Greatness in Obscurity

Readers may not be aware, since this site’s layout is rather less intuitive than it might be, but there is a sporadic series of columns that I write here on excellent, but potentially unheard-of tennis matches. The series is called Great Matches You Probably Haven’t Heard Of. Naturally, many of the matches will be perfectly familiar to the kind of reader that visits a men’s tennis site of their own volition. But I suspect most are long forgotten by the general fan.

Of course, obscurity is something of a grey area. One of my favourite matches, Pat Rafter’s fabulous win over Andre Agassi in the 2000 Wimbledon semifinal, certainly fulfils the criteria for greatness. But most interested fans, when questioned under duress, would confess to having at least heard of it. Perhaps I’ll write about it anyway, just so I have an excuse to watch it again.

Reading through these, it should be apparent that I’m not particularly interested in a simple and wretched summary of each encounter. Prose is a poor medium for conveying the excitement of a sporting event, and will generally tell you less about a match than just watching it would have. The value is in the ancillary detail, and the wide context. The matches I’ve done so far:

1. Los Angeles, 1999, Final. Sampras d. Agassi, 7/6 7/6

2. Tennis Masters Cup, 2003, Round Robin, Federer d. Agassi, 6/7 6/3 7/6

3. Tennis Masters Cup, 2000

4. Sydney, 2003, Final, Lee d. Ferrero, 4/6 7/6 7/6

5. Chennai, 2008, Semifinal, Nadal d. Moya, 6/7 7/6 7/6

6. Paris Indoors, 2000, Safin d. Philippoussis, 3/6 7/6 6/4 3/6 7/6

7. San Jose, 2002, Final, Hewitt d. Agassi, 4/6 7/6 7/6

Surveying this list, two trends become readily apparent, and might require explanation. Firstly, most of the matches are concentrated in the early part of last decade. As a period it boasts the twin attractions of readily available footage (there are matches available from before this, but they’re generally famous ones), and sufficient distance that the matches may have been forgotten.

The second thing that leaps out is that many of them feature Agassi losing. I hope this doesn’t reflect any special bias against Agassi, although I wasn’t a particular fan of his when he was active, so perhaps it does. I would insist, however, that it owes more to just how good he was. Beating Agassi was an achievement to be proud of, and he rarely went down easily, especially between 1999-2005. Not all his losses are classics, but plenty are. Having said that, Agassi going down is not fundamental to the enterprise.

If anyone has any suggestions for a great yet obscure match for me to check out, that would be greatly appreciated. There will need to be a full match available somewhere for download. As I say at the end of these columns, it’s always best to view the full match, and to avoid highlights where possible. A great tennis match doesn’t necessarily have to signify anything beyond itself, but it will still have a compelling internal narrative, and there is a rich fascination in experiencing this as it gradually unfolds. It is less like a novel, than a symphony; we may search in vain for meaning, but we will discover drama in spades.

One further note, most of the links to the full matches at the end of the columns no longer work. This is due to the death of Megaupload, coupled with the disappearance of the superb and much-missed El Rincon del Tenis website. If anyone knows of a comparable repository of downloadable matches, please let me know.

Please enjoy.

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