Monday December 15th, 2014

From marquee matches to feisty feuds, to major meltdowns and the tennis Twitter, and all of fashion faux-pas and sexy, skillful shots in between, SI Tennis' Year-End Awards have the entire span of the 2014 tennis season covered. Check back throughout the month of December to see the best and worst of the season. 

1. Novak Djokovic d. Roger Federer 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4, Wimbledon final

CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images

In a rivalry that had spanned 35 matches, Djokovic and Federer faced off in a Slam final for just the second time in their careers at Wimbledon in July. The storylines were all primed and ready. A win for Djokovic and he would banish the Slam-winning demons that had haunted him for over a year -- he had lost his last four Slam finals -- and solidify him as the man to beat on the ATP, reclaiming the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal. For Federer it was his first Slam final since winning Wimbledon in 2012 and he was a win away from securing Slam No. 18 and becoming the oldest man in the Open Era to win the tournament. He was also looking to become the only man other than Nadal to win a single major eight times or more. With so much on the line, the two would deliver the best match -- men's or women's -- of the 2014 tennis season.

The first three sets were tense but it looked as if Djokovic had control of the match as the fourth set unfolded. Djokovic got the break to 3-1 but would give it right back. He unleashed his frustration on his chair at the changeover and it was impossible to shake the idea that, once again, Djokovic was letting the momentum slip away in a big match. He responded beautifully, breaking Federer in the next game and consolidating for a seemingly insurmountable two-sets to one, 5-2 lead.

But it was never going to be easy. Serving for the title, Djokovic fell behind 0-30 on his service game and got broken. Then, with Federer serving at 4-5, Djokovic came within a point from victory. Facing championship point, Federer did what he's done so many times in his career: he served a clutch ace. He went on to hold and break Djokovic easily to win his fifth straight game and win the set. In just 20 minutes, Federer went from being down match point to forcing a fifth set.

The final set was decided by a single break, which came in the final game. Djokovic recovered from his fourth set let-down and, serving first in the set, he held easily to keep the pressure on Federer's serve. Djokovic had triple-break point on Federer in his penultimate service game and couldn't break, but finally did it with Federer serving to stay in the match at 4-5. When the dust and grass finally settled after nearly four hours of play, Wimbledon's lenient stat-keeping tallied 143 winners and just 56 unforced errors between the two. This was simply high-quality tennis from start to finish.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/bP-05OKhVlU]

2. Stan Wawrinka d. Novak Djokovic 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 3-6, 9-7, Australian Open quarterfinal

GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images

The match where Stan became The Man. The two played the best match of the year in 2013, with Djokovic winning 1-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 12-10 in the fourth round of the Australian Open. When the Melbourne draw came out this year and slated them for a rematch, everyone quickly circled it as a must-see showdown. The rematch did not fail to deliver. 

Djokovic, the three-time reigning champion, looked in firm control through a set and a half until, with one swing of the bat, Wawrinka woke up and got himself back into the match. Having already showed some signs of life early in the second set, Wawrinka finally got the break at 3-all, with a backhand to remember:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/ZWcFzcGguOk]

Djokovic broke early for a 2-1 lead before Wawrinka broke right back to level at 2-all. As Djokovic kept pressing and forcing Wawrinka to save break points, a brief rain delay stopped the match and, seemingly, Djokovic's momentum. When play resumed, Wawrinka fired an ace to hold to 6-5. A lack of confidence in the tight moments finally came back to bite Djokovic in the end. Serving at 7-8, 30-all, he played two poor back-to-back points to get broken and lose in Melbourne for the first time since 2010. Djokovic placed a forehand at the net wide to give Wawrinka match point and then, on a serve and volley attempt, put the overhead forehand volley wide:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2H7wmvBFB80]

Wawrinka's win snapped Djokovic's streak of 14 consecutive Slam semifinal appearances -- the second-longest streak in history behind Federer's mark of 23 --  and snapped his own 14-match losing streak to the Serb. He also ended Djokovic's 28-match win streak and 13-match win streak over top-ten opposition. Of course we all know how Wawrinka's tournament would unfold. He beat Tomas Berdych easily in the semifinals to make his first Slam final, where defeated Nadal in four sets to win his maiden title. Stan Wawrinka: Failing better since 2014. 

