The year 2009 was another banner one for the Grand Slams, starting with another Nadal-Federer classic Down Under and finishing with a five-set upset of Federer by Juan Martin del Potro on a Monday night in New York. Along the way, Federer and Serena Williams added two more Slam trophies to their mantels, Federer’s French Open completing his career Grand Slam and his Wimbledon title four weeks later making him the winningest man in Grand Slam singles history. Meanwhile, del Potro succeeded in his first trip to a Slam final, and Kim Clijsters went from a retired mother at the start of summer to a US Open champion the second weekend in September.
Men’s final: Rafael Nadal d. Roger Federer, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2
It wasn’t quite their 2008 Wimbledon epic, but the 19th meeting between the top two players in the world offered four scintillating sets before Nadal prevailed in the fifth when Federer collapsed in a barrage of errors in the first five-set Australian Open final since 1988 (Wilander d. Cash). As good as the tennis was, the most moving moment was the trophy presentation, when Nadal put his arm around a crying Federer in a remarkable unveiling of the human side of both great champions.
Women’s final: Serena Williams d. Dinara Safina, 6-0, 6-3
The younger Williams sister opened up a 5-0 lead in the first 18 minutes en route to thoroughly dominating Safina to win her fourth Australian Open title and 10th Grand Slam singles title. The anti-climactic final continued Williams’ trend of winning Down Under in odd years, adding the 2009 trophy to her victories in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Best men’s match: Nadal d. Fernando Verdasco, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4 (semifinal)
The two Spanish lefties pushed each other to their limits over five sets and an Australian Open record five hours and 14 minutes before an ill-timed Verdasco double fault sent Nadal into his first hard-court Grand Slam final. The match featured breathtaking rallies throughout and a dazzling array of shots from both men. Pundits gave Nadal little chance to recover in time to repeat his performance against Federer two days later, but he fooled them all by going five sets again to take the trophy.
Best women’s match: Jelena Dokic d. Alisa Kleybanova, 7-5, 5-7, 8-6 (fourth round)
Dokic, a popular Aussie on the comeback trail, became the sweetheart of the first week with her unlikely run to the quarterfinals. In her Sunday night match in front of a raucous crowd at Rod Laver Arena, Dokic overcame the stronger Kleybanova to win in three sets for the fourth consecutive match. She hit 46 winners, including a sweet backhand down the line to seal the match. Two days later, her dream run finally ended in another tense, three-set match against Safina.
Men’s final: Roger Federer d. Robin Soderling, 6-1, 7-6 (1), 6-4
With his nemesis Nadal having been put out of the tournament by Soderling, Federer made good on his fourth consecutive trip to the final by beating Soderling to complete the career Grand Slam and equal Pete Sampras’ record 14 major singles titles. Unfortunately for Soderling, who enjoyed the fortnight of his life, the final was mostly treated as a coronation for Federer, who had fallen to Nadal in the last three finals and the semifinal the year before that. Just like after the Australian Open, Federer cried after the match, but this time they were tears of joy.
Women’s final: Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Dinara Safina, 6-4, 6-2
The second straight Slam final and third overall ended the same way as the others for Safina, who ascended to the No. 1 ranking without having won a Grand Slam. Favored to defeat Kuznetsova in the second all-Russian French Open final, Safina played tentatively throughout, ending the tournament on a double fault. The opening set featured a series of service breaks until Kuznetsova steadied at the end and maintained her composure through the second set to add the title to her 2004 US Open crown.
Best men’s match: Soderling d. Nadal, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2) (fourth round)
It may not have been the best match in terms of quality, but it gets the nod for the reverberations it sent to all corners of the tennis world. Consider that Nadal’s career record in main-draw matches at Roland Garros was 31-0 and that he had never so much as been extended to a fifth set. Also consider that a month earlier in Rome, Nadal had doused Soderling, 6-1, 6-0, and it was clear why no one expected this to be the match that finally stymied Nadal in Paris. But Soderling was the aggressor for most of the way, keeping Nadal on the run with power tennis and well-timed forays to the net. Afterwards, Nadal shrugged off questions about a knee injury but later skipped the entire grass-court season and did not play again until the second week of August.
Honorable mentions: It should be noted that after Nadal’s departure, it was no cakewalk for Federer. The next day he came face to face with defeat before overcoming a two-set deficit against Tommy Haas and, in the semifinals, had to dig out of two-sets-to-one down against Juan Martin del Potro.
Best women’s match: Kuznetsova d. Serena Williams, 7-6 (3), 5-7, 7-5
In three of her five career losses to Serena, Kuznetsova had taken the first set, including a heartbreaker in Melbourne earlier in 2009. When Williams took a 2-0 lead in the third set, it looked like she would come from behind against Kuznetsova once again. But the Russian dug in to earn back the break to 3-3. Williams saved two match points serving at 4-5 but could not do the same in the 5-6 game. Kuznetsova clinched it with a forehand winner and, three days later, claimed her first French Open title.
Men’s final: Roger Federer d. Andy Roddick, 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14
Federer regained his Wimbledon title—his sixth overall—and passed Sampras with his 15th total Grand Slam in a five-set epic against Roddick, who had dispatched Britain’s hope, Andy Murray, in the semis. Roddick’s serve was spot on, and he held on his first 37—yes 37!—service games, only to lose two tiebreakers and eventually the match, when Federer broke him on his 38th trip to the service line. It was the third straight five-set men’s final at the All England Club, all involving Federer, who beat Nadal in 2007 only to have that result flipped in 2008.
