Top 5 ATP matches…that never happened
Like many individual sports, tennis is ignited by rivalries, and the ATP tour has had plenty to spare over its history.
While fans have been treated to many stupendous showdowns between the sport’s biggest names, there are some combinations that have surprisingly never taken place. Here Tennishead highlights five matches that top ATP pros came tantalisingly close to playing.
5. Lleyton Hewitt vs Roger Federer…in an Australian Open final
ATP tour level meetings: 28
Specifically, the 2005 Australian Open. Hewitt had been world number one for 80 weeks between 2001 and 2003, winning the US Open in 2001 and Wimbledon in 2002.
Federer was now atop the ATP rankings, and had won four of the last six Slams, including the 2004 Australian Open. Seeded first and third, Federer and Hewitt were drawn in separate halves, meaning they could only face off in a fairytale final; the world number one against the home talent.
No Australian man had won the singles in Melbourne since Mark Edmondson in 1976, so the Aussie fans were hungry for a champion of their own. Everything went according to plan up until the semi-finals. Federer breezed through without dropping a set whilst Hewitt struggled slightly but made it there to face Andy Roddick.
But as Hewitt held up his end of the bargain by defeating the American, Federer fell to Marat Safin in five sets, despite being match point up in a fourth set tiebreak. Still, surely Hewitt would ride the wave to win his home Slam?
Again, no, as the Australian fell to Safin in four sets in the final, never again reaching the championship match Down Under.
4. Pete Sampras vs Andre Agassi…in a French Open final
ATP tour level meetings: 34
These two Americans were the two biggest superstars of their generation. The two met 34 times over more than 13 years, the last battle coming in the 2002 US Open final, the last match of Sampras’ career.
In fact, they met in the final of three of the four Slams over their careers, at the US Open in 1990, 1995 and 2002, the Australian Open in 1995 and Wimbledon in 1999. So how come they never faced off in the championship match in Paris?
Put simply, Sampras did not have the clay pedigree to reach a French Open final. He won just three of his 64 career titles on the surface, the biggest of which was the 1994 Rome Masters. His best Roland Garros run came in 1996, reaching the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
On the other hand, Agassi made it to the final three times in 1990, 1991 and 1999. The two did meet at Roland Garros once, in the quarter-finals of 1992. Agassi won handily in straight sets.
3. Roger Federer vs Andy Murray…on clay
ATP tour level meetings: 25
With three clay Masters 1000 events on tour and Roland Garros to boot, it’s a wonder these two never met at one of those tournaments or at the lower level 250 or 500 levels. Instead, these rivals played 15 matches on outdoor hard courts, seven on indoor hard courts and three times on grass at Wimbledon, twice in The Championships and once at the 2012 London Olympics.
Across the three clay Masters and Roland Garros, Murray and Federer twice came within one match of doing battle. At the 2009 Madrid Masters, Federer defeated Andy Roddick to reach the semi-finals. He would have faced Murray there, but the Brit lost to Juan Martin del Potro in his quarter-final, so Federer took on the Argentinian instead.
At the 2010 Madrid Masters, Federer defeated Ernests Gulbis to book his spot in the semi-finals. Again Murray could not meet him there, losing to David Ferrer in straight sets as the Spaniard had the honour to play the Swiss.
2. Rafael Nadal vs Andy Murray…in a Slam final
ATP tour level meetings: 24
The Big Four: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Of the six match-up permutations between them, five have featured in at least one Slam final. Federer played Nadal in nine Major finals, he played Djokovic in four, and he faced Murray in three. Nadal has taken on Djokovic in nine Slam finals to date and at all four events, and Djokovic has faced Murray in seven Major finals, also at all four events.
The only combination that has not occurred is Murray vs Nadal. The two have met on the ATP tour 24 times, with Nadal winning on 17 of those occasions. They first met at a Slam at the 2007 Australian Open in the fourth round, where Nadal was the victor in five sets (their only five set encounter to date).
Four of their meetings have been in tournament finals, and nine of them have been at Slams, just never in the final. Instead, six of their Slam meetings came in the semi-finals, including three in a row in 2011 at the French Open, Wimbledon and US Open.
In addition, considering the age and injury uncertainty for both men, it will likely never happen.
1. Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal…at the US Open
ATP tour level meetings: 40
It is one of the most storied rivalries in the history of the ATP: Federer vs Nadal. The Swiss maestro vs the ‘King of Clay’. The two GOAT contenders faced each other 40 times over their careers. 14 of those matches have been at Slam tournaments.
Four times at Wimbledon, including three finals. Six times at Roland Garros, four of them finals. Finally, four at the Australian Open, including two finals. So fans at all of these Slams have enjoyed seeing the duo do battle on their courts, and all have even been privileged to see them in finals. But New York City, Arthur Ashe Stadium, the US Open, never have the two men met here, where surely they would have played in the largest tennis stadium in the world if they had.
There have been a number of close calls. In 2008, Nadal faced Murray in the semi-finals while Federer faced Djokovic. Federer won through against the Serb, but Murray overcame Nadal to block the Fedal final. The following year, the same stage of the competition. Federer again faced Djokovic and again defeated him. But, Nadal took on Juan Martin del Potro, and was ousted in straight sets. Zero for two.
2010, this time Federer let the team down. Nadal cruised past Mikhail Youzhny into the final, but Djokovic overturned his luck from the previous two years to defeat Federer in the other semi-final. In fact, Federer was twice just a point away from meeting Nadal in the final, holding match points against Djokovic while up 5-4 in the fifth. The same story next year. Nadal beat Murray, but Djokovic beat Federer, again saving two match points after coming back from two sets to love down.
Come 2012, Nadal did not play. 2013 offered the earliest chance for the two to meet, the quarter-finals. Nadal got there by defeating Philipp Kohlschreiber, but Federer fell to 19th seed Tommy Robredo in straight sets. The next close encounter came in 2017. Nadal was the top seed while Federer was third, both men in the top half of the draw. They would meet in the semi-finals should they both make that stage.
Nadal got there by defeating a young Andrey Rublev, but Federer lost out to old foe del Potro in four sets. In all, Federer and Nadal were zero for six when one match away from playing each other in New York, and were even one point away in 2010 and 2011, twice each time.
With the retirement of Federer in September 2022, this fairytale match-up will remain as arguably the greatest modern ATP match never played.
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