Top 10 Men’s Tennis Matches of 21st Century

The hibernation period that began with the end of Wimbledon is finally over with the Toronto Masters Series tournament. As usual, we had the "forgotten" series of clay-court tournaments that take place for a few weeks in Europe.

All the clay-court specialists (minus Rafael Nadal), who were in hibernation themselves during the grass court season, reappeared to rack up a few more points before they accept their fates of not winning many matches the rest of the year since there are no more clay-court tournaments on the calendar. Oh, wait! There is actually one: that sensational (!!) Palermo tournament in September (Igor Andreev and Filippo Volandri played in the finals last year, wow)!

It's also true that the U.S. Open Series has already started. But let's be honest! From the end of Wimbledon to the beginning of Toronto Masters Series tournament this week, there is simply not much to get excited about in the world of tennis.

I figured I could pick a fun subject, not necessarily related to current events. No, it's not about tennis-related vacation ideas, nor reviews of tennis books. You will have to read some past articles for those.

I figured it would be fun to try to pick the top 10 men's tennis matches of the 21st century so far. Of course, these are my picks and very much open to debate. I have not watched every single tournament in the calendar since the beginning of 2000. But due to my addiction to the game of tennis and my obsession with following tournaments on TV or live, I have probably watched a whole lot more than most people out there.

It was impossible to number them one through 10, so I decided to group them into two groups of five matches. The matches are listed in any order within their group. Perhaps I will come back to this list in the future as the years go by and modify the list, adding new matches, taking some off. Hopefully, your inputs will have a lot to do with future modifications.

Following my picks, I noticed some interesting anecdotes. Out of the 10 matches that I have picked, the only regular ATP calendar tournament to make the list other than the Slams was Rome ATP Masters Series tournament (I don't count Masters Cup as a regular tournament). Also, nine out of 10 were five-set matches, eight of them going to an extended fifth set. Only three players who never won a Slam title made the list.

Only one win by Roger Federer made the list, the best player of the century so far. Furthermore, that win came when he was not even top 10 in the world. Andre Agassi and Federer top the list with three matches each. Wimbledon leads the list with three matches taking place on Centre Court. The year 2001 leads the way with four matches. Here is my list:

Top Five Matches (In Any Order)

2003 Australian Open Quarterfinal: Andy Roddick def. Younous El Aynaoui 4-6, 7-6, 4-6, 6-4, 21-19

Some may claim that this match lasted all day. Both players were diving simultaneously at one point for balls. Roddick sure felt like it lasted all day, never recovering physically from this match and wilting away in the semis against Rainer Schuettler.

2006 Rome Finals: Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer
6-7, 7-6, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6

This rivalry could turn out to be the best rivalry in the history of tennis, and it is likely that this match will be the best of it. The tide turned several times during this match, both players had match points. Fans thought it was over for Nadal, then for Federer, then for Nadal again, before it was really over for Federer. Roger went for winners for five-plus hours against arguably the best clay-court player of all times, and almost pulled it off!

2001 U.S. Open Quarterfinal: Pete Sampras def. Andre Agassi
6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6

Best match of this wonderful rivalry. Three hours of mesmerizing tennis, no breaks, four tiebreakers, the winner was anyone who witnessed it.

2001 Wimbledon Semifinal: Patrick Rafter def. Andre Agassi
2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6

Right when you thought these two guys could not top the 2000 semifinal on the same court, they did. Never since Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe has anyone seen a classic "serve and volleyer vs. returner" match of this quality.

2005 Australian Open Semifinal: Marat Safin def. Roger Federer
7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 6-7, 9-7

Matches like this will leave you wondering why Safin is not right up there with Federer and Nadal. At his best, Safin is the only current player who could bother the comfort of those two at the top spots. Don't take my word for it, watch this match. Yes, Federer can be beaten at his best.

Next Five Matches (In Any Order)

2001 Wimbledon 4th Round: Roger Federer def. Pete Sampras
7-6, 5-7, 6-4, 6-7, 7-5

Although Pete was not at the top of his game in 2001, this match will remain as an important turning point in the history of tennis. The new king of grass takes over from the reigning king of grass in this match that went the distance and had some brilliant shotmaking. Interestingly, it was to be the only encounter between two players who will now be in a never-ending battle for "the best player ever" title in the game of tennis.

