Top Six Australian Open Matches

ESPNSTAR.com takes a stroll down memory lane with six truly memorable matches from the Australian Open.

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1969 semi-final: Rod Laver beat Tony Roche 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3

Tennis had just entered the Open era in the previous year, and this was the first Australian Open that allowed professionals to compete with amateurs. Going into the tournament Rod Laver, the world's greatest player at the time, carried the hopes of the home nation.

But he came across Tony Roche in the semi-final, another immensely talented Australian - and together the two served up a match for the ages.

Roche pushed Laver to the limit in an epic which lasted four hours and 35 minutes, where the second set alone, in the time before tie-breakers existed, lasted more than two hours.

Laver battled through but still needed a tight call from the umpire in the fifth set to win the match. Roche was serving at 3-4 when a shot from Laver was given in, although it looked out, giving Laver the crucial break.

The Rockhampton Rocket then beat Andres Gimeno in the final to claim his first major of the year. He would go on to claim all major titles in the year and complete his second career grand slam. As a tribute to his achievements, the Australian Open final is contested in the Rod Laver Arena.

1975 final: John Newcombe beat Jimmy Connors 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6
The two tennis greats rarely met despite playing at the top level around roughly the same time - so it was even more curious that they ended up meeting at the Australian open.

World No.2 and local hope John Newcombe disliked the fact that the tournament was held in late December over the Christmas and New Year period, and entered only at the eleventh hour when he learned that top-ranked Connors was making the trip to Kooyong.

"He should do more talking with his racket than his mouth. Every time I reach a final, Newcombe is missing", said the fiery Connors in the run-up to the tournament.

The American was returning as the defending champion, and had also won the previous two majors of 1974 at Wimbledon and the US Open.

With bad weather forcing Newcombe's last three matches before the final to be played on consecutive days, he was far more battle-weary when he finally faced off Connors.

In an unlikely turn of events, the 30-year-old Newcombe began the stronger of the two, snaring the first set before Connors hit back in the second, reaching set point with some delightful net play and capitalising on a Newcombe error to level the match.

Newcombe shook off that setback, forging to a two-sets-to-one lead in fine style against an opponent eight years his junior. Yet the searing heat, fatiguing muscles and tennis elbow began to take their toll.

Somehow, Newcombe reached match point when serving for the match in the fourth, only for Connors to hit back with a service break.

When the set progressed to a tiebreak, Newcombe had one option - take the match then and there, or fade physically in the fifth. With this in mind, the Australian veteran steeled himself to take the tiebreak and the match by a scoreline of 7-5 3-6 6-4 7-6.

In the end, Newcombe said: "Today, Jimmy Connors proved to me that a champion has to know how to win - and how to lose.

"He's proved to me that he is a true champion."


2000 semi-final: Andre Agassi beat Pete Sampras 6-4, 3-6, 6-7, 7-6, 6-1

Fans of the Sampras-Agassi rivalry consider this the finest meeting between the two great Americans.

Agassi was right in the midst of his second coming, having dropped out of the top 100 three years earlier. He had made three consecutive Grand Slam finals prior to Melbourne and was playing some of the best tennis of his life.

And even though Sampras was coming to the end of a sparkling career, he was still one of the best players on the circuit.

The match itself was set up to be an epic, with Agassi, arguably the best serve-returner of all time, facing off with Sampras, whose serve-and-volley style was a sharp contrast to Agassi's game.

Sampras served up 37 aces - an impressive number against any opponent, but even more incredible considering he was playing against one of the best returners the game had ever seen. But Agassi, so often at the end of a Grand Slam defeat against Sampras in the 90s, was not to be denied on this occasion.

The deciding moment came in the fourth set tie-break, where Sampras was only two points away from proceeding to the final. Instead, Agassi claimed the set with two service winners.

Sampras was broken in the final set after realising he had passed up a golden opportunity to seal the game and Agassi went on to claim the match. He went on to win the final in the year where he would become the first player since Laver in 1969 to make four Grand Slam finals in a season.

Even though he lost, Sampras acknowledged the quality of the semifinal as the best match between the two rivals.

"Andre and I have been a part of a lot of epics," Sampras said. "Today was definitely one of them, and he got the best of me."

