From Rafael Nadal winning his first hardcourt major in Australia, to Roger Federer completing the career grand slam, to the emergence of a new major star Juan Martin Del Potro at the U.S. Open, 2009 was a year replete with ups and downs on the men’s tour. Here’s a flashback.
At the Australian Open final, despite a marathon semifinal match, Nadal had adequate reserves to stare down Federer in another five setter. With that victory, Nadal seemed well positioned to achieve the calendar grand slam. After sweeping every clay court tournament, Nadal was halted at the Madrid Masters by Federer days prior to the French Open. For many analysts, fatigue may have been deserving of an assist as Federer defeated Nadal in straight sets to capture his initial title of 2009. As such, Nadal was still considered the outright favorite for a fifth consecutive French trophy.
While everyone may have discounted Robin Soderling in the fourth round at the French Open, the Swede who played a contentious match with Nadal at Wimbledon in 2007 had visions of victory dancing in his head. Soderling upstaged the best clay player in circulation, handing Nadal his first defeat at Roland Garros. Soderling rode this euphoric wave all the way to his first final at a major where he was ultimately stopped by Federer. In addition, Soderling was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Open. At his initial ATP World Tour Finals, Soderling was a semifinalist and with that result jumped to a career best ranking of 8th after commencing 2008 at 17.
Melbourne was the site where Fernando Verdasco at last lived up to his talent. After surprising Andy Murray the hottest player on tour in the fourth round, Verdasco was involved in a dogfight in the semifinals with countryman Nadal. Hands down, the best match of the tournament and one of the most scintillating of the year, the two Spaniards went toe to toe for over five hours. Although Nadal was triumphant, Verdasco’s run in Australia galvanized him the rest of the year. Verdasco reached the quarters at the U.S. Open and was instrumental in Davis Cup play. Verdasco participated in his first ATP World Tour Finals and ended 2009 at number 9.
After an horrendous start to the season, Federer’s year turned around after beating Nadal in Madrid in May. After avoiding a sleuth of pitfalls to get to the French Open final, Federer grabbed the elusive brass ring and tied Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors. With a knee injury placing Wimbledon defending champ Nadal out of action, the impossibility of a Federer-Nadal duel could have been deflating for the championships. To the contrary, Andy Roddick stepped up to the plate and in facing Federer, the two had a final to rival last year’s epic. Federer had to out ace Roddick, required 95 minutes and 30 games in the fifth set before coming away with the victory and a record setting 15 majors. In July, Federer supplanted Nadal at the top of the ATP’s ranking list. Brimming with confidence, Federer appeared unstoppable and was a shoe-in for a sixth consecutive title in New York.
At the U.S. Open, Federer battled Del Potro in the final. With this being the latter’s maiden major final, jitters were more likely than not to play a pivotal role. In spite of his youth, Del Potro demonstrated that he is a quick study. After a devastating lost to Federer in the French semifinals, down two sets to one, Del Potro carried a tiebreaker and showed up Federer in the fifth set to capture his initial major. Del Potro closed 2009 as the world’s fifth best player and is a definite threat to take over the top spot in 2010.