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Best Grand Slam/Davis Cup Matches Of The Year - Nos. 3-5

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Nadal© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal was taken to five sets for the first time at Roland Garros as he battled past John Isner in the first round. reviews the best matches of the year from Grand Slam events and Davis Cup, beginning with Nos. 5-3.

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5. Rafael Nadal d. John Isner, 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-4, Roland Garros 1st RD
John Isner went into the 2011 Roland Garros championships having won just three clay-court matches all season, but the big-serving American produced an inspired display to give defending champion Rafael Nadal an almighty first-round scare. The Spaniard was extended to five sets for the first time at Roland Garros, where he was chasing a record-equalling sixth title, before prevailing in just over four hours.

Nadal looked to be heading for a routine victory when he led by a set and 4-2, but Isner came charging back into contention. The 6’9’’ American levelled at 4-4 and captured the tie-break after racing to a 4-1 lead. Nearing another tie-break in the third set, Nadal ambushed Isner ripping two deep returns and racing to the net. At 5-6, 15/40, Isner dug himself out of trouble with four unreturned serves and then dominated the tie-break, maintaining an early three-point cushion to leave Nadal reeling.

Down two-sets-to-one at Roland Garros for just the second time (he lost to Robin Soderling in a four-set, fourth-round match in 2009), Nadal upped the ante. "What it came down to was the way he played in the fourth and fifth sets; I haven’t ever seen tennis like that," Isner later conceded. "That’s why he is No. 1 in the world and one of the greatest players ever."

The Spaniard broke Isner’s famed serve twice to force a deciding set, in which he struck early for a 2-1 lead. Isner kept battling, but Nadal maintained the service break and completed victory in just over four hours with a nervous hold to 30.

"[At the end of the third set] I thought I was close to being out," admitted Nadal. "I couldn’t find a way to break. I had 15/40 at 6-5 in the third set, but he was serving fantastic and they were tough moments for me. I only faced one break point in the while match, but I didn’t play well in the tie-breaks; I was too nervous in my opinion."

After overcoming the initial hurdle, Nadal did not drop another set en route to the final, where he defeated Roger Federer in four sets to triumph at Roland Garros once again.

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Nalbandian4. David Nalbandian d. Lleyton Hewitt, 3-6, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6(1), 9-7, Australian Open 1st RD
Two of the game’s veterans set aside the injury woes that have plagued them in recent years to produce one of the best five-set contests of the season in the first round of the Australian Open.

In a re-match of the 2002 Wimbledon final, David Nalbandian saved two match points to oust former World No. 1 and 2005 Melbourne runner-up Lleyton Hewitt in a dramatic four-hour and 48-minute contest that had the Rod Laver Arena gripped until the very end.

Home favourite Hewitt would ultimately rue his missed opportunities. He led Nalbandian 3-1, 0/40 in the fourth set and had two match points at 7-6 in the 93-minute decider. Argentine Nalbandian held on, though, and broke Hewitt's serve with a sliced passing shot in the following game before closing out the pair's sixth meeting at 1:07 a.m. local time in Melbourne.

"It was the kind of match that nobody can forget," said Nalbandian. "I think we played very intense tennis today. We both fought until the very end." Hewitt, who suffered a first-round exit at his home Grand Slam for the fifth time, said, "It's disappointing to come so close and fight for so long and not be able to quite get the win tonight."

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Nadal3. Rafael Nadal d. Juan Martin del Potro, 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(0), Davis Cup Final
Juan Martin del Potro left fans in no doubt what they can expect from him in the 2012 season after going toe-to-toe with King of Clay Rafael Nadal in a gripping, and ultimately decisive, fourth rubber in the Davis Cup final. It took all of Nadal’s champion qualities and clay-court nous to grind out the dramatic win and clinch a fifth Davis Cup title for Spain.

"We gave everything, it was a very emotional victory at the end of a tough year," Nadal said. "Winning in this way, we are very grateful to all the people of Spain. It was the best atmosphere I have experienced in my career."

Del Potro had worked his way back up to World No. 11 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings after falling as low as No. 485 following a serious wrist injury, and gave the Olympic Stadium in Seville a taste of his ferocious forehand as he battered six-time Roland Garros champion Nadal into submission in the first set. While 2009 US Open champion del Potro was to be commended for his inspired shotmaking, Nadal was left to rue missing seven of his eight break point chances.

Del Potro won his seventh straight game to break Nadal for a 1-0 lead in the second set, but it was then that Nadal responded. The Mallorcan began mixing up his service placement to keep del Potro guessing and gradually started making more inroads into the Argentine's service games. He was rewarded with a crucial service break in the 10th game to clinch the 57-minute set with a smash winner.

The third set was all about Nadal. The left-hander broke del Potro for a 2-0 lead with two straight forehand winners down the line and pushed on to secure a 5-1 advantage with a moment of brilliance: Del Potro attacked the net off a deep forehand stroke, but Nadal hit a running forehand winner down the line to get the crowd on its feet and leave the Argentine bench shell-shocked.

After securing the third set in 43 minutes, Nadal came up against more resistance from del Potro in the fourth set. The Argentine fought back from an early break deficit and surged into a 5-3 lead with aggressive tactics and clinical play at the net. He could not close out the set, though, despite coming within two points, and the momentum swung again as Nadal reeled off three straight games to serve for the match.

The drama was not yet over. Del Potro struck a powerful forehand winner to deny Nadal victory in the 12th game and force a decisive tie-break. It was to be the Argentine’s last push, though. Nadal improved to a 20-1 record in singles rubbers for Spain with a flawless finish, ending with his 26th forehand winner.

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Coming Thursday - Top Two Grand Slam/Davis Cup Matches In 2011

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