It has come to that time of the year when ‘the best of’ blogs pop up. I thought I would make one about the 10 best matches I was courtside for this year. There were so many to think about, after my shortlist was complete the two that missed out were D.Medvedev v F.Lopez and A. Sabalenka v V.Azarenka (Both US Open). I can’t put Medvedev v Lopez in as I only saw a couple of sets of it before having to depart for my plane home. As you can imagine from the series of events the atmosphere was worth witnessing as Daniil went toe-to-toe with the crowd and won. Vika v Sabalenka also just missed out. This felt like confirmation of a passing of the baton (at least for the time being) as the younger Belarussian prevailed.
(10) Kristyna Pliskova v Karolina Pliskova (The Nature Valley Classic, Edgbaston).
This was similar to the Belarussian encounter I just talked about but even more unique. Seeing sisters play that aren’t named Serena and Venus (for a change) and the Pliskova’s are obviously twins. The standard wasn’t the highest by any stretch and you could feel the nerves and the tension coming from the court. That made it intriguing though and Kristyna ended-up causing the upset by taking the final set breaker 9-7 after both players had their chances.
(9) V. Pospisil v K. Khachanov (US Open).
This was unexpected and one that snuck itself into the mix. Pospisil has shown in the past he is capable of top-class tennis and he rolled back the years in this one. It was a heavy-weight contest, full of huge hitting and each player seeking the get the first big strike in the rally. I was literally right behind the players in the standing area on Court 12 and joined the match in the second set and got drawn in. I do enjoy these matches as they go under the lights, the atmosphere seems to get even better in NYC. Pospisil, spurred on by a number of Canadians got the upset in five sets.
(8) S.Stephens v J.Konta (Wimbledon).
I had just witnessed Serena avoid a potential stumbling block against Julia Goerges first up on Court One and this followed, with Evo and Sousa to finish the day. Unlike most of the crowd, this was a match I could relax a little more in. I like both players. Sloane came out playing big match tennis, which is usually the case in the slams. It looked like she might get it done in two but Konta dug in to take it the distance and then went away from the American in the decider. Even though it was only a third-round encounter the crowd knew the importance and how big a match it was.
(7) A. Murray/ S.Williams v F/Martin/R.Atawo (Wimbledon).
This is just something that I had to see when I was at Wimbledon this year. It doesn’t get too much, if any better in reality than this for me as a doubles partnership. It just felt like it will be something that I will remember for a lifetime. The pair delivered 7/5 6/3, roared on by a Centre Court crowd. It was a pleasure to witness and quality to see them both enjoying themselves. One of those moments to savour.
(6) Dan Evans v Joao Sousa (Wimbledon).
This would unquestionably be a lot higher in the list if the result had gone the way I wanted. It could have and probably should have too. It was only after I had stopped sulking about Evo losing a five-set thriller, that started outdoors and then went under the roof, that I realised what a match it was. The standard was very, very high and the atmosphere was awesome. If you haven’t, you should make it your business to experience a Dan Evans match. For many reasons. I was exceptionally vocal, as was a patriotic British crowd. Had Evans won this, it could easily have ended up top of the charts here. Rafa would have been his fourth-round opponent.
(5) A.Riske v S.Williams (Wimbledon).
Riske was the in-form player on grass, I am sure she clocked up the most wins on the surface on the Women’s Tour this year. She had titles from Surbiton and s-Hertogenbosch amongst it and had already taken out Bencic and top-seeded Ash Barty on her way to this last eight matchup with Rena. Serena had to be on her game and was as Riske pushed her all the way. It was one of those authoritative performances under pressure and one I was very relieved to get out of the way. The serve was looking good. A lot of mini fist-pumping on Centre this day. It was a really good standard here though with two ultra attack-minded players going for it.
(4) Coco Gauff v Valentina Ivakhnenko (Wimbledon Qualifiers, Roehampton).
After hearing so much about Coco Gauff, it was time to see her play live at Roehampton in the second round of qualifiers for Wimbledon. Though her 6/2 6/3 victory over Ivakhnenko was pretty one-sided it was memorable for the quality and mentality shown by the 15-year-old. This was a fine performance that showcased all her attributes and power. We thought before that she was the real deal, this confirmed it for me as I saw it with my own eyes. The rest is already history as they say. Immense.
(3) Miomir Kecmanovic v P.Lorenzi (US Open).
This is the biggest surprise on the list bar none. I picked up this match with a British lad I had started talking to during the Evo v Pouille match. Now, this is nothing against Kecmanovic, I like him and rate him but we got sat behind the Lorenzi team and that was that. A gruelling five-setter followed with energy-sapping baseline rallies in the heat. The Italian at 37 is a similar age to myself but he loves a marathon. We really got caught up in the moment here with Lorenzi winning in five and giving it some vocals for the veteran. The crowd were pretty much thinking the same and you had to feel for Kecmanovic. It was nothing personal though. A few beers were drank in the heat here too, adding to the experience.
(2) S.Williams v M.Sharapova (US Open).
This might not Stand out, but when you have paid a fortune to go over to the States to watch two players in particular, you would rather they went a few rounds. I think it’s fair to say that! The fact that Rena was drawn against Sharapova meant a slight inconvenience. There is the law of averages that a defeat will happen at some stage against the Russian. Serena was superb though and brushed aside Sharapova 6/1 6/1. It was a totally dominant performance in the evening session on the Arthur Ashe, on the opening night of the event. Always nice to get this one done with minimal fuss and it was.
(1) Dan Evans v Lucas Pouille (US Open).
Like I say, when you spend big money on a trip you certainly want the players you support to perform. Evo had already beaten Adrian Mannarino on the Monday but had to wait an extra day, due to rain to play his second-round match against the Lucas Pouille. I was pumped for this, knowing how vocal I would be. Victory here meant a decent effort all in all from Evo and a third-round match against Roger Federer, that I would also be able to go to. This was a topsy turvy, rollercoaster. I was courtside early and front row near the baseline. I was with a load of Brits and we really gave it some for this one. Evans always looked like he had the beating of the Frenchman and so it proved. Digging deep and focusing at the business end of sets when it really mattered. Queue big celebrations from all of the travelling Brits. Evo through in four.
Andy Del Potro