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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Dec 2, 2009

12/2/2009 12:00:00 AM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Dec 2, 2009

Last week, the ladies had their day. This week, with their season finally coming to a close (whew!), it's the fellas' turn. Thusly, the Sweet Spot is busting at the seams to present THE BEST MEN'S MATCHES OF 2009.

Let's start with a sneaky drop shot, shall we?

5. Taylor Dent d. Ivan Navarro, 6-4, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 (9), US Open 3r.

The modern game is all about baseline rallies. But on this day, it was about two serve and volleyers attacking attacking attacking, in a display so rare and freakish that it played like a circus sideshow act. For five crazy-tight sets, the far-from-marquee duo of Dent and Navarro combined for 255 (!) net rushes and 191 (!!) winners, keeping a packed Grandstand on their feet for over four hours. The only rest came when a booming serve from Dent snapped the net strap, causing a 7-minute delay. Navarro just wouldn't miss. When Dent hit that final passing shot for the win, the crowd roared as loud as Dent did. Those who knew the true backstory to this were deeply inspired by Taylor's comeback from being bedridden after multiple back surgeries and the resultant creeping depression he had to battle his way through. Everyone else was just inspired by the tennis both men produced. An emotional Taylor took to the umpire's mic afterwards to thank everyone for their support. It was about as communal an experience you could have at a tennis match.

Let's Hug it Out

4. Rafael Nadal d. Fernando Verdasco, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4, Australian Open SF.

The final was pretty damn great, but the semi that made it all possible was the bomb. Fernando Verdasco had an almost mystical quality about him, having gone up the Gil Reyes mountain over the off-season and come down a New Man (complete with ferosh faux-hawk). And Rafael Nadal was rocking sleeves, so you knew it was gonna be on. But who saw this one coming? For five hours and 14 minutes - the longest match in Australian Open history - the Spaniards spilled their guts all over the court, thrilling the crowd with one screamer of a rally after the next. Rafa would win just one more point than Nando (193 to his 192), and in the end, it was the double fault Verdasco served on match point. A soaking wet Rafa hopped the net and gave his fellow countryman a well-deserved hug. Unfortunately for Verdasco, Rafa would be the one mountain he just couldn't overcome.

3. Rafael Nadal d. Novak Djokovic, 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6 (9), Madrid SF.

The idea of someone truly challenging Nadal on clay seemed ludicrous, even with Fed nipping at his heels every French Open. But for four hours and three minutes, Novak took it to Rafa in every way, shape and form in the longest three-set Masters match in history. Rafa would fight off three match points in the epic third set tiebreak before finally stealing the win, leaving the Serb in a state of stun. "I played one of my best matches ever. I even played a few points above my limits, and I still didn't win." Besides blockbuster tennis, this match also set off a massive chain of events. Worn down to a nub, Rafa's 33-match clay streak would be broken the next day by Fed, titleless the first five months of the year, and their seasons would play like Freaky Friday for the rest of '09. But on this day, in this match, Rafa showed why he was king.

2. Juan Martin del Potro d. Roger Federer, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2, US Open F.

That forehand! Delpo unleashed it time and again with such brutality that it not only sounded like a knock out punch, it felt like one. In the stands. No one's better at figuring out an opponent tactically than Federer, and it's allowed him to make more great escapes than Houdini, but the Argentine's big weapon was just unstoppable that day. Roger came close, two points away in the fourth from capturing his sixth straight US Open title. But, shockingly, this 20-year-old kid in a giant's body would out-steady him…and out-strategize him. At one point Juan Martin even chose to spin his serves in when he saw going for boomers wasn't paying off half as well. It was enough to drive a Swiss to expletive-laden, fine-inducing distraction. We'd seen del Potro retire from numerous matches in tears because of a bad back, but as he laid spread eagle on the ground after this one, he got to cry for all the right reasons. A star was born.

1. Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14, Wimbledon F.

Roddick just came up short

Andy Roddick's dismantling of hometown hero Andy Murray in the Wimbledon semis was brilliant (and an honorable mention on this list), but how much he stepped it up in the final versus Roger Federer was downright scary. Roger already had reason to be nervous. He was going for history here, this was for #15. In case you forgot, Pete Sampras reminded you when he strolled in after the first changeover, to the tune of Beyonce's "Diva." (Wait, no tune? Just in my head? Sorry.) Pete would be sitting awhile, through a series of painfully missed opportunities by Andy in the second set tiebreak, straight through a THIRTY GAME fifth set. Finally, after 76 games of holding serve, just when you thought Mirka was going to give birth in the stands, Roddick missed a forehand and was finally broken. Roger made history on the same spot he was dealt his most devastating blow the year before. This time, Roddick would be the one devastated. The Yank still found some strength left to make a typical Andy quip. "Sorry Pete, I tried to hold him off." He had nothing to be sorry about. If a star was born at the US Open, a star was reborn on the grass of Wimbledon. And Roger got a little something for his troubles too.

Not so fast boys, no one's making it out of here unscathed. Ladies and gentlemen, the three most flushable nuggets of 2009:

3. Novak Djokovic d. Jan Hernych, 6-0, 6-0, Basel 2r.

"To win against somebody double bagel, an opponent has to play really, really bad," Djokovic said afterwards. I'd say that about sums it up.

2. Shanghai Masters

Gael Monfils, Stanislas Wawrinka, Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Roddick, Tommy Haas, Jose Acasuso, Mischa Zverev, Feliciano Lopez, Ivan Ljubicic. All retirements. And that's not even including Federer and Murray, who didn't even bother catching the flight to begin with. No worries, the stands were empty too. Fail.

1. Marat Safin, the Farewell Tour

I am going to get so roasted for this one, but I'm sorry. A guy this good, with this many people rooting for him (including me), deserved a better send-off than this. And he only had himself to blame. Has anyone ever sleepwalked through more matches than Marat did this year? His first round Wimbledon flame-out to Jesse Levine was the cherry on a shiz cake, the loss of which Safin tagged "a relief." I appreciated him putting in a solid last gasp v. del Potro in Paris, but I would've appreciated it a lot more if he'd just pulled the plug in '08 like he clearly wanted to.

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