The Three Best Matches at the ATP Finals in London

The 02 Arena in London hosted numerous great matches in its 11-year spell as the home of the ATP Finals. The 12 consecutive editions held in London from 2009-2020 is bettered only by the 13 hosted by Madison Square Garden in New York City from 1977-1989. Sustained quality, drama and tightness are all ingredients that make classic tennis contests. A handful of matches at the 02 Arena – all of which were concluded by third set tiebreaks – top the list in these departments.

Here is a look back at the three best matches played at the ATP Finals in London:

Rafael Nadal d. Andy Murray 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 7-6 (8-6) – 2010 SF

At the 2010 ATP Finals, top seed Rafael Nadal met fifth seed Andy Murray in the semifinals. The first set went to a tiebreak after there were no break points or deuce points. After having trailed 2-5, Murray leveled the tiebreak at 5-5 by ending a remarkable 36-shot rally with a backhand volley winner. Nadal clinched the tiebreak 7-5 with a forehand drop volley winner, following an aggressive forehand return and an inside in forehand approach.

After saving four break points early in the second set, Murray broke for 4-3 by crushing a backhand cross-court winner. The Brit then closed out the set 6-3 by breaking Nadal again – this time with a forehand winner. Having secured an early break in the deciding set, Nadal had a match point at 5-3 on Murray’s serve. The Spaniard, though, failed to convert as he missed a second serve return. Murray then broke back for 5-5 with a brilliant backhand passing shot down the line. Both players held to send the contest to a fitting decisive tiebreak.

Murray raced to a 4-1 lead, but Nadal leveled for 4-4 – recovering the mini-break with consecutive, heavy inside out forehands. The Brit saved a second match point serving at 5-6 by pressing Nadal into netting a backhand pass. He then narrowly missed a forehand to hand Nadal a third opportunity. Serving at 7-6, Nadal produced a huge inside out forehand winner to conclude a breathtaking 19-shot rally, and edge an epic semifinal battle that lasted three hours and 12 minutes. The following day, the Spaniard lost the final to Roger Federer in three sets.

Roger Federer d. Stan Wawrinka 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (8-6) – 2014 SF

Second seed Roger Federer faced third seed and Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals of the 2014 ATP Finals. Wawrinka surged to a 5-2 opening set lead after crushing a forehand return winner for the double break. Federer recovered one break, but his younger opponent made no mistake when serving for the set for the second time. Wawrinka finished at the net after pulling Federer wide with a backhand cross-court to take the first set 6-4.

In set two, Wawrinka saved three break points to hold for 3-3 – the final one by forcing an error with a huge inside out forehand. Both players then came through tough deuce games on serve, before Federer struck with Wawrinka serving at 5-6. Federer forced Wawrinka to volley into the net after hitting a terrific stretching forehand volley from the baseline for 0-30. He then broke to take the second set 7-5 when Wawrinka made a backhand error at 0-40.

The 2014 Australian Open champion reacted by breaking Federer in the first game of the deciding set – with Federer firing a forehand long at 15-40. Wawrinka held three match points serving at 5-4 but – after serving and volleying on all three – was unable to convert any. Federer broke on the 14th point of the game when Wawrinka found the net with a slice backhand approach. The second seed then saved two break points to hold for 6-5 before Wawrinka held to send the contest into a final set tiebreak.

After trailing 3-5 in the tiebreak, Wawrinka recovered to lead 6-5 and reach a fourth match point. Federer saved it after Wawrinka’s chipped forehand return of his first serve drifted long. The second seed then reached his first match point at 7-6 after a forehand drop volley winner. Federer sealed a thrilling win in two hours and 48 minutes by producing another superb forehand drop volley, after a floated slice backhand approach. Federer withdrew from the final against Novak Djokovic with a back injury – the only walkover in a final in the tournament’s history.

Dominic Thiem d. Novak Djokovic 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) – 2019 RR

In 2019, second seed Djokovic met fifth seed Dominic Thiem in the round robin stage after each player won their opening tie in Group Bjorn Borg in straight sets – Djokovic against Matteo Berrettini; Thiem against Federer. After losing his second service game, Thiem broke Djokovic straight back for 2-3 with an incredible love game – finishing with a blistering backhand winner down the line. The set went to a tiebreak, and Djokovic took a 2-0 lead by winning a pulsating 22-shot rally with a brilliant backhand passing shot. The Serbian closed out the tiebreak 7-5 with a service winner to take the opening set.

Thiem responded by breaking for 2-0 in set two. The Austrian fired a backhand winner down the line at deuce, before forcing Djokovic to miss a volley with a backhand cross-court on break point. Thiem won the set 6-3 without facing a break point. He set up set point with a searing forehand winner to end an exchange in which he bludgeoned a barrage of groundstrokes. The pair then exchanged service breaks in the first six games of the decider. At 5-5, Djokovic lost serve to love to allow Thiem to serve for the match. Thiem, though, failed to make a single first serve and was punished by Djokovic – who made no unforced errors as he broke back – sending the final set to a tiebreak.

Djokovic surged to a 3-0, double mini-break lead after showcasing his incredible defensive skills – aided by Thiem missing two volleys. The Austrian recovered with huge hitting – including a backhand which forced an error for 4-4, and a forehand winner for 5-4. He then reached double match point at 6-4, and lost the first with a backhand error. Thiem, though, converted his second chance – pressuring Djokovic into finding the net after some heavy forehands – to prevail after two hours and 47 minutes of the highest quality. He went on to reach the final – where he fell to Stefanos Tsitsipas in another third set tiebreak.

Honourable mentions

  • Andy Murray d. Milos Raonic 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (11-9) – 2016 SF.
  • Stefanos Tsitsipas d. Dominic Thiem 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) – 2019 F.

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