Full highlights from the match here:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lvpSguhGvw]

3. Kei Nishikori d. Stan Wawrinka 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 6-4, U.S. Open quarterfinals

Julian Finney/Getty Images

​Nishikori has a whole host of matches that could have easily made the top five list -- his three-hour clay court grind-out vs. David Ferrer in Madrid was enthralling -- but we're tapping his five-set win over Wawrinka in New York as the best of the bunch. Nishikori came into the U.S. Open having skipped most of the hard-court summer after having minor surgery on his foot. He didn't even know if he would be able to play the tournament. But he found himself in the quarterfinals just two days after a tough five-set win over Milos Raonic, which ended at 2:26 am. Conventional wisdom said Nishikori was toast for a physical battle against Wawrinka.

It was match that was impossible to call at any given time, with the quality from both men ebbing and flowing throughout. After getting blown off the court in the first set, Nishikori steeled himself to take the next two. He nearly squandered a 5-3 lead in the third set after he went for a 'tweener at 15-30, missed it badly and allowed Wawrinka to break back. He would rebound by winning the tight tiebreaker 9-7 and it was Wawrinka's turn for some clutch heroics in the fourth set. Having built a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker, Wawrinka suddenly found himself at 5-all, two points from defeat. But he would take the next two points to force a final set.

In a one-set shootout with everything on the line it was Nishikori who embraced the moment. He stepped into the court, took big cuts at the ball, and made Wawrinka look the more tentative of the two. Finally, after four hours and 15 minutes, Nishikori could only smile as Wawrinka put a forehand into the net on match point. With that, Nishikori became the first Japanese man in the Open Era to make a Slam semifinal. Two days later he would do one better, beating Djokovic in four sets to become the first Asian-born man to make a Slam final. 

[youtube=http://youtu.be/X1y1N3P9G00]

4. Roger Federer d. Gael Monfils 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2, U.S. Open quarterfinals

DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images

​Federer saved two match points and came back from two-sets to love down to beat the Flying Frenchman in a match that saw all the shot-making wizardry from both men while bringing the heavy dramatics. The match ended with a whimper in the one-sided final set, but the third and fourth set alone land this match on the list.

The first two sets were all Monfils. In windy conditions on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Monfils was somehow the more composed and smarter player. Federer just couldn't find his best tennis early. Of course, it didn't help that La Monf was getting away with shots like this:

[tweet=https://twitter.com/usopen/status/507688860994641920]

But as the wind began to die down in the third set, Federer began to find his range. He attacked the net relentlessly, and though Monfils pounded a few gasp-inducing passing shots by him, Federer remained committed. He took the third set by hitting just one unforced error and in less than two hours we were into a fourth set. And what a set it was.

Monfils went from shouting at himself, pounding his chest and battling the pro-Federer crowd to bopping his head to the music on changeovers while pouring himself a Coke. His form was slipping but he was doing everything possible to stay focused and engaged in the match and it was exciting to see. From Federer's side, the frustrations continued to simmer as his game went off the boil again. Then, with Federer serving at 4-5, Monfils earned two match points at 15-40. Federer stepped up and saved the first with a great serve out wide and then the second with a forehand. Serving at 5-all, Monfils threw in back-to-back double-faults to get broken. He would win just two more games in the match.

Here's match point: 

[tweet=https://twitter.com/usopen/status/507739123990269954]

5. Roger Federer d. Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6), ATP World Tour Finals semifinals

Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Oh the drama! It's easy to forget how great this match was given all the controversy that came out afterwards (see "Mirkagate"). In a tournament that delivered sleepy, perfunctory matches day-after-day, leave it to two Swiss guys to inject life into the ATP Finals. Federer engineered yet another back-from-the-dead comeback, saving four match points to beat his friend and Davis Cup teammate.

