Alright, everybody breathe. Tennis, the sport that never, ever sleeps, has once again barely taken paused to catch its breath, rolling immediately from the 2022 season to the 2023 season; without even waiting for the calendar to roll over with it. By the time the ball drops in Times Square, taking us from one year to the next, we’ll already by 3 days into the shiny new joint ATP/WTA team competition, the United Cup, and its no brakes, full steam ahead to the Australian Open from there. But before we dive head first into our coverage of the new season, let’s first pay tribute to the 365 days of tennis which consumed us in 2022. While there were any number of absolutely terrific clashes on the ATP tour this year, only a handful ascended to truly ‘classic’ status. We could spend all day debating which matches deserve a spot in the pantheon of the years’ greatest, and the variation on other lists that have been published only affirms what an incredible year it was. I had the unfortunate self-imposed task of narrowing my choices to just three (while granting myself the crutch of an ‘honourable mentions section, of course). Here are the three best matches of 2022 on the ATP tour, as chosen by yours truly.
CARLOS ALCARAZ def. JANNIK SINNER; US OPEN, QUARTERFINAL
CARLOS ALCARAZ def. NOVAK DJOKOVIC; MADRID MASTERS, FINAL
HOLGER RUNE def. NOVAK DJOKOVIC; PARIS MASTERS, FINAL
CAMERON NORRIE def. DAVID GOFFIN; WIMBLEDON CHAMPIONSHIPS, QUARTERFINAL
THE TOP THREE ATP MATCHES OF 2022
3. NICK KYRGIOS def. STEFANOS TSITSIPAS; WIMBLEDON CHAMPIONSHIPS, 3RD ROUND
Purists will tell you this match belongs nowhere near a list of the ‘top’ matches of the year. Fortunately, this is my list, and there’s not a chance this was missing its rightful spot here. A true ‘circus’ in every sense of the word, Kyrgios-Tsitsipas was about as ‘maximalist’ sporting entertainment can get. To document every notable moment of angst, drama, controversy and, you know, great tennis, in this match would take a full Wikipedia entry; point-penalties, expletives, a near beamer from Tsitsipas’ racket right between the eyes of a spectator which surely would have led to a default.
It was a match that is really a ‘one-of-one’ on the year, the ultimate showdown of two characters whose petulance knows no bounds on the sports most inappropriate stage possible. To suggest they operated as ‘oil and water’ would be an absolute disservice to water. Water is clear, clean digestible, surely beloved by all whose lips it touches. This was two of the most potent oils in the game combining to make a practically radioactive concoction, in the best possible way. Oh, and the actual tennis? Wonderful, Tsitsipas played arguably the best grass court match of his career yet was undone by a barrage of Kyrgios’ booming first serves, sly drop shots and remarkable boot-lace backhand volleys, with the Australian eventually putting the Greek away in a thrilling 4th set tiebreak. And the post-match? I’ll let the boys speak for themselves on that one. If January’s Australian Open blesses us with a return fixture in front of nearly 15,000 of Kyrgios’ compatriots on Rod Laver Arena, I somehow doubt even the most stringent detractors would complain.
2. DANIIL MEDVEDEV def. FELIX AUGER ALIASSIME; AUSTRALIAN OPEN, SEMIFINAL
Based on my observations over the past 11 months, it’s becoming a possibility that history will forget this match. But godammit, I will not, and I will make it my mission to make it sure you all do not either. Three days before Daniil Medvedev’s date with destiny with Rafael Nadal (don’t worry, we’ll get there in just a moment), he played out an instant classic, a match that served as both the coming out party for Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime; a man who seems destined to join Alcaraz and Sinner as the nucleus of the men’s tennis picture for years to come; and the finest fightback of Medvedev’s career.
Through two sets, the young Canadian appeared to be heading towards the breakthrough moment of his career. Rarely has he struck the ball more sweetly from the baseline, and the normally rock solid Medvedev was struggling to find answers. Though the Russian solved the puzzle over the next three sets and pulled off a remarkable comeback that lasted nearly five hours, Auger-Aliassime’s level barely dipped, resulting in, in this writers opinion, the finest match of the year from a pure shot-for-shot perspective. Don’t believe me. The 40 minute condensed match is right there on YouTube to see for yourself. Unfortunately for both men, the incredible spectacle that the two gave us on this night would be overshadowed by an even more stunning five set epic that would occur just a few nights later on the same court. Still, that doesn’t make this match any less worth celebrating.
1. RAFAEL NADAL VS. DANIIL MEDVEDEV; AUSTRALIAN OPEN, FINAL
It is not without irony that the top 2 slots of this list both feature Medvedev; one marking one of his greatest triumphs, the other, easily his most deflating setback. It’s hard to think of another match in tennis history quite like this year’s Australian Open Men’s Singles final. Spanning five truly grueling sets and clocking in at 5 hours and 24 minutes from the bounce of the first ball to the last, Nadal-Medvedev was a sports movie taking place in real life, right in front of our eyes.
In terms of pure, on court, shot-for-shot brilliance, this probably admittedly wouldn’t be justified in the number one spot. The second set in particular was a messy one from both men, and unlike Medvedev’s aforementioned war with Auger-Aliassime, there were only a handful of moments in this one where both were hitting their respective peaks at the same time. But it’s all the other factors that went into this epic encounter that make it the signature showdown of the year; Nadal’s advanced age, Medvedev’s pursuit of history (vying to become the first man in the Open Era to follow his first major title with a second in his next attempt), an absolutely bonkers Melbourne crowd who undoubtedly played a part in the Spaniard’s astonishing turnaround. At 35, a 0-2 hole looked like a bridge to far for even a fighter as fierce as Nadal. But just as he has time and time again over the past 18 years, Rafael Nadal, against the odds, found a way.
The reality is, in half a century’s time, people will still be talking about this match. Even disregarding its significant implications on the three-way race to be remembered as the greatest player of all time, people will be talking about Rafael Nadal somehow pulled off on January 29th, 2022 on Rod Laver Arena. That alone matches this ‘the match of 2022’. Oh yeah, and don’t get me wrong, the tennis was pretty great, too.