Continuing our Season In Review series, ATPWorldTour.com looks at the best ATP World Tour matches in 2017, starting with Nos. 5 to 3.
5) Nadal d. Pouille, China Open, Beijing First Round, 3 October 2017 (Match Stats)
Rafael Nadal was on a roll, seven matches unbeaten and at his indomitable best. Against Lucas Pouille, in his first competitive match since lifting his third US Open crown, Nadal found a way to win as he and other great champions so often do when they aren’t quite at their best. The Spanish star avoided an early exit in Beijing by fighting off two match points to beat Pouille 4-6, 7-6(6), 7-5. Read & Watch Highlights
“He played well, I think, very aggressive. He’s serving well,” said Nadal, who at one point lost his shoe in a rally. “For me it was a little bit difficult at the beginning, then I started to play better. But still, I didn’t have the control of the match for almost all the time. I am very, very happy to be through.”
Pouille dictated the early exchanges with his forehand and it wasn’t until the second set that Nadal began to attack the net, to end long drawn-out points. Nadal was down 4/6 in the second-set tie-break, when Pouille struck a short forehand approach into the net. Nadal gained the impetus to win four consecutive points to even the match at one set-all. In the decider, Pouille kept attacking with a number of excellent low volley winners, but Nadal earned his lone break of the match in the 11th game and served out the contest a game later to 15.
Pouille, who had beaten Nadal at the 2016 US Open, struck 46 winners to 47 unforced errors in the encounter that lasted two hours and 31 minutes. “He had two match points, one of them with an easy forehand more or less,” said Nadal. “But it’s like this. I remember the match against him in the US Open that I had 6-all in the tie-break, an easy forehand I missed at the net, too. That time was for him, today was for me.”
4) Djokovic d. Murray, Qatar ExxonMobil Open, Doha Final, 6 January 2017 (Match Stats)
Remember the dramatic end to the 2016 season? Just six days into the new year, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic clashed once again for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open title. Murray appeared to have broken Djokovic’s psychological hold over him when he won their November 2016 meeting at the Nitto ATP Finals in London, when not only the prestigious title, but also the year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings was on the line.
Djokovic, who saved five match points against Fernando Verdasco in the Doha semi-final, was hugely impressive in the title match — the 36th match of their FedEx ATP Head2Head series — out-hitting Murray for a 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 victory over two hours and 54 minutes. It ended Murray’s 28-match winning streak. Read & Watch Highlights
“[It was] definitely one of the best ways to start a year,” said Djokovic. “When Andy turned it around I thought, ‘I hope this is not payback time’ [for the Verdasco comeback]. All the way to the last shot, you never know with Andy. It’s no strange occurrence for both of us to play three sets for three hours. It’s a very physical battle.”
Djokovic served for the match at 5-4 in the second set against Murray, and held three championship points but could not find a way through his opponent’s defences. Murray maintained his record of breaking an opponent’s serve in 112 consecutive matches since losing to Roger Federer in August 2015 at the Western & Southern Open, and at one point reeled off five straight games to a deciding set. Having stayed in touch for 30 minutes, Djokovic sensed his chance and pounced at 3-3.
“It means a lot to me,” said Djokovic. “Because the last three months of 2016 I haven’t felt that confident on the court and I didn’t play so consistent. To start off the year with a win over the World No. 1 and the biggest rival, it’s a dream start, so I am hoping I can get the best out of it.”
After this epic match, the tennis world thought that the No. 1 battle in 2017 would again be a two-man race. It turned out so different…
3) Monfils d. Nishikori, Coupe Rogers, Montreal Second Round, 9 August 2017 (Match Stats)
Gael Monfils’ 6-7(4), 7-5, 7-6(6) win over Kei Nishikori — particularly the final 14 points — showcased the very best of tennis as a sport. The match featured shifts of momentum and intensity to a player’s psychology and how the crowd reacted and felt. It was the kind of never-say-die comeback you’d long hoped for from the talented Monfils, who recovered from a set down against a Top 10 opponent for the first time in seven years and only the third time in his career (3-62). Read & Watch Highlights
Monfils appeared out for the count and staring at his fourth straight defeat to Nishikori, but at 2/6 down in the deciding-set tie-break, the enigmatic and athletic Frenchmen fended off four match points — two of which came on Nishikori’s serve — in a superb fightback.
“It’s a good victory for many reasons,” said Monfils. “It’s a big revenge, because last year around this time I had the same thing actually against Kei. I was up 6/2 in the tie-break in the [Rio] Olympics quarter-finals and I lost the tie-break. So I know exactly how he feels. Also, last year, a bit before, I played him in Miami. I also had five match points and I lost it 7-6 in the third. I’m more than happy because I fought through the toughness, because it was tough for me. It was a bit like a rollercoaster. I was a break down in each set.”
Monfils had trailed 2-5 in the second set, 3-5 in the third set and was 2/6 in the deciding tie-break. At 3/6, Monfils cleaned the line with a backhand winner to end a lung-busting rally, almost collapsing in exhaustion and disbelief. At 5/6 he sent a powerful forehand into the corner that drew another standing ovation and at 7/6 he snared a forehand winner — his 28th of the two-hour and 41-minute encounter — before letting out a celebratory scream. Nishikori had won more points (116-108), but it was the Frenchman who was clutch in the big moments.
Come back on Tuesday for the Top 2 ATP World Tour matches of 2017