Women’s final: Serena Williams d. Venus Williams, 7-6 (3), 6-2
Serena returned to the top with her third Wimbledon crown, all at the expense of her older sister. This one was mostly devoid of emotion and served as a reverse of the final a year earlier. The match also cemented a decade of Williams dominance at Wimbledon. Together, they combined to win eight titles since 2000, with five runner-up performances. Only in 2006 (Mauresmo d. Henin) was a Wimbledon final this decade contested without either Williams sister.
Best men’s match: Tommy Haas d. Marin Cilic, 7-5, 7-5, 1-6, 6-7 (3), 1 0-8 (3rd round)
This one hardly seemed destined for classic status when Haas ran off to a two-set lead, but it wound up going five sets over two days, with both players having saved two match points before darkness brought play to a halt at 6-6 in the deciding set. Both players admitted to heavy nerves for the resumption a day later, but it was Haas who broke Cilic on his third service game of the new day. The German went on to defeat Igor Andreev and Novak Djokovic to reach the semifinals, where he ran into Federer.
Best women’s match: Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva, 6-7 (4), 7-5, 8-6 (semifinals)
In one of the toughest, hardest-hitting women’s matches in memory, Serena overcame a tough Dementieva to reach the final. Dementieva won the first set and earned a match point in the third, but Williams dug herself out in classic Serena fashion. At 5-4 in the third, Dementieva was denied match point, when a Williams volley took a lucky break off the net chord, and four games later, she secured a well-deserved victory that took 2:49 to complete.
Men’s final: Juan Martin del Potro d. Roger Federer, 3-6, 7-6 (5), 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-2
In another five-set thriller, del Potro drew the curtain on Federer’s reign as five-time US Open champion, handing the Swiss his first loss at Flushing Meadows in 2,200 days. Federer raced out to a 6-3, 5-4 lead and was 30-love up, serving for a two-set lead, when del Potro ran off four straight points to even the second set and later won a tiebreaker. Federer pulled back a break in the third and fourth sets but double faulted to open the fourth-set tiebreaker, which went to del Potro. The 20-year-old Argentine broke Federer in his first and last service games of the deciding set to win in his maiden venture to a Grand Slam final.
Women’s final: Kim Clijsters d. Caroline Wozniacki, 7-5, 6-3
Clijsters completed the mother of all comebacks by winning the US Open in just her third tournament since ending a two-and-a-half-year retirement and 18 months after giving birth to her daughter Jada. To win her second Open (2005), she had to beat world No. 8 Wozniacki, plus both Williams sisters and top-20 players Marion Bartoli and Li Na. The final was a solid but unspectacular display of tennis against Wozniacki, with Clijsters taking the initiative and overpowering the steady Wozniacki for much of the match. The Belgian collapsed in tears after putting away a smash on championship point.
Best men’s match: John Isner d. Andy Roddick, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 3-6, 5-7, 7-6 (5)
In a battle of big-serving Americans, the younger and less-experienced Isner prevailed in a deciding-set tiebreaker as part of an electric Saturday at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Isner broke serve only one time in the match but, combined with winning the first set tiebreaker, that was enough to open up a two-set lead. Never deterred, Roddick broke serve once in each of the third and fourth sets to level the match. Neither man faced a break point in the fifth, and Isner won a single point on Roddick’s serve in the tiebreak for the difference in the biggest victory of his career.
Best women’s match: Melanie Oudin d. Maria Sharapova, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 (3rd round)
Oudin was already the most popular player in the women’s draw after defeating Elena Dementieva a round earlier, and she reached new heights by roaring back to beat former champion Sharapova in a 2:58 marathon. Oudin held serve only once in the first set and nearly saw a 5-1 lead erased in the second, securing the set only on her seventh match point. The deciding set was a see-saw affair, with seven breaks of serve from a dozen games. The difference may have been Sharapova’s serve, which let her down to the tune of 21 double faults.
Breakthrough Man - Juan Martin del Potro: Del Potro opened his Grand Slam season by getting pasted, 6-3, 6-0, 6-0, by Federer in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. He reached his first Grand Slam semi at the French and led Federer two sets to one before succumbing in five. After an early exit at Wimbledon, he broke all the way through in New York, beating Nadal in straight sets and Federer in five on consecutive days.
Breakthrough Woman - Melanie Oudin: The 17-year old from Georgia might have landed here straight off her trip to the round of 16 at Wimbledon. Her US Open run sealed it when she won four matches, the last three over seeded players after being down a set. She finally bowed out to Caroline Wozniacki in the quarterfinals, but not before turning herself into the darling of American tennis.
Male Disappointment - James Blake: The former top-10 American had lost nine consecutive Grand Slam sets heading into the US Open. At his home slam, he got to the third round and had every opportunity against Tommy Robredo but lost in straight sets. Blake turns 30 in December and has still never played the semifinals at a Grand Slam.
Female Disappointment - Dinara Safina: By most standards, her results were outstanding, but she was tentative in all of her losses and even in some of her wins. Her No. 1 ranking without the aid of a Grand Slam win is the talk of women’s tennis and will dog her until she holds up a winner's trophy.
Most Astute Announcer - John McEnroe: At the French, Federer trailed Tommy Haas by two sets, 3-4 and 30-40, when he hit an inside-out forehand winner to save break point. McEnroe immediately said that the shot could wind up being the most important forehand of Federer’s career. Federer won the match and, six days later, won his first French Open.
Monday night in New York, Juan Martin del Potro was two points from being down two sets to Federer, when he hit a blistering passing shot off the line to earn break point. McEnroe again emphasized the potential importance of the shot. Del Potro earned the break, won the set and wound up winning the US Open.