100 memories: Rare feats and epic matches
December, 19, 2012
By Ravi Ubha | ESPN.com
Editor's note: With the tennis season now over, it's time to look back. Beginning Dec. 10, Ravi Ubha is unveiling his top 100 memories of the 2012 season. Check back each weekday until Dec. 21 as we count down to No. 1.
20. Djokovic and Murray go deep into the night
The ebbs and flows of a long five-set match shift storylines, which was evident when Novak Djokovic met Andy Murray in the Australian Open semifinals.
AP PhotosThe semifinal match between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray at the Australian Open was epic.
With Djokovic leading by a set and break, it was all about the Serb putting in a commanding performance and Murray flattering to deceive yet again. But when Murray won the second and third sets, Djokovic's health was called into question and the Scot was flashing his newfound grit under coach Ivan Lendl.
Djokovic won the fourth and fifth sets, and so in the end he further exhibited his resilience while Murray was categorized as brave in the nearly five-hour defeat.
Djokovic edged the fifth 7-5 after initially blowing a 5-2 lead. He saved a break point at 5-5 by hitting a gutsy forehand down the line as part of a 29-shot rally.
"It was one of the best matches I played," Djokovic said.
Even with a day off, how could he possibly recover for the final against Rafael Nadal?
19. A first, and not last, for Vika
Her time had come.
Victoria Azarenka had threatened big things at the Australian Open before, twice in commanding positions against Serena Williams, in 2009 and 2010. Both times Williams was victorious (one courtesy of a retirement) and went on to win the tournament.
There was no Williams to worry about in the latter stages this year in Melbourne; Azarenka was on an upward curve, and the result was the Belarusian landing a maiden Grand Slam title.
Azarenka didn't flinch in her first Grand Slam final, dropping three games against Maria Sharapova in a battle of shriekers.
Sharapova did well to reach the final, given an ankle injury disrupted the end of her season in 2011.
18. Maria completes career Slam
Five years ago at the French Open, Sharapova said, "I feel like a cow on ice." Back then, she wouldn't have imagined that one day she'd be the French Open champion.
Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty ImagesMaria Sharapova beat Sara Errani in the French Open final to complete her career Grand Slam.
Sharapova, however, enjoyed consistent success on dirt in 2011, and her progression continued this year when, ahead of the French, she landed titles in Rome and Stuttgart, Germany.
Her draw kind, Sharapova proceeded to lose one set during the fortnight at Roland Garros, turning the Russian into the Queen of Clay.
She completed her Grand Slam collection and won a first major following shoulder surgery in 2008.
"I felt like I really deserved this one today," Sharapova said in the aftermath of her 6-3, 6-2 victory against Sara Errani in the final. "I've worked so hard and I went through so many tough days to get here."
17. Nalbandian loses his cool
So much talent, that David Nalbandian. When his career is over, though, he'll be remembered for not winning a major and the Davis Cup. The latter is the trophy he truly craves.
He'll also be remembered for his poor behavior.
Nalbandian was disqualified from the final at Queen's in London in June when he kicked an advertising board that then struck linesperson Andrew McDougall's shin, drawing blood. Game, set and match to Marin Cilic.
He forfeited his prize money of $59,000 from the event and was hit with the maximum $13,000 fine from the ATP.
"I never intended to hit him," Nalbandian said in a statement. "It was an unfortunate reaction in which I wanted to relieve the loss of a point."
What is it about grass and disqualifications, eh, Tiger Tim?
16. More controversy for Nalbandian
It wasn't the first time Nalbandian was fined in 2012. He had to cough up $8,000 for throwing water at an Australian Open official in January.
He was wrong for doing that, of course, but Nalbandian was justifiably frustrated after his five-set loss to John Isner in the second round.
Locked at 8-8 in the fifth and with Isner serving at break point, Isner's delivery down the tee was called wide but overruled by chair umpire Kader Nouni (he of the deep voice) for an ace.
Amid the noise at Margaret Court Arena, Nalbandian genuinely, it seemed, didn't realize Nouni overruled, and by the time he decided to challenge, Nouni said it was too late.
And guess what? TV replays showed that the ball was indeed wide.
"Eight all, break point, can you be that stupid to do that in that moment?" Nalbandian fumed. "What does the umpire need? Press, the name, his picture [in the paper] tomorrow? Incredible."
Nouni made a mistake, but he remains one of the tour's top umpires.
