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2018 in Review: Top ten ATP matches of the 2018 season

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 27 Nov 2018
  • Our editors pick the best ATP World Tour matches from the 2018 season
  • Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray all feature in our top ten.
Djokovic took out Nadal in five sets at Wimbledon in one of the matches of the year. (Photo by NIC BOTHMA/AFP/Getty Images)

With the 2018 season now done and dusted, we relive the best of the out-going year, and pick out our top ten matches from the ATP World Tour.

From Novak Djokovic's epic Wimbledon semi-final against Rafael Nadal to Nadal's US Open thriller against Dominic Thiem, 2018 gave us so many memorable matches- our editors have sieved through the year and picked out the ten best matches- in no particular order...

1. Rafael Nadal def. Juan Martin del Potro 7-5 6-7(7) 4-6 6-4 6-4 - Wimbledon QFs

Nominated by Andrew Hendrie

Nadal and del Potro put together a Centre Court classic in this year’s Wimbledon quarter-finals. The Spaniard was at his relentless best, chasing balls into the crowd and scurrying around the baseline retrieving the irretrievable, while the Argentine was channelling his inner Boris Becker, diving for volleys across the lawns and thrilling the crowd with multiple hotshots. But, in the end, it was Nadal who was able to emerge victorious, outlasting del Potro in a five-set classic in a slugfest that lasted four hours and 48 minutes, withstanding 77 winners and 33 aces from the Argentine.

"I am very happy the way that I survived a lot of important points in that fifth set," said Nadal. "I think I did a lot of things well. I went to the net. In general terms, [it has] been a positive match. Only negative thing is I played almost five hours, and I had the chance maybe to play less winning that second set. 

"For the rest of the things, great news, semi-finals of Wimbledon again. Great match, emotional match for both of us and for the fans, too. Great feelings."

2. Roberto Bautista Agut def. Robin Haase 6-7(7) 7-6(3) 7-6(5) - Auckland SFs

Nominated by Andrie Hendrie

This one might be forgotten to many due to it’s place at the very start of the season, but anyone who watched it would find it near-impossible to leave out of a match-of-the-year list. In what the local commentator described as the best match the ASB Classic in Auckland has ever seen, Roberto Bautista Agut and Robin Haase fought tooth and nail for two hours and 52 minutes before the Spaniard came away with the victory in a deciding set tiebreak.

There were too many hotshots to count during the mesmerising duel, with Haase whipping a forehand cross-court on the run that could easily be considered as shot of the season, while Bautista Agut sealed the win with a glorious backhand lob that sailed over the Dutchman at the net and landed within millimetres of the line.

“When I saw the ball in, I went crazy,” said Bautista Agut, who fell to his knees in celebration. “I'm so happy that I won... It was an unbelievable battle on the court.”

3. Rafael Nadal def. Stan Wawrinka 7-5 7-6, Rogers Cup, Toronto R16

Nominated by 'Leye Aduloju

As good a two-set match as you'd see all year, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka delivered a riveting third-round clash in Toronto, with Nadal edging a hard-fought contest 7-5 7-6.

Wawrinka had spent most of the season finding his feet and searching for form following multiple knee surgeries in 2017, but a stuttering campaign finally surged to life in Toronto, where the Swiss battled through a couple of three-set wins over Nick Kyrgios and Marton Fucsovics, before pushing Nadal to the brink in the third round.

Nadal stole a late break to take the opening set, and seemed to have grabbed control with an early break in the second set, but Wawrinka turned things around spectacularly, winning three straight games, including two breaks, to forge ahead in the set.

The former world No. 3 came agonizingly close to forcing a decider, but he dropped his serve while serving for the set, and would go on to lose the set, and the match on a tie break. The Swiss built on that encouraging performance, reaching the quarter finals in Cincinnati, where he fell to Roger Federer in three sets in another quality contest, and the semifinal in St. Petersburg.

4. Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer 7-6 5-7 7-6, Paris Masters SF

Nominated by 'Leye Aduloju

Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer met twice in 2018- the first was an anticlimactic straight sets win for Djokovic in Cincinnati, but the second was an absolute epic in Paris, as two of the greatest players in the history of the sport traded strokes for just over three hours.

When two of the sport's greats play at their best, or very close to their best, at the same time, it's always a terrific contest. That was the case in this Paris meeting, which showcased the outstanding qualities of both men- Federer forceful with the forehand, mixing things up with the backhand slice, and showing magic at the net; and Djokovic, the impenetrable wall at the back of the court, absorbing his opponent's best blows, punching back with interest, and in the end, finding a way to win.

Djokovic captured it almost perfectly when he said: "Along with the Wimbledon semi-final against Nadal, it's surely the most exciting match this season."

The Serbian saved set point before snatching a tight opening set, but Federer hit back to take the second, scoring the only break of the match in the twelfth game of the set.

After saving 12 break points through the match, Federer finally cracked in the final set tie break, as Djokovic quickly raced to a 6-1 lead, before closing out the match on his third match point to extend his winning streak to 22 matches.

5. Marin Cilic def. Alex De Minaur 4-6 3-6 6-3 6-4 7-5 - U.S Open third round

Nominated by Andrew Hendrie

Easily one of the most gripping showdowns of the year. De Minaur was on the verge of the best win of his young career as he took a two-sets-to-love lead over former U.S. Open champion Cilic on Louis Armstrong Stadium, but the Croatian staged a remarkable comeback to prevail in five sets, with the pair slugging it out for over four hours before finishing at 2.22am - the second latest finish in U.S. Open history.

