Five unforgettable Men's Singles finals

Sport360 staff 30/01/2017

A quintet of the most iconic and exciting grand slam deciders in men’s history...

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US OPEN 1976

Jimmy Connors beats Bjorn Borg

6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (11-9), 6-4

As in boxing, styles make great finals and in Flushing Meadows you had Connors’ scrappy, powerful, double-handed baseline shots against the elegant technique of Borg. It made for a pulsating affair. The pair traded sets before the crucial third-set tiebreaker in which Connors fought off four set points to triumph and then take the fourth to win 3-1.

WIMBLEDON 1980

Bjorn Borg beats John McEnroe

1–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–7 (16–18), 8–6

Dubbed the ‘War of 18-16’ – due to the epic fourth-set tiebreaker – the 21-year-old McEnroe was the devil of Centre Court because of his antics in the earlier rounds. Borg, of course, the handsome, stylish angel of tennis. The match was a cracker, lasting nearly four hours, with Borg recovering from a terrible start, McEnroe defending five match points in the fourth set breaker before the Swede triumphed in an extended fifth set.

FRENCH OPEN 1984

Ivan Lendl beats John McEnroe

3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5

McEnroe was peerless in 1984 – winning 13 titles and finishing with a record of 82-3 – however, one of those defeats was at Roland Garros, the only occasion he reached the final. Lendl was in his first grand slam final and a heavy underdog. It looked like going to form as the American took the first two sets, almost effortlessly, only to then suffer a spectacular collapse as the Czech’s brutal ground strokes buried him.

WIMBLEDON 2008

Rafael Nadal beats Roger Federer

6–4, 6–4, 6–7(5–7), 6–7(8–10), 9–7

Widely considered the greatest-ever final, this was two icons of the game at their peak playing a standard perhaps conceived in coaching manuals. Federer had beaten Nadal in the 2006 and 2007 final but this was the Spaniard’s time as the Swiss’ grip on men’s tennis started to slip. Fededer’s finesse versus the Spanish bull, a rain delay, two dramatic tiebreakers and an epic final act. This was the match which had it all.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2012

Novak Djokovic beats Rafael Nadal

5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5

At five hours 53 minutes, this wasn’t just a tennis match, it was Iron Man feats of endurance and chess Grand Master-style levels of concentration. Their US Open final in September had gone to four hours and 10 minutes but this was another level. Nadal slammed down the serves but Djokovic’s consistency of return was unrelenting. Nadal miraculously rallied in the fourth set at 4-3 down and facing three break points but the Serb outlasted him in the fifth.

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Murray wary of Djokovic

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World No1 Andy Murray is well aware Novak Djokovic will be breathing down his neck this season and considers the Serb the biggest threat to his assault on this month’s Australian Open and to his throne at the top of the ATP rankings.

Murray commences this season with a 630-point advantage over Djokovic in the standings and the two rivals could face off as early as this first week in the new year, with both of them in action at the Qatar Open in Doha.

Djokovic is the defending champion in the Qatari capital while Murray is a two-time winner but hasn’t competed here since 2014.

The top-seeded Scot opens his Doha journey against Frenchman Jeremy Chardy tomorrow and could potentially face Tomas Berdych or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarter-finals.

Murray warmed up for Doha with an appearance at Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala World Tennis Championship, where he lost to David Goffin in his semi-final before securing third place with victory over Milos Raonic on Saturday.

The Dunblane-native has lost four Australian Open finals to Djokovic throughout the years and will be hoping to finally climb over that last hurdle when he heads to Melbourne in two weeks’ time.

Asked whom he considers the greatest threat to his efforts Down Under, Murray said on Sunday: “I would say Novak. Obviously his record in Australia has been incredible. He’s won six times is it?

“Yeah, he’s had an amazing record there over the years and obvious won a number of finals against me, too. So I would expect him to play very well there.

“In terms of the No1 ranking, Novak would be (the biggest threat as well) – I had a great sort of four, five months at the end of last year and I still only got to No1 by one match basically at the end the year. So I know it will be very tough to stay there.”

Murray feels ready to begin his season and is not reading too much into his loss to Goffin last Friday in Abu Dhabi.

