In the world’s most prestigious tournaments, it would seem only fair to expect the singles finals to prove to be a spectacle; one which features two players at the very top of their games taking it to the final point in the final set with plenty of reversals of fortune on the way. But, while that may be the theory, the reality is very different. In women’s tennis, we’ve seen Serena Williams cruise to victory in straight sets so often in an incredible Grand Slam career that it ceased to be a surprise. But, in the men’s game, when a potential five-set match is over in just three, it seems like an even bigger upset, as these three examples from the annals of the game only go to show.
2020 French Open Rafa Nadal v Novak Djokovic 6-0, 6-2, 7-5
It may have been a cold Paris afternoon in the fall that was far from conducive to great tennis, but no-one was seriously considering the possibility Spain would overcome Serbia so comprehensively. In the pre-match tennis betting, there was little to choose between the two of them with Nadal very slightly the favorite. But on the day, Djokovic looked out of sorts from the start. It’s been a very long time since he lost a set to love and by the time he started putting some moves together to win five games in the third set, it was all too late. Yes, he was up against arguably the best ever clay-court player, but this really was a decimation.
1984 Wimbledon John McEnroe v Jimmy Connors 6-1, 6-1, 6-2.
At just 80 minutes long, this was the shortest Wimbledon’s men’s final in the history of the modern game. So even the dazzling stroke-play and unbelievable mastery of the famously irascible McEnroe must have barely been compensation for the spectators who had paid a fortune for the tickets. That Connors was the people’s choice made this result too much to bear for some. But the fact that this was the year when McEnroe’s dreams of a French Open title were cruelly dashed by Ivan Lendl in a five-set thriller meant he undoubtedly had something to prove.
1974 US Open Jimmy Connors v Ken Rosewall 6-0, 6-1,6-0
A decade earlier, the 22-year-old Connors inflicted an even heavier defeat on the 39-year-old Australian Ken Rosewall. Perhaps this was a more predictable result as it also heralded the end of one era of tennis and the start of another in which players like Connors, Bjorn Borg and Ilie Nastase rose to prominence.
It may not seem like it from Nadal’s performance, but the big three of men’s tennis, with Djokovic and Federer forming the rest of the triumvirate, are all possibly nearing the end of their careers. So in Grand Slams of the near future, maybe we should be anticipating plenty more upsets as the new generation of pros rises to prominence.