Already renowned for his never-day-die attitude that is reminiscent of his mentor Lleyton Hewitt, de Minaur battled back from 2-5 down in the fifth set and saved a total of six match points before Cilic was finally able to close out the match 7-5. While Cilic emerged triumphant, it was de Minaur who won the hearts of the crowd, with the Australian chasing down seemingly unretrievable balls with his lightning speed across the baseline.

"Right now, I'm completely devastated, but it's a great learning experience for me," de Minaur said during his post-match press conference. "I did everything in my power to try and get back, every ounce of energy to try and push. I managed to come back but he was too good in the end."

6. Andy Murray def Marius Copil 6-7 7-3 7-6, Washington R16

Nominated by 'Leye Aduloju

Andy Murray played just 12 matches in 2018, but despite his limited playing time, the former world number one still managed to produce one of the most memorable matches of the season, when he survived a three-hour thriller against Marius Copil in Washington to move into the quarter-finals.

Murray was playing his third tournament since returning from hip surgery, and had needed three sets to get through each of the previous two rounds, but there was no respite for the Scot, as he was taken the distance for the third straight match by the big-serving Copil in this gripping contest. 

This match did not end until at 3:02am local time, after which the emotions from the match, and from his injury ordeal over the past year came pouring out from Murray, who broke down in tears in one of the most enduring scenes of the 2018 season. The two-time Wimbledon winner subsequently pulled out of his scheduled quarter-final against Alex De Minaur. 

7. Juan Martin del Potro def. Roger Federer 6-4 6-7(8) 7-6(2), Indian Wells final

Nominated by Andrew Hendrie

“It's so big. I cannot believe I won this tournament, beating Roger in a great final and level of tennis. We played great tennis today.”

Those were the words of Juan Martin del Potro as the Argentine secured his first ever ATP Masters 1000 title, conquering the great Roger Federer in a thrilling encounter in the Indian Wells final, saving three match points and ending the Swiss legend’s 17-match unbeaten run to start the season.

A five-time champion at Indian Wells, Federer came into the final flying as high as ever, returning to World No. 1 on the back of titles at the Australian Open and Rotterdam and riding a 17-match winning streak - his best ever to start a season. But del Potro was also high on confidence having captured the ATP 500 Acapulco crown in his last tournament, and the ‘Tower of Tandil’ wasn’t to be denied in the title match as he showcased immense fight to erase three match points before taking out Federer in a final set tiebreak.

8. Kevin Anderson beat John Isner 7-6 6-7 7-7 6-4 26-24, Wimbledon SF

John Isner and Kevin Anderson may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if you go six and a half hours in a Wimbledon semifinal- the third longest match of all time- there's no way you are not making a match of the year compilation.

Isner banged down 53 aces while Anderson responded with 49, as these big serving duo served up an intriguing Wimbledon marathon. There were echoes of Isner's 2010 slug with Nicolas Mahut- which lasted just over 11 hours- as the final set closed in on the three-hour mark, but Anderson scored the match-winning break in the 49th game of the set, before serving out the match after six hours and 36 minutes to reach his second Grand Slam final.

We most likely will never see the like again, as three months later, Wimbledon confirmed that tie breaks will be employed at 12-12 in deciding sets from the 2019 season.

9. Rafael Nadal def. Dominic Thiem 0-6 6-4 7-5 6-7 7-6, US Open QF

Nominated by 'Leye Aduloju

Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem served up a US Open night session spectacle, as both men battled for five sets and almost five hours, deep beyond midnight in what many have regarded as the best match of 2018. 

Nadal had dismantled Thiem in the French Open final earlier in the year, but this US Open final could not have been more different, as it swung one way then another until the very end.

It was physical and intense, but also a shot-making feast as Nadal and Thiem combined for 129 winners; Thiem bludgeoning 74, and Nadal spearing 55. The Austrian underdog started like a house on fire, shutting out Nadal to love in the opening set, but the world number one, tennis's great problem solver, quickly found a route back, with the match hitting a spectacular equilibrium as it progressed.

It could really have gone either way, but it was Nadal who breasted the tape, sealing the win when Thiem miscued an overhead at 2:03am.

10. Novak Djokovic def. Rafael Nadal 6-4 3-6 7-6(11) 3-6 10-8 - Wimbledon SFs

Nominated by Andrew Hendrie

For me, this was the major catalyst for Djokovic’s mid-year resurgence and ultimately his incredible run during the back-half of 2018 in which he ended up winning two more majors, two more Masters 1000s and returned to No. 1 in the world. Still searching for a first title of the season after missing the second half of 2017 and undergoing elbow surgery in February this year, Djokovic arrived at Wimbledon on the back of a quarter-final showing at Roland Garros and wasting a match point to lose the Queen’s Club final to Marin Cilic.

The Serbian was still very much in questionable form and that aura of invincibility that he has regained for the most part today, wasn’t there. However, at arguably his most important stage of the season, Djokovic was able to produce his best tennis in almost two years, outlasting World No. 1 Nadal in a five-set epic that lasted five hours and 15 minutes - the second longest Wimbledon semi-final in history behind Kevin Anderson and John Isner’s six hour and 36 minute marathon from the previous day, which incidentally resulted in Djokovic and Nadal playing their match over the course of two days.

Djokovic of course went on to win Wimbledon and would only lose three more matches for the remainder of 2018, becoming the first man in history to drop outside the top 20 and end the same season as No. 1.

“Speaking from this position right now it makes it even better for me, makes it even more special because I managed to overcome challenges and obstacles, get myself to the finals of a slam,” Djokovic said at the time. “Obviously if you told me that six months ago, I would take it right away. But did I truly believe that I can get back on the level? Yes. It’s hard for me to play tennis and not believe that I can be the best in what I do.”

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