2001 Wimbledon Final: Goran Ivanisevic def. Patrick Rafter
6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7

If this was a list of "matches played in the most exciting atmosphere," this would be at the top of the list without a doubt. The match was moved to Monday due to rain. This meant that regular ticket holders did not get to keep their seats and bring their "proper and stiff" clapping. All of a sudden, a gigantic queue formed at SW19 with tennis lovers who previously never dreamed of getting a ticket to the finals. Croatians and Australians filled the seats on Monday, bringing along their flags, chanting and enthusiasm. It was more electrifying than a Davis Cup match. Goran did the unthinkable, winning Wimbledon as a wildcard entry.

2005 Rome Finals: Rafael Nadal def. Guillermo Coria
6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6

Although in retrospect the Safin vs. Federer match was more spectacular, I picked this one as the best match of the year at the end of 2005. Nadal and Coria played a classic clay-court match. Nadal slugged, Coria slugged (and whined), both had multiple match points, the final tiebreaker had an extended ending. Oh, and the match lasted five hours and 13 minutes.

2005 U.S. Open Quarterfinal: Andre Agassi def. James Blake
3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6

I always wondered if this match had the record for the most winners made during a match by both players combined. If you are an American, this match made you proud. Two great athletes (one at 35 years of age, mind you) upped the level of play with each passing set, while displaying fantastic sportsmanship. By the fifth set, both were going for winners, and making them. Agassi ended up making one more than Blake on match point to win it in a thrilling tiebreaker.

2002 Masters Cup Final: Lleyton Hewitt def. Juan Carlos Ferrero
7-5, 7-5, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4

Every now and then, you will have two baseliners at the top of their game, playing a baseline dual on a fast hard court. This was one of those matches. Ferrero came back from the dead only to blow one break advantage in the deciding set. Both players now wish they could play at the level of this match.

The WTA version will be coming in the near future. Until then, take care, everyone.

Comments and Conversation

August 15, 2006

james hare:

Interesting article Mr. Ertunga.

I would have to mostly agree with your list with the exception of Ivanisevic-Rafter game which should have been in your top 5 list; perhaps, at worst, as a wild card.

August 15, 2006


great idea for an article, Mert, real interesting

I’ll have to think a while before I come up with my own list, but for now:

I agree with James Hare, Goran-Rafter match all depends on how you classify your ranking. In terms of quality of play, it may not have been top 5. In terms of drama, and atmosphere as you pointed out, it was #1. I also think it would have meant less in history had Rafter won it, but I’m not sure.

Roddick-El Aynaoui i think is #1. Incredible tennis, sportsmanship, everything about it was perfect. However Roddick literally got hurt when he dove and landed on his elbow late in the 5th. Yeah he probably was tired too, but his elbow didn’t hold up against Schuettler.

In terms of best matches that escaped the public eye, I would go with Srichaphan-Sanguinetti at last year’s US Open, 7-6 in the 5th. I’m biased cause I was at the match and love Paradorn, but the atmoshphere, play, and sportsmanship were all unprecedented.

Did you leave out any Davis Cup epics? I’ll have to check, but I bet there have been some deserving ones. What about Nalbandian-Federer at the year-end Masters Series?

August 16, 2006

Brad Oremland:

Nice article. I was glad to see Roddick vs. El Aynaoui in your top five. I’d love to see a similar piece for the top women’s matches of the century.

September 2, 2006

Mert Ertunga:

Ricky and Brad, thanks for the compliments.

Ricky, I did think about some Davis Cup matches. One that came to my mind was Alex Corretja beating Pete Sampras on grass courts from two sets to love down. Talk about a surreal match. But the quality of play wasn’t that high and it is not the top 10 for the Ripley’s Believe it or Not in the world of tennis.

I also excluded last year’s Masters Final that you mentioned because the first four sets were very poor to average at best in terms of quality and closely contested games. Even the fifth set was a bore until Federer started to come back.

Take care

May 24, 2007


Hy guys,
I was happy to find such a well figured out compilation of tennis matches.
I also like the current tennis more than the historical, so that all games took place in the 21st century was another positive aspect for me.

I would like to view these matches!
So here is my question:
Does anyone know a DVD of such great matches, maybe an “accumulation of the greatest tennis matches” or something like that?


October 11, 2007


Maurice, you can get rips of those matches from TV from file-sharing networks such as Bittorrent and Emule. I found pretty much all of them there!

July 4, 2009


Goran beats Patrick should be the # 1. Goran Rules!!! Can’t believe you missed Pancho Gonzales vs Charlie Passerell!

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