Wawrinka was the aggressor throughout the entire match but succumbed to nerves when he was just a point away from victory. Late in the third set, he served with match point on his racket three times and decided to deal with his nerves by serving-and-volleying on all three. Federer saved all three and then when faced with a match point on his own serve in the tiebreak, he saved it with a good serve up the tee that Wawrinka chipped long. Two points later, Federer got the win. Wawrinka finished the match with 43 winners to 48 unforced errors. Federer hit 25 winners to 26 unforced errors. Said a visibly disappointed Wawrinka after the match: "I was playing good tennis. Happy the way I was trying to push him, trying to be real aggressive, not let him come to the net too much, trying to be the first there. But sometimes you [lose a] match like that."

Watch Federer save his four match points and go on to win:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/9uFrD3Ne-Rc]

Best of the rest

Andy Murray d. Tommy Robredo, 3-6, 7-6(7), 7-6(8), Valencia Open final

Two matches. Two losses. Ten match points. That just about sums up Robredo's fall season, which saw him play some great tennis to get to the final at the Shenzhen Open and Valencia Open, only to lose to Murray while holding five match points in each match. Their second duel in Valencia ended like this:

Highlights:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/FVot3tbbr7I]

Rafael Nadal d. Pablo Andujar 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(10), Rio Open semifinals

Federer wasn't the only player who saved match points to stave off a big upset this year. Nadal saved two match points against Andujar to survive and eventually went on to win the title at the Rio Open in February. The match was a signal of things to come for Nadal, who struggled in his Roland Garros lead-up, taking losses to fellow Spaniards David Ferrer (Monte Carlo) and Nicolas Almagro (Barcelona).

Highlights: 

[youtube=http://youtu.be/Lz5-VVBnXas]

Grigor Dimitrov d. Andy Murray 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(3), Mexican Open semifinals

Dimitrov's entire run to the title in Acapulco was one of the best of the year. He beat Ernests Gulbis, Murray and Kevin Anderson in the final three rounds, all in three sets, with the latter two ending in third-set tiebreaks. But his showdown with Murray was the most memorable. It lasted nearly three hours, ended at 2:30 a.m. and gave us the point of the year:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/U_9a7SasQug​]

Full highlights here: 

[youtube=http://youtu.be/t9CStNhMMhI]

Nick Kyrgios d. Richard Gasquet 3-6, 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5, 10-8, Wimbledon second round.

Kyrgios saved nine match points to beat Gasquet in the early rounds of Wimbledon, battling back from a two-sets to love deficit. The 19-year-old phenom even saved one of those match points with a Hawkeye challenge after he appeared to double-fault on match point. Two matches later, he stunned Nadal to make his first Slam quarterfinal.

Here's Kyrgios on (his own) match point:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCIK4ojnnnI]

Philipp Kohlschreiber d. Dustin Brown, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (16), Halle quarterfinals.

In a battle of the Germans on German soil, it was Kohlschreiber who saved five match points to best the flashy Brown in a 34-point decisive tiebreaker. Brown, always a fan favorite, knocked off Nadal in just 59 minutes a day earlier. It was a nervy affair and some of the misses late in the match were shocking, but it was incredibly entertaining and dramatic.  

[youtube=http://youtu.be/6zgIFjlLLeY]

Dishonorable mention: ​Gael Monfils d. Fabio Fognini 5-7, 6-2, 6-4, 0-6, 6-2​, French Open third round.

It was more debacle than match, but let's not pretend we weren't thoroughly entertained. Fognini got a point penalty after almost hitting a ball kid with his thrown racket and for code violations for obscenities. After blitzing Monfils in the fourth he went into full meltdown in the fifth. There were multiple medical timeouts, the pair combined for 137 unforced errors and the match ended with Fognini firing four lazy forehand errors to lose. 

Highlights:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/FzBvy56we_o]

Tennis
WTA's top matches of the season

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