2003 final: Serena Williams beat Venus Williams 7-6(4) 3-6 6-4

This was the fourth consecutive major final where the Williams sisters met - highlighting just how dominant the two were at the beginning of the previous decade.

Serena was favourite to come out top this time, having defeated her sister all three times they'd met in Grand Slam finals.

The match was arguably the best between Serena and Venus to date, with quality rallies keeping the crowd on the edge of their seats.

Venus pushed her sister to the edge with some excellent first serves to cut off the supply line of easy returns, but it wasn't quite enough as Serena fought back and wore Venus out in the third and final set to become only the fifth woman to hold all four major titles at the same time - a feat she dubbed the ‘Serena Slam'.

"I have spent many, many hours working for my moment in time, not knowing when it would come," she said after the match. "I just wanted it so bad, but if Venus served as well in the first and third sets as she did in the second I would have had no chance."

With injuries besetting both sisters, it's unlikely we'll ever see the two dish out the same magical tennis again.


2009 final: Rafael Nadal beat Roger Federer 7-5 3-6 7-6(3) 3-6 6-2

When Nadal and Federer meet, top-notch quality tennis is almost a given.

But what made the 2009 final so special was that Nadal played this match on the back of a draining semifinal against Fernando Verdasco that had lasted five hours and 14 minutes - the longest match in Australian Open history.

The match also signaled the beginning of the end of Federer's vice-like grip on men's tennis.

It was four hours 23 minutes of see-saw action all the way, with the supremely-fit Nadal not showing any signs of fatigue despite the marathon semi-final.

The match started with both exchanging early breaks of service until Nadal pulled ahead with a vital one late in the set to claim the advantage.

The second set followed a similar pattern, with an early exchange of breaks, but this time it was the Swiss ace who edged it as Nadal netted to lose a marathon eighth game.

Federer looked to be getting on top and had no less than six break points on Nadal's serve in the third set, the Spaniard coming back from 0-40 down in a pivotal service game.

In the tiebreak it was Nadal who pulled ahead again, reaching set point with a rare volleyed winner and sealing it as Federer double faulted. Federer hit back in the fourth to take the match to a decider, but Nadal's superior fitness proved to be the difference in the end, as he took the final set to win his first hard court Grand Slam.

Coming on the back of his Wimbledon triumph the previous year, this win proved that Nadal was no longer just a clay court grinder; he was a contender for one of the best players of all time.

For Federer, the loss remains one of the most painful moments of his career.

"God, it's killing me," he said with tears running down his cheeks as he received his runners-up medal. He returned to congratulate Nadal, saying: "You deserved it. You played a fantastic final."

Nadal showed that the rivalry stayed only on the court, telling Federer: "Roger, sorry for today. I really know how you feel right now. Remember, you're a great champion, you're one of the best in history."

It was obvious that the Spaniard deserved the plaudits though, having spent almost 10 hours on his final two matches of the 2009 Australian Open on court.

2012 Final: Novak Djokovic beat Rafael Nadal 5-7 6-4 6-2 6-7 (5) 7-5

"We made history," Djokovic told Nadal after a 5 hour 53 minute humdinger that has since been acknowledged as one of the best finals of all time.

Both players had been involved in classic semi-finals too - Djokovic beating Murray in five breathtaking sets, Nadal besting Federer in four in a match sprinkled with the kind of magic only those two can produce. Fans would have been forgiven for expecting a relatively underwhelming finale.

But this is not called tennis' golden age for nothing. The Serb and the Spaniard met in a seventh final in less than 12 months. What ensued was high drama, a final that seemed to stretch the very dimensions of the court as two of the greatest athletes of the modern era ran each other ragged for nearly six hours. 

When Nadal edged the first set, there was hope he would finally end Djokovic's domination - of the game and of himself. The world number one bounced back to take the next two, but seemed to be on his last legs in the fourth - leaning on his racket between points, grunting heavily and generally giving the impression of a man who has given up the ghost.

But that was all it was. An illusion. Djokovic summoned up scarcely credible reserves of energy in the final set, coming back from a break down and then going on to edge it 7-5. Yet again, he had beaten Nadal, and given us a match for the ages in the process.



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