As for Isner, it was the only time he won a five-set match all year (1-5).
15. Serena takes advantage of Vika's nerves
Azarenka didn't get close to defeating Williams in four of their five matches in 2012. But boy, she had her opportunity in the U.S. Open final when Williams, as was the case in the Wimbledon final against Agnieszka Radwanska, slumped in the second set following a convincing first set.
With Williams growing erratic as the third set got to the business end, Azarenka led 5-3 in front of a stunned crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium. If she hung on, Azarenka would be the women's player of the year.
Williams, though, steadied herself when Azarenka served at 5-4, a jittery Azarenka produced three errors and was broken at 15, and Williams prevailed 7-5.
"Being so close it hurts deeply to know you didn't get it," Azarenka said. "But at this moment I have no regrets."
14. A perfect set for 'Slava
Sara Errani isn't a player you'd pick out to be on the receiving end of a Golden Set. She hustles and retrieves with the best of them, habitually drawing errors from her opponent.
But against Yaroslava Shvedova in the third round at Wimbledon, no errors came from Shvedova in the opener. No winners came from French Open finalist Errani in the first set, either.
The result was Shvedova winning all 24 points to become the first known woman in the Open Era to toss a shutout.
"I was like, probably they made a mistake or something," Shvedova said. "My manager came and she's like, 'No, they checked all the stats.'"
"I didn't feel on the court that I was playing so bad," Errani said.
She wasn't: Errani made one unforced error in the set.
Errani did win points in the second set, although Shvedova claimed it 6-4.
Was it a surprise that Shvedova was the first woman to achieve the feat? Maybe not. She won the first 23 points against Amy Frazier in Memphis in 2006 -- double faulting on point No. 24.
13. The ultimate comeback kid
American men have seen better days on the tennis tour. Ryan Harrison and Donald Young took a step backward in 2012, Isner faltered after a promising start, Mardy Fish's body didn't cooperate and longtime stalwart Andy Roddick retired.
Positives came from Sam Querrey, Jack Sock and, particularly, Brian Baker.
Baker missed most of the previous six seasons due to injuries, undergoing five surgeries. He wasn't ready to pack it in, though, and feeling good physically, returned in style.
He won a Challenger in Georgia, qualified and reached a final in Nice, France, and qualified and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon.
"Baker is just one of the great stories in sports, forget about tennis," ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe said.
Despite not maintaining the momentum after Wimbledon, he has much to look forward to in 2013.
12. Death of the Novak Slam
Roger Federer came close but couldn't do it. Nadal came close but couldn't do it. And this year Djokovic was the latest to be foiled as he sought to win a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title.
Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty ImagesRafael Nadal ended Djokovic's bid for a Slam at the French Open.
He would have to triumph at the French Open, and most likely against one of the best-ever players on clay, if not the best, in Nadal.
But Djokovic's tournament preparation was stop-start. The death of his grandfather predictably affected him in Monte Carlo; he skipped his home country event in Serbia; the slippery blue clay threw him off in Madrid; and Nadal, as in Monte Carlo, beat Djokovic in straight sets in Rome.
That Djokovic got to the final at the French was an achievement, since he toiled against Andreas Seppi and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
And just when it looked like he might be able to come from two sets down against Nadal in the final, the weather came to the ruffled Spaniard's rescue.
"I managed to come to the finals [at the French] for the first time in my career," Djokovic said. "I should be happy about that. I will be and I am, but in this moment I am disappointed about this loss."
Nadal avoided a career Grand Slam of losses in finals to Djokovic and collected title No. 7 in southwest Paris.
11. Steps the Czech savior
Tennis' equivalent of the seventh game in the World Series or Stanley Cup is a so-called 'live' fifth match in a Davis Cup or Fed Cup final.
We were treated to one in the men's competition in November when the Czech Republic's Radek Stepanek battled Spain's Nicolas Almagro in Prague.
On paper Almagro was the favorite, but he has garnered a reputation for not being able to win the big matches. Stepanek, with his tools, has underachieved in his career.
Neither would be considered extremely popular among their peers.
It was the 34-year-old Stepanek who would be euphoric, staying focused for a change and winning 6-4, 7-6 (0), 3-6, 6-3.
"I'm living a dream," said Stepanek.
Almagro's lackluster display undid the good work of teammate David Ferrer, who posted a 6-0 record in the Davis Cup this year.