wins of his career.
The one… with the “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi!”
Indian Wells 3R: Kokkinakis d. Monaco 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(5)
This match undoubtedly epitomized “March Madness.” It took 18-year-old Thanasi Kokkinakis all of two hours and 46 minutes to defeat hardened veteran Juan Monaco in the third round of Indian Wells.
The level of tennis in this match was extremely high. Matching the quality was the level of drama late in the third set, spurred on by a debatable flaw in the challenge system.
On his first match point, Monaco hit a ball that was called in – or, perhaps, not out. Out of challenges, Kokkinakis had no ability to challenge the ball which he thought was out. Tennis Channel immediately revealed that the ball was indeed out. Needless to say, Kokkinakis was not pleased but he kept his composure and took his match in the third set breaker, winning it seven points to five.
The one… where you cherish every moment
Indian Wells: Sock d. Lu, Muller, + Bautista Agut
Jack Sock’s start to 2015 has been trying, to say the least. After being sidelined with a hip injury, the American was dealt an even bigger blow as his older brother Eric was diagnosed was bilateral pneumonia. In very critical condition, he fortunately pulled through – perhaps inspiring this highly successful month from the younger Sock.
In his first event back, Jack Sock displayed remarkable fortitude in Indian Wells, winning his first three rounds – each time from a set down – to set up a fourth round encounter with Roger Federer, which he lost in straight sets.
Most impressively, the American didn’t limit himself to the singles court, winning the doubles title over Australian Open champions Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini.
Sock’s story is undoubtedly one of the best we’ve seen in a long time.
What were your favorite ATP memories from the month of mini-majors? Sound off in the comments!