Best matches, worst losses and more from the ATP season so far
We're at something of a lull in the tennis season, with seemingly everyone on vacation after two Grand Slam tournaments practically back-to-back. Let's take advantage of the down time and assess the season so far. First up, the ATP:
[Tied] Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4 in the Wimbledon final; Stanislas Wawrinka d. Djokovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7 in the Australian Open quarterfinals -- Why do we choose two matches? Because quick grass-court matches with shorter rallies isn't everyone's cup of tea, and neither are long, drawn-out, physical battles on hard courts. The incredible thing is that both of these very different matches featured Djokovic, who has dazzled on every surface this year. Djokovic's win over Federer in the Wimbledon final was as high quality as you'll see all season -- the two combined to hit 143 winners to just 56 unforced errors.
But if you like rally-based shot making and to marvel at pure power, Wawrinka's win -- which ended the Serb's three-year reign in Melbourne -- was a very fun match to watch. Wawrinka snapped a 14-match losing streak to Djokovic and halted his 28-match winning streak. The four-hour match included an 80-minute, 16-game final set. The fact that Wawrinka and Djokovic followed up their epic 2013 fourth-round Australian Open battle with a match of similar caliber just added to the drama.
[Tied] Jarkko Nieminen d. Bernard Tomic 6-0, 6-1 in 28 minutes in Miami; Gael Monfils d. Fabio Fognini 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2 in the third round of the French Open.
This is proof that the number of the sets and the length of a match don't guarantee quality. Tomic's loss to Nieminen was the shortest match in ATP history and it was an embarrassing -- if not very short -- performance. The Australian was playing in his first match since double-hip surgery, and he clearly wasn't ready for it.
But when it comes to pure debacle, few matches could match the circus on Court Suzanne Lenglen when Monfils and Fognini played. After coming back to build a two-sets-to-one lead, Monfils got tired and effectively tanked the fourth set -- he won just six points -- before coming to life in the fifth and rolling to the win. Across the net was Fognini, who hit 81 unforced errors -- including four straight in the final game to get broken and lose -- called a spectator a "fat goat" and flipped off the crowd. Was it all entertaining? Of course it was. But let's not pretend it was anything close to good.
Player of the first half
Novak Djokovic -- Wimbledon champion, French Open finalist, the winner of three ATP Masters 1000s and No. 1 in the rankings and Road to London standings. This is undisputed.
Grigor Dimitrov -- Before this season, Dimitrov had been past the second round of a Grand Slam just once. He won his first ATP title just last fall, at a 250 event in Stockholm, and began this season ranked No. 23. Fast-forward seven months and the 23-year-old Bulgarian has made his top-10 debut amid a season of milestones. He started the year by advancing to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. He then racked up three more titles, all on different surfaces, and reached the Wimbledon semifinals last month.
Kei Nishikori on clay -- Nishikori became the first Japanese man to win an ATP clay-court tournament, at the Barcelona Open, and followed that up with a run to his first Masters 1000 final, where he came within a few games of beating Nadal in Madrid before coming down with a back injury and retiring. All in all, Nishikori has had a strong, if not injury-plagued season. Of the four Masters played, he's made the semifinals or better at two.
No. 144 Nick Kyrgios d. No. 1 Rafael Nadal 7-6 (5), 5-7, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the fourth round of Wimbledon -- A tremendous win for the 19-year-old.
Result we never would have predicted
Carlos Berlocq wins the Portugal Open -- Coming into the tournament, the 31-year-old Argentine had a 0-19 record against top-10 players. He then upset No. 9 Milos Raonic in straight sets before coming back from a bagel set to stun top seed Tomas Berdych 0-6, 7-5, 6-1 to win his second career title. Nope, didn't see that one coming.
Storyline that looks absurd in hindsight
Nadal's "vulnerability" at the French Open -- Seriously, though, what were we thinking?
Dimitrov vs. Andy Murray in the semifinals of the Acapulco Open -- The 27-shot rally had both men running and sliding, as they covered nearly the entire surface area of the court. Dimitrov won the match, with the final two sets going to tiebreakers, and went on to defeat Kevin Anderson in the final.
Kyrgios' tweener vs. Nadal at Wimbledon -- With all due respect to Dimitrov's incredible body of work this year, there wasn't a shot better than this one, especially given the circumstances (Kyrgios' Wimbledon debut), the opponent (the world No. 1) and the stage (Centre Court).
"There's a big chance I get drunk tonight."
-- Wawrinka after winning the Australian Open, his first Grand Slam title.
"A woman needs to enjoy life a little bit more. Needs to think about family, needs to think about kids. What kids you can think about until age of 27 if you're playing professional tennis. That's tough for a woman, I think."
-- Ernests Gulbis, on not wanting his younger sisters to be professional tennis players.
Losing Juan Martin del Potro to wrist surgery in March -- He ended the 2013 season so well, winning two titles and beating Nadal to make the Shanghai final and finish in the top five. He started 2014 by winning the title in Sydney. But by February he was relegated to hitting only slice backhands because of lingering pain in his left wrist, and he finally decided to undergo surgery in March. We haven't seen that killer forehand since.
Best good-guy moment
Dimitrov helping a ball girl at the Miami Masters -- Tip of the cap, Mr. Dimitrov, for stopping the match and assisting this poor girl.
Best match point save
Jeremy Chardy against Roger Federer in Rome -- Chardy showed off his wheels and came up with some magic to slide a passing shot past Federer. He went on to win 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6).