The six best matches of AO2020

  • David Cox

From titanic upsets to sweat drenched five-setters, Australian Open 2020 has seen it all over the past fortnight. After all who would have predicted two weeks ago that Alexander Zverev would morph from double faulting like it was going out of fashion to finish as the tournament’s top server? Or that neither Serena Williams nor Naomi Osaka would make it past round three, and instead Sofia Kenin would claim a remarkable first Grand Slam title and emerge as one of the new faces of women’s sport.

Such has been the glut of epic contests it’s hard to pick a single favourite, so we’ve selected three men’s and women’s singles matches which will live long in the memories of those who witnessed them.

MEN

1. Quarterfinal: Dominic Thiem df. Rafael Nadal 7-6(3) 7-6(4) 4-6 7-6(6)  

As the indigo sunset over Rod Laver Arena faded into darkness, Thiem found himself at a career defining crossroads. The Austrian had never beaten Nadal in a Grand Slam – the Spaniard repeatedly proving his nemesis at both Roland Garros and the US Open – but leading two sets to one and playing the match of his life, the opportunity was there to erase the demons of the past.

As the finish line approached, Thiem’s nerves jangled, missing a chance to serve out the match at 5-4 in the fourth. But with Nadal poised to pounce, he regrouped to close out a remarkable four hour, lung busting extravaganza in a third tiebreak.

2. Fourth round: Stan Wawrinka df. Daniil Medvedev 6-2 2-6 4-6 7-6(2) 6-2

Having reached September’s US Open final, fourth seed Medvedev had been tipped by many as a dark horse for the Australian Open title. Few gave the 34-year-old Wawrinka – an ageing and waning force in men’s tennis – much of a chance against a player who often embodies an impassable wall from the back of the court. But for all his achievements, the Russian has still never won a five-set match and once Wawrinka had toughed out an epic fourth in a tiebreak, he found another level in the decider. Such was the Swiss’ shot-making brilliance, Medvedev was left shaking his head and muttering in frustration as an inspired Wawrinka claimed one of his best wins in recent times.

3. Second round: Tommy Paul df. Grigor Dimitrov 6-4 7-6(6) 3-6 6-7(3) 7-6(3)

After all the second week drama, it’s easy to forget some of the early round epics, and in particular this clash between Dimitrov and Paul which was arguably the pick of the week one encounters. Seeking to reach the third round of a major for the first time, Paul made a strong start against the former semifinalist.

But at two sets down the Bulgarian began to find his game. When he took it to a fifth, the match appeared to be in his grasp with Paul hobbling around and visibly struggling to move. Dimitrov served for the match at 5-4, but from 30-0 he grew tentative and Paul found a second wind to reel off the next four points. Taking bigger and bigger swings at the ball, the American began to crush forehands past a stunned Dimitrov, dominating the deciding match tiebreak to clinch a stunning win.

WOMEN

1. Semifinal: Garbine Muguruza df. Simona Halep 7-6(8) 7-5

On a brutally hot afternoon, Muguruza showed all the battling qualities which have taken her to two Slam titles and the world No.1 ranking as she out-rallied a determined Halep in sweltering on court conditions which reached 40 degrees.

Halep certainly had her chances, but when he mattered she struggled to hit through the Spaniard who showed her often underrated athleticism and defensive capabilities to outhustle her tenacious opponent. Muguruza saved four set points in the opener before clinching a dramatic tiebreak, before twice coming from a break down in the second to reach her first major final since 2017.

2. Fourth round: Sofia Kenin df. Coco Gauff 6-7(5) 6-3 6-0

Before this tournament, Kenin had only once made the fourth round of a Slam, but throughout the later rounds in Melbourne she played the pressure points like a seasoned veteran, started with this gutsy fourth round over 15-year-old Gauff.

Played out on a boisterous Melbourne Arena, keen to get behind the new teen sensation who had stunned defending champion Osaka in the previous round, Kenin dug deep after losing a desperately close opening set.

Cleverly utilising drop shots and lobs, she managed to throw Gauff off her rhythm in the second set before overwhelming the youngster in the decider, a show of fighting spirit which would take her all the way to the title.

3. Third round: Ons Jabeur df. Caroline Wozniacki 7-5 3-6, 7-5

Having announced she would retire at the Australian Open back in November, it was somewhat fitting that Wozniacki’s final match would be an epic slugfest, a baseline battle which ebbed and flowed for the best part of two hours. It’s the kind of match she’s made a career out of winning, but it was not to be against an inspired Jabeur, enjoying the tournament of her life.

When Wozniacki battled back from 3-0 down in the decider, it seemed as though the match would be a repeat of her second-round clash with Dayana Yastremska where she retrieved deficits in both sets to prolong her swansong. But Jabeur held her nerve, breaking Wozniacki in the final game to begin the Dane’s emotional farewell. As the entire 10,500 strong crowd serenaded her to the soundtrack of ‘Sweet Caroline’, Wozniacki was left to reflect on the end of a remarkable 15 years at the top of the game.