Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015 second half awards, Part 3: Top 20 Heartbreaking Losses

As promised, here are the On the Rise (a tennis blog) awards for Most Heartbreaking Losses of the 2nd Half of 2015. An odd award category, to be sure, but one we feel compelled to honor. If you haven't done so yet, maybe save Part 2 (Top 20 Exhilarating Wins) for after you read this ... you'll feel better.

Also check out Part 1 (MVPs)!

Top 20 Heartbreaking Losses of 2015, 2nd Half

1. US Open SF: Roberta Vinci d. Serena Williams 2-6 6-4 6-4. I mean, obvs.

2. US Open 2R: Feliciano Lopez d. Mardy Fish 2-6 6-3 1-6 7-5 6-3. It was bad enough that it was the last match of his career, and he limped to the finish line and so we knew for a few games that this was going to be the rather depressing end. But the fact that Mardy Fish served for the match in the 4th set, and just about everyone had these dreams of one last wonderful, conquering moment.... and then .... sigh. Thankfully Mardy, a true sportsman, was sanguine about the whole thing.

3. Wimbledon 3R: Marin Cilic d. John Isner 7-6(4) 6-7(6) 6-4 6-7(4) 12-10. Yes, the scoreline hurts. But what hurt far more was that the winner would play Denis Kudla next, meaning USA men would have been guaranteed their first grand slam quarterfinalist since Isner at the 2011 US Open. But Cilic prevailed -- as he's wont to do against Americans (29 straight wins dating back to 2008!) -- over two days, with the fatal blow being of all things an Isner double fault. Brutal.

4. Montreal QF: Jeremy Chardy d. John Isner 6-7(9) 7-6(13) 7-6(4). Isner had 7 match points against a guy who absolutely owns him (Chardy is now 4-0 in the head-to-head). He was even up 3-1 in the second set before the rain came and allowed the Frenchman to regroup. I guess some things are just not meant to be.

5. Valencia SF: Roberto Bautista Agut d. Steve Johnson 4-6 6-3 7-6(8). Just the week prior, Steve Johnson reached his first final (Vienna) before falling to a Spaniard in a close third set. But that was Ferrer, and this was RBA, a talented player but not quite at the level of Daveed. And then when Johnson got his first match point, you thought "oooh, this looks good!" The second match point, same. Third? Sure! Fourth? Gotta happen now! Fifth? PLEASE STEVIE PLEASE! Sixth? Ugh another forehand error. And that was that.

At least Roberto was pleased.

6. Winston-Salem SF: Pierre-Hugues Herber d. Steve Johnson 3-6 7-6(5) 6-2.  This one felt a bit like watching a slow-motion wreck. Johnson was the heavy favorite to make his first ATP final, and in fact was up a set and 2-0, against an exhausted opponent who had to win 7 matches just to reach this stage. Johnson had 3 break points in the next game but couldn't convert. Then at 3*-2, the flashy Frenchman hit three flashy returns, got the break back, and in the tiebreaker came back from an early deficit to take it (flashily). From there, it was a lot of poor tennis from Stevie, who would have to wait another two months to finally reach that final (in Valencia).

7. CAN F3 2R: Philip Bester d. Eric Johnson 6-4 3-6 7-6(4)
. I didn't watch or even follow the livescore on this one. Alls I know is that the USC grad was up 5*-1 40-0 (that's 3 match points) in the 3rd set. At least Beaster (sic) made good on the win, going on to win the final in another BESTER BUSTER against countryman Brayden Schnur.

8. US Open SF: Jamie Murray & John Peers d. Steve Johnson & Sam Querrey 6-4 6-7(2) 6-7(7). At this point I'm just picking on USC alums named Johnson. Anyway, read about the carnage here, from a Murray point of view.

9. USOpen F: Leander Paes & Martina Hingis d. Bethanie Mattek-Sands & Sam Querrey 6-4 3-6 [10-7]. At this point I'm just picking on Querreys named Sam. But they were up 4-1 in that super tiebreak....