“I do think it’s always tough to judge sometimes, because the quality of the tennis is good but there is not like the pressure sort of in the outcome of, I don’t know, decisions you make on the court. Sometimes your shot selection maybe in those matches isn’t quite as good,” he explained.

“Sometimes guys are playing a little bit – I don’t know, taking a little bit more risks sometimes. It’s not always that easy to judge.

“But in terms of like my ball striking and stuff, I was hitting the ball pretty clean. I was happy with that. I think I could still move a little bit better.”

He had said in the UAE capital that he’s focusing on short-term goals – namely the Australian Open. Murray has three grand slam titles in his resume, two won at Wimbledon and one at the US Open.

Of the two majors missing from his trophy cabinet, which one is he more motivated to capture?

“To be honest, I mean, obviously I played very well in Australia before. Just hadn’t quite got there in the finals. So it’s a tournament that I would’ve loved to have won,” he responds.

“Whereas at the French it’s one that I never – until the last couple years didn’t see myself sort of winning. I think that would be a greater accomplishment for me, to win that event, just because it’s a surface that doesn’t come naturally to me (clay).

“I’ve struggled on it for large parts of my career, not just with the tactical/technical side, but physically with my back the clay was giving me a lot of problems a few years ago.

“So I think it would be a greater accomplishment to win the French Open because it’s just a surface that I never felt comfortable on when I was younger.”

Sunday’s action in Doha saw Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat qualify for the main draw thanks to a victory over Frenchman Vincent Millot. The world No199 faces Belgian wildcard Arthur de Greef in the first round today.

Second-seeded Djokovic and No4 seed Goffin are in singles action on Monday while Murray is playing doubles alongside Poland’s Mariusz Fyrstenberg.

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Djokovic remains upbeat

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Novak Djokovic has chosen a philosophical approach to dealing with his perplexing second half of 2016 that saw him lose his No1 spot to Andy Murray as the Serb insists his mini-slump was a blessing in disguise.

The world No2 returns to action on Monday at the Qatar Open in Doha, where he kicks off his title defence against Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

A serene-looking Djokovic addressed the media at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex on Sunday, happy to reflect on the year gone by, and eager to get the new season started.

By his own stratospheric standards, the second half of 2016 was not a good one for Djokovic, even though he won Toronto, made the US Open final and reached the title match of the ATP World Tour Finals. The 29-year-old let an 8,000+ points lead slip from June until the end of the year to surrender his top ranking to his rival Murray.

The 12-time major champion is certain that has only fueled his hunger for success in 2017.

“I don’t see the second six months of 2016 as a failure or anything like that. It’s not in my mindset, I guess, in my philosophy of life to observe things in this way. That I didn’t succeed; that I failed; that I’ve fallen or something like that,” said Djokovic.

“I just feel like every experience is a blessing one way or another.

“I felt like the second six months of the year were very valuable, because I was always saying that you can learn a lot more from your lost tennis matches. Then you can really sit down, dig deep, and really figure out what are the things that you can do better.

“So that’s how I felt. I definitely don’t see it as an unsuccessful year. I don’t see it as a crisis. I don’t see it as any of that.

“I actually see it as a great, I would say incentive, challenge, experience that has helped me to rise and hopefully get even stronger, get even better, and keep going.”

Djokovic has placed special emphasis on meditation in recent years in order to deal with the pressures of being a dominant force in tennis.

It seems he is also opting for a lighter schedule in the first part of the season, with only Doha, Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami confirmed so far on his calendar. That means he can spend a period of 40 days or more without hitting a ball in a competitive match between Melbourne and Indian Wells, with Dubai being a notable fixture missing from his schedule.

There is a possibility that he might play Davis Cup in February, post-Australian Open, and he could ask for a wildcard for Dubai but he said it all depends on how he feels “physically, emotionally, mentally”.

“In the end of the day, it’s my choice to play this sport. It’s my choice to be out there. To stay hungry and really want to push more, but hungry in a way to really see and to feel and to understand how far I can go, what are my capabilities,” he added.

“Because I don’t believe in limits in life, in general. I like to keep pushing forward as long as I have the drive, which of course comes from the love and passion for this sport.

“That’s I guess the whole point of it.”

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