The 2017 ATP World Tour season was full of surprises, intrigue and great memories. It was a year full of the old and new. Fans got to see many old favourites rediscover their form and fire, while many younger players also made their mark.
Over the course of the year, many intriguing matchups captured the imagination of the tennis world. In this article, we look back at the top 10 rivalries we got to witness in the 2017 season.
10. Grigor Dimitrov 2 – 2 Juan Martin del Potro
Coming into the 2017 season, Juan Martin del Potro had beaten Grigor Dimitrov in all 4 of their previous meetings, losing just a set in the process. Their 1st meeting this year came on clay in the first round of Rome. Even though Dimitrov managed to take the first set, del Potro fought back to win the match 3-6 6-2 6-3.
The pair’s next meeting would come on the hard courts of Cincinnati. Dimitrov produced some of his very best tennis to beat del Potro in straight sets in the Round of 16, en route to his first ever Masters 1000 title.
The pair met again in Beijing in another Round of 16 clash. Dimitrov again won in straight sets 7-6 7-5. Their final meeting of the year came in the final of Stockholm, where after winning a hard fought first set, del Potro romped through the second, eventually coming out on top 6-4 6-2.
9. Mischa Zverev 3 – 0 John Isner
On paper, the pair of Mischa Zverev and John Isner look very evenly matched. Both have very similar strengths and weaknesses, with a preference for the faster courts. Both players are very solid behind their own serves, while not exactly the most prolific breakers on tour. So when you see these two come up against each other, you know there’s always the possibility of a really long match.
Their first meeting of the season was a second round encounter at the Australian Open, and it indeed was a very long match. In arguably the match of the round, Isner took the first 2 sets via tiebreakers. Mischa fought back from 2 sets down to eventually win 9-7 in the fifth set.
Their second meeting of the season also went the distance on the clay courts of Geneva. Mischa won the match 6-4 6-7 6-3.
Their third and final meeting of the year took place in the 3rd round of the US Open. Isner probably entered the match as the favourite, especially after Zverev had already played 2 five-setters in his first 2 rounds. However, Zverev managed to win this one in straight sets 6-4 6-3 7-6, and thus end the year 3-0 against Isner.
8. Nick Kyrgios 2 – 0 Novak Djokovic
This matchup featured only twice over the course of the year, and neither of those were exactly close nail-biters. But make no mistake, those 2 matches were eagerly awaited, watched and highly significant.
Nick Kyrgios is widely regarded as one of the most talented youngsters in the game. He had already defeated Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at the first attempt. His first meeting against another one of the game’s all-time greats, Novak Djokovic came in the quarter-finals of Acapulco. The mercurial and often inconsistent Aussie had shown before that he was capable of raising his level against the really big players. And so it proved here too. Kyrgios produced a serving masterclass to beat Djokovic in straight sets 7-6 7-5. There was not much the Serbian did wrong, but there was not much that he was really allowed to do either.
Their next meeting came only a couple of weeks later in Indian Wells, where the pair were drawn to meet each other in a Round of 16 match in the toughest quarter in history. So could Kyrgios produce a repeat of his performance at Acapulco? The answer was an emphatic yes. He beat Djokovic 6-4 7-6, and had now won his first 2 matches and first 4 sets against the great Serb.
7. Roger Federer 3 – 0 Tomas Berdych
This is one of the older rivalries on tour. Federer has mostly owned this matchup, but Tomas Berdych is one of the few players to have beaten the Swiss maestro at multiple major events. Even though Federer won all 3 of their meetings this year, two of the cleanest strikers of the tennis ball on tour combined to produce some of the most watchable tennis of the season.
Their first match of the season was the 3rd round of the Australian Open. Somewhat unusually, Federer was the lower seed. Coming back from a six month injury layoff, there were doubts regarding how Federer would perform against a fellow top player. Those doubts were swiftly erased in a 90 minute display of ferocious attacking tennis. Federer produced an exhibition, Berdych was merely the prop. Federer eventually went on to capture the title in a fairy tale comeback.
Their next meeting came in the quarter finals of Miami, and this turned out to be one of the matches of the season. Federer looked to be well on his way, easing through the first set 6-2. Berdych had to raise his level to stay with Federer, and he did so in the 2nd set. He eventually took the set 6-3. The 3rd and deciding set was another immensely high quality affair. And this time, there was added drama too. Berdych had his chances. In the deciding set tiebreak, Berdych held a couple of match points at 6-4. Federer managed to snuff those out. Eventually Berdych gifted the match to Federer with a double fault on match point.
Their third and final meeting was a Wimbledon semi-final. Federer romped through this year’s Wimbledon without dropping a set. To be fair, there’re not many people who could live with Federer in full flow on grass. But Berdych definitely played his part. The semi-final was almost certainly the toughest test Federer faced en route to his 8th Wimbledon title. But unfortunately for Berdych, no matter how much he fought, he was always just hanging on. Eventually Federer prevailed 7-6 7-6 6-4.
6. Rafael Nadal 3 – 1 Dominic Thiem
This was an exclusively clay court rivalry between two players that really come into their own on clay. Both Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem played 5 tournaments during the European clay court swing. In 4 of those, they ended up facing each other. The only exception was Monte-Carlo where Thiem lost early to Gofffin, and the king of clay romped to his 10th Monte-Carlo title.
The pair’s first meeting of the season came in the final of Barcelona. The first set was a very high quality affair, but Nadal edged it 6-4. Thiem somewhat fell away in the second, Nadal taking it 6-1 to seal his 10th Barcelona title.
The pair’s next meeting was the final of the Mutua Madrid Open. Thiem once again started brightly, going for his shots, and pushing Nadal to the limit. But it’s never an easy task going through Nadal on clay. Nadal withstood the barrage from Thiem, and took the first set in a tiebreak. Unlike the previous meeting, Thiem didn’t let his level dip after the first set. However, Nadal was just too good, and he eventually won 7-6 6-4.
Next week, Nadal and Thiem met again in the quarter-finals of Rome. Thiem stuck to his tactics of going after Nadal. And this time, he finally managed to go through Nadal’s defences. In an incredible display of sustained, attacking tennis, Thiem won the match 6-4 6-3.
The final match between these two this season was a French Open semi-final. Thiem had just pulverized Djokovic in the quarter-final, and given the quality of his last couple of matches against Nadal, people were expecting a cracker. Unfortunately, Thiem failed to live up to the hype this time. With the eyes of the world on him, Thiem crumbled in spectacular fashion. Nadal stayed solid and did what he had to do. But Thiem’s aggressive shot making just misfired completely throughout a 6-3 6-4 6-0 rout. Nadal eventually went on to lift an unprecedented 10th French Open title.
Despite the one-sided French Open semi-final, this was undoubtedly the matchup of the clay court swing.