Continuing our review of the 2021 season, today we take a look at the top two ATP Tour games of the year, after reviewing three classics yesterday. (We’ll reveal our best Grand Slam games of 2021 next week.)
2) Nitto ATP Finals, Round Robin, Daniil Medvedev d. Alexandre Zverev 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (6)
The start of his series career with Alexander Zverev did not go well for Daniil Medvedev. Their first four meetings all went to the German, even though he was 14 months younger. Three years ago in Shanghai, however, Medvedev solved the puzzling conundrum and before his round robin match in the ATP final Nitto, the Russian had won five of six.
And yet, Zverev entered the competition from Turin, Italy, having won 28 of 31 matches, including the Olympic gold medal in Tokyo and the Western & Southern Open title in Cincinnati. Medvedev, however, had now won six straight games at the year-end event, tracing back to his 2020 title in London. He had also ruined Novak Djokovic’s run in a one-calendar-year Grand Slam at the last possible moment, beating him in the US Open final.
It was a very promising game and one which met high expectations.
In a dynamic start, Medvedev played the big points better by fending off three break points in his first two service games and beating Zverev to take the 3-0 advantage. The Russian came close to the net throughout the first set, stepping forward to dictate the quick condition.
The second set was tied and both players were strong on serve, with a tie-break needed to separate them. Dramatically, Medvedev was punished for a 1/1 second serve foot foul, then briefly lost his focus as Zverev capitalized on the level, before the German raised his arms to further engage the then loud crowd. that he returned to his chair.
Medvedev continued to successfully attack Zverev’s backhand in the third set as he dominated this crossover. But he couldn’t find the crucial breakthrough on the German’s serve as the players were once again locked deep in the decider.
When they came to a tie-break in the third set after a captivating series of ebbs and flows, it looked like Zverev, the No.3 player in the FedEx ATP rankings, had turned the tide against No.2 Djokovic. He was leading 4/2 and had one more serve on his racquet. But Medvedev, up to the occasion, has won six of the last eight points and, with his second group victory, has reserved his place in the semi-finals.
“Today’s game was a matter of a few points, it was a very close game,” Medvedev said later. “I’m just happy to have succeeded against such a strong opponent, especially this year, which has so many victories, titles.”
Prophetically, he added: “I always say against a Top 10 player for years, which is Sascha, I feel like no matter how many games you win in a row you can basically lose the same. amount in a row thereafter. “
After his obligatory meeting with Zverev at the net, Medvedev approached the court camera and, as is the winner’s custom, wrote a message. âNot tight,â Medvedev wrote. “The hands are shaking.”
He was only half joking.
Medvedev and Zverev would end up in the league game and there would be more great shots, from both sides. This time, however, the writing on the wall would belong to another author.
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1) Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, Final, Rafael Nadal d. Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-4, 6-7 (6), 7-5
Now Rafael Nadal’s pre-service ritual is ingrained in the mind’s eye. He went through this bizarre routine tens of thousands of times, making it clear that Rafa is a creature of habit. The same goes for his results on clay.
Prior to the Open Banc Sabadell, Nadal had won the Barcelona event 11 times – the same total as Monte-Carlo and two short of his enduring record of 13 at Roland Garros. It had already been a tough week for Nadal before he reached the final, extending to three sets twice before beating Cameron Norrie and Pablo Carreno Busta.
Stefanos Tstisipas, however, would prove to be a tough guy. The 22-year-old Greek had indeed beaten Rafa in the quarterfinal of the Australian Open and won the Monte-Carlo title a week before. Semi-finalist of Roland-Garros in 2020, Tsitsipas had won each of the 17 sets he played on clay in 2021, good for nine consecutive victories.
After an exciting and wild encounter, the only piece of play needed play by play: Down 4-5, 30-40, Nadal fired a forehand across the line to save match point. He won the next three games to punctuate a 3 hour and 38 minute battle – the longest ATP game of the year at the time.
At 34, Nadal won his 12th title in Barcelona and his 87th overall.
“I think I’ve never played a final like this in this tournament, so it means a lot to me against a player like him,” Nadal said afterwards. âIt’s an important victory for me. I think I increased my level throughout the week and this victory confirms it.
Nadal broke his Barcelona final record to an impeccable 12-0. The victory was particularly significant, he said, as the 2020 tournament was canceled due to the global pandemic.
âIt’s about accepting the challenge,â Nadal said. âIt’s about being humble enough to accept that sometimes you don’t play very well and you have to fight for it and you have to try to find solutions every day. That’s what I did. “
Next week: the best Grand Slam games of 2021
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