10. Granby $50K QF: Jessica Moore d. Ellie Halbauer 6-7(5) 6-4 7-6(5).  The newly 18-year-old Halbauer was up 5*-0 in the 3rd, meaning she served for the match 3 times. She also had 2 match points returning at 5-1*. The final set comeback from the Aussie was presaged in the first set, in which she was down 0*-5 and nearly won it. I can only speculate, but I'm guessing that might have been going through both players' heads toward the end of the match. Perhaps fortunately for Halbauer, the match was upstaged by the emergence of 14-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime, playing his first Challenger quarterfinal in the men's tournament that same day.

11. Washington, DC QF: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Christina McHale 2-6 6-1 7-6(5). McHale had a 4-2 third-set lead against the eventual finalist. A bummer for the Mid-Atlantic-born American.

12.  Beijing QR2: Lara Arruabarrena d. Christina McHale 6-4 6-7(3) 7-6(11). The Spaniard attempted (and failed) to serve out the match four times, and in all had 9 match points before closing. No doubt, McHale fought. Still, a bummer for the Mandarin-speaking American.

13. Knoxville Challenger QR2: Daniel Smethurst d. Jared Hiltzik 5-7 7-6(8) 7-6(12).  This one would be much higher on the list -- after all, Hiltzik had a match point in the 2nd set tiebreak and a 4-0* 40-0 lead in the third set -- except the American had his own remarkable comeback to help ease the pain a bit. Serving down 5*-6 0-40 in the third set (three match points), Hiltzik summoned the resolve to get the match to a BUSTER, and from there saved additional match points at 5-6*, 6*-7, 8*-9, 9-10* and 10*-11. But from match point up at 12-11*, he lost the last three points, and with them a match that lasted 3:12:57. Remarkably, Smethurst was able to come back the next day and upset Henri Laaksonen in straight sets to qualify for the main draw.

14. Surbiton Challenger F: Matthew Ebden d. Denis Kudla 6-7(4) 6-4 7-6(5). Kudla was absolutely rampaging through the draw, losing just 19 games in four straight-set matches. Against his toughest competition of the week, he finally got his first break to go up 4*-2 in the third, and consolidated for 5-2*. And then it all kind of went downhill. This one also would be muuuuuch higher, except Kudla rallied to beat Ebden the following week in the Ilkley Challenger final and then of course reach the Wimbledon 4th round with the wild card he was given as a result of his grass success.

15. Champaign Challenger F: Henri Laaksonen d. Taylor Fritz 4-6 6-2 6-2. After the first set this contest was relatively bereft of drama (to which the dead silence of the crowd was testament). But given the stakes (a Fritz win, in addition to being historic, would have given him the Australian Open reciprocal wild card), it was a bitter pill. It may have ended up motivating the youngster, though, as he started 2016 gangbusters, winning his first tournament, the Happy Valley Challenger.

16. Wimbledon Juniors QF: Anna Blinkova d. Tornado Alicia Black 1-6 6-3 12-10. I had to include this match. Not often do you see 15 breaks in a set, nor a 51(!) winner differential between two players (Blinkova had 48 just in the final set, 63 in all). It was perhaps the most epic match of The 2015 Championships but of course someone had to lose. That person was the American.

17. Paris Final: Ivan Dodig & Marcelo Melo d. Jack Sock & Vasek Pospisil 2-6 6-3 [10-5]. For the second year in a row, the North American buddies didn't play a full schedule but still found themselves a match away from the World Tour Finals in London. For the second  year in a row, they came up short. One wonders if that was their last, best chance.

18. US Open 2R: Ruben Bemelmans d. Jack Sock 4-6 4-6 6-3 2-1 (RET). Coming in as the #2 American, having steamrolled his first opponent 2, 3 & 2, there were high hopes that Sock could make his mark at this year's home slam. But instead he became a statistic -- one of a record number of retirements.

19. Sumter $25K F: Mayo Hibi d. Lauren Embree 6-4 3-6 6-4. This also was a warm one.

20. Winston-Salem 2R: Simone Bolelli d. Sam Querrey 7-6(7) 6-7(4) 7-6(9). Because Sam.

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