Friday, December 22, 2006

Best (Women's) Tennis Matches of the Year

1. A. Mauresmo FRA d. J. Henin-Hardenne BEL, 2-6 6-3 6-4,Wimbledon Championships final.

Despite dropping the first set in under a half an hour, the Frenchwoman was able to come back and regain her nerve and win her first Wimbledon title and complete a Grand Slam championship. Bonnie DeSimone of ESPN (and others) agree with my assessment that this was the best woman's match of the year.

2. M. Sharapova RUS d. K. Clijsters BEL, 7-5 7-5, Acura Classic final.

Sharapova had previously never defeated the other hard-hitting Belgian and Clijsters had dominated the US Open Series hard court season the year before on her way to winning the 2005 US Open. This time, Sharapova showed that she was the dominant player on the hard stuff. In two very close, up and down sets the Russian pulled out the win through a combination of unbridled aggression and brilliant defense.

3. J. Henin-Hardenne BEL d. M. Sharapova RUS, 6-2 7-6(5) , Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships semifinal.

Henin-Hardenne wrapped up a career-best season of four Grand Slam finals plus the Fed Cup final by making the final of the year end WTA Tour Championships and simultaneously securing the calendar end #1 spot with this amazing defeat of Sharapova. The diminutive Belgian blasted the ball around the court in a display of shocking firepower, especially on the forehand side. The reigning 2006 US Open champ never had a chance to win and only a slight let down by the 2006 French Open champ towards the end of the second set allowed the score to be remotely close.

4. A. Mauresmo FRA d. S. Williams USA, 6-4 0-6 6-2, U.S. Open Championships 4th Round.

Mauresmo had only defeated the 7-time Grand Slam champion once in over ten meetings, and that win was on clay. However, after winning two Grand Slam titles in 2006, the French #1 player in the world was playing with increased confidence against a player who had very little on-court time in 2006 and was not in prime physical shape. After winning a very close first set which featured Mauresmo's athleticism and Williams' shotmaking power and inaccuracy. In the second set, Williams started playing with a little more margin for error and Mauresmo tried to trade strokes from the baseline as she struggled with her serve. The result was the Frenchwoman receiving her first bagel set against the American. Amazingly, despite this devastating turn of events, her nerves held and Williams started running out of energy to chase down balls and get into position to hit her power shots, which started to fly wildly out of the court. Mauresmo won the third and deciding set with relative ease.

5. N. Vaidisova CZE d. A. Mauresmo FRA, 6-7(5) 6-1 6-2, Roland Garros 4th Round.

2006 was a breakthrough year for a number of the younger players: Jelena Jankovic, Dinara Safina, Ana Ivanovic and Nicole Vaidisova. All of these players had important wins this year (Vaidisova and Jankovic made their first major semifinals, Safina defeated Sharapova at the French after being down 2-5 in the third set, Ivanovic destroyed Martina Hingis to win her first Tier 1 title and the 2006 US Open Series). The best of these matches was at Roland Garros, where Mauresmo, playing in her country's Grand Slam championship for the first time as a Grand Slam champion herself, still did not produce her best tennis. However, the young Czech player was not overwhelmed by the occasion or the opponent and won the match by continuing to go for blistering winners on both sides, reminiscent of the young Monica Seles.

S. Williams USA d. M. Shaughnessy USA, 6-7(4),6-1,6-4, J.P. Morgan Chase Open quarterfinal.
A. Mauresmo FRA d. M. Sharapova RUS, 6-3 3-6 6-2, Wimbledon Championships semifinal.
J. Jankovic d. V. Williams USA, 7-6(8), 4-6,6-4, Wimbledon Championships 3rd Round.
K. Clijsters BEL d. M. Hingis SUI, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, Australian Open quarterfinal.

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