Best ATP World Tour Matches Of 2018 - Part 1
Today we look at the best matches, Nos. 5 to 3
Kicking off our 'Best of 2018 Series' is a look Monday and Tuesday at the five best ATP World Tour matches of the season. (The best Grand Slam matches of the season will follow Wednesday and Thursday.)
5) Rafael Nadal d. Stan Wawrinka, Rogers Cup, Toronto Third Round, 10 August 2018 (Match Stats)
With Stan Wawrinka still searching to recapture his best form after two surgeries on his left knee in August 2017, the Swiss made a statement against Rafael Nadal in the third round of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Having managed to secure back-to-back match wins for just the second time in 2018, the three-time Grand Slam champion produced some of his best tennis to push Nadal to his limit in Canada.
Wawrinka brought the power, rejecting Nadal's attempts to pick on his backhand with dazzling one-handed missiles up the line. Chasing a record 33rd ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crown, Nadal found all the angles and covered the court impeccably, leaving the crowd – and Wawrinka across the net – gasping. The Spaniard stood up to the Swiss' fierce test, defeating his rival 7-5, 7-6(4) after two hours and eight minutes. Read & Watch Highlights.
“It was a good match. Of course, a very positive victory for me against a very tough opponent. Happy to see Stan playing that well again,” said Nadal. “So I am very pleased."
Nadal escaped a 0/40 deficit at 4-4 in the first set when Wawrinka dumped a backhand into the net on his final break-point opportunity. The two were delayed by 46 minutes at 6-5, and after the wait, Nadal broke for the set. To start the second, Wawrinka fell behind 0-2 and looked in danger of fading away. But his trademark one-hander brought him back into the set as he broke with a pinpoint stroke up the line, the start of four straight games that carried him to 5-4.
Under pressure, Nadal quickly responded with a mix of defence and power. The 32-year-old fired a forehand pass before jumping and pumping his fists in celebration as he broke for 5-5. Two games and a tie-break later, Nadal earned his 17th FedEx ATP Head2Head victory against Wawrinka (17-3) to reach another Masters 1000 quarter-final. It may have been Rafa who advanced, but perhaps it was Stan who made the biggest progress that night.
4) Dominic Thiem d. Rafael Nadal, Mutua Madrid Open, Madrid Quarter-Final, 11 May 2018 (Match Stats)
Entering the match with 21-match and 50-set winning streaks on clay, World No. 1 Rafael Nadal needed to defeat Dominic Thiem at the Mutua Madrid Open to avoid his six-week reign at the top of the ATP Rankings from ending. The only man to defeat Nadal on the surface since Novak Djokovic's triumph at the 2016 Internazionali BNL d'Italia, Thiem entered the match looking to avoid another one-sided loss to the Spaniard, after picking up just two games in a 6-0, 6-2 loss to Nadal at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.
But, three weeks on from that humbling defeat in the Principality, Thiem played with greater aggression as he stood on top of the baseline, overpowering the five-time Madrid champion to triumph 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 56 minutes. Read & Watch Highlights.
“I had to play an extraordinary match, and that's what I did," said Thiem. "It takes a really good match to beat Rafa on clay, but I think a very important thing was that I went in with the attitude that I can beat him. Obviously, two weeks ago in Monte-Carlo, he killed me love and two. It was very important I went into the match with a positive attitude, with an attitude to win."
Thiem maintained his baseline position, putting Nadal under pressure right from the start of their ninth clash. A repeat of last year's final in the Spanish capital, Thiem took his forehand and backhand early and found extra pace and depth to rush the recently crowned 11-time Monte-Carlo and Barcelona champion.
After failing to convert a set-point opportunity when serving for the opener at 5-4, 40/30, Thiem made no mistake at the second time of asking after breaking Nadal for a 6-5 lead. Thiem continued to push Nadal behind the baseline, with deep returning, and stepped into the court to fire short replies from his opponent into the corners. With an ace out wide, Thiem moved into a one-set lead after 75 minutes.
When Thiem opened up a 3-1 lead in the second set, the Austrian still wasn’t safe. In front of his home fans, Nadal kept fighting and got back to 3-3. Yet the momentum quickly shifted back to Thiem, who showed patience before firing backhand winners in crucial moments. From 3-3, Thiem won 10 of the following 11 points before deservedly becoming only the third player – after Gaston Gaudio and Djokovic – to score three or more clay victories over Nadal.
3) Marin Cilic d. Novak Djokovic, Fever-Tree Championships, Queen's Club Final, 24 June 2018 (Match Stats)
After a 6-6 start to the 2018 ATP World Tour season, Novak Djokovic entered his first tour-level final in 51 weeks at the Fever-Tree Championships in June. Following on from improved performances in Rome and at Roland Garros, Djokovic dropped just one service game heading into a final clash against Marin Cilic.
The Croatian, who lifted the trophy for the first time in 2012, was aiming to secure just his second victory over Djokovic in their 16th FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting, but found himself on the brink of defeat, facing championship point at 4-5, 30-40, in the second set. However, after landing a booming serve out wide, Cilic then overcame a 1/4 deficit in the ensuing tie-break before eventually triumphing 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-3 in two hours and 57 minutes. Read & Watch Highlights.
"I was just trying to stay mentally in it. And definitely, it was an extremely tough match," Cilic said. "No breaks for me until that last [return] game. I definitely feel relieved that I won it and what a great week."
Djokovic, competing at The Queen’s Club for the first time since 2010, was seeking his 69th tour-level title. In 2008, Djokovic reached his maiden final at the grass-court event, falling to Rafael Nadal in a tight two-hour, 16-minute battle.
"He deserved to win," Djokovic said. "It's a tough loss for me today, obviously. But I have to see it from a positive side. I haven't played a final at any event in almost a year, so this felt great."
Djokovic's run to the championship match at The Queen's Club proved to be the springboard to a remarkable second half of the 2018 season. The 31-year-old won 35 of his remaining 38 tour-level encounters in 2018 after leaving the Fever-Tree Championships, picking up his fourth Wimbledon title and completing the Career Golden Masters at the Western & Southern Open. Djokovic also triumphed at the US Open and the Rolex Shanghai Masters in a run which contributed to the 14-time Grand Slam champion becoming the first player to be ranked outside the Top 20 to finish the same season at No. 1 in the history of the ATP Rankings.
- Coming Tuesday: The best two ATP World Tour matches of 2018