Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Best Women's Tennis Matches of 2013

Here are my picks for the "best" (or most memorable) tennis matches played by women in 2013. These are basically the matches that had the most impact on me while they were occurring, feature some of the best play or the most amazing shots, had the biggest impact on the rest of the tennis season or are matches that I would most likely to watch again in the future. 

I have previously compiled lists of the Best Women's Tennis Matches for 2005200620072009 and 2010, and 2011, skipping last yearI have also compiled lists of the Best Men's Tennis Matches for 2012201120102009 and 2006. These lists can all be accessed at my MadProfessah.com under the Tennis tab which also contains my coverage of the four major tournaments.

1.  S. Williams USA d. V. Azarenka BLR, 7-5 6-7(1) 6-1, U.S. Open final, New York City.
Exactly one year after they met in the finals of the US Open the two top players in the world faced off again. In the 2012 final, Azarenka had led 5-3 in the deciding 3rd set and looked like she was going to become the first person since Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to lose the first set of the US Open final and win the title. It was also the first time since 1995 that the women's final was extended to three sets. Amazingly, for the second year in a row the women's championship match was three sets long although during the match itself it didn't seem like that was going to happen. After all, Serena had dominated the tour to that point, only losing four matches all year, but two of those were to Azarenka, on hard courts no less. This made the match-up between these two on this important stage a matter of great interest and import.

The first set was a difficult, nervy affair with extremely windy conditions that negatively impacted play. Serena was able to sneak out the first set with a surprising break in the 11th game and served out the set. Serena was up 4-1 and 5-3 in the second set when, amazingly, Azarenka was able to come back and force a tiebreak, which she won easily as a distressed Serena sprayed the ball and made repeated errors in the face of the Belarussian's powerful defense. Most people expected a hard-fought third set reminiscent of the 2012 final but instead Azarenka was only able to manage one service hold and was routed relatively quickly. This time when Serena was up 4-1 she maintained her focus and earned the insurance break but was also able to hold her own nerve and serve out the match to claim her 17th major title. It was the longest women's final (165 minutes) in 34 years, even though for the last 25 minutes or so the result was not really in doubt.

2.  V. Azarenka BLR d. N. Li CHN, 4-6 6-4 6-3, Australian Open final, Melbourne.
This was one of the strangest championship matches in recent history. It featured not one but two freak occurrences when Li Na injured herself by twisting her ankle (twice!). Li, who after the match said she could not remember if she had ever fallen to the court in a competitive match fell to the court twice during this, match, her 3rd career major final. For most of the match the Chinese player was the better player but the the defending champion's steadiness and mental toughness saw her through to the finish line. Without a doubt it was one of the most dramatic matches of the year and most memorable, even if the quality of play was not always at its best. There were definitely moments, particularly in the first set, where the tennis was simply sublime.

3.  S. Lisicki GER d. S. Williams USA, 6-2 1-6 6-4, Wimbledon 4th Round, London.
Serena Williams is a 5-time Wimbledon champion and has appeared in the final 8 times since 2002. She and her sister Venus are clearly the best grass court players of their generation. However, Sabine "Boom Boom" Lisicki loves the grass court major and has always played her best tennis at SW19. With a huge serve and heavy forehand, she is a formidable opponent on this surface which rewards power. In fact, by winning this match Lisicki achieved the curious result of having defeated four consecutive reigning French Open champions in her last four appearances at Wimbledon: defeating Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009,  Li Na in 2011Maria Sharapova in 2012 and  Serena Williams in 2013(Lisicki did not play Wimbledon in 2010.) This was a curious match because Serena had won 34 matches in a row at this point and had looked very sharp during the tournament. After easily winning the first set and looking awful in the second set, Serena was up 3-0 in the final set (only one break) but clearly got surprisingly tight when it mattered, playing fearfully instead of fearlessly. Lisicki never lost her belief that she could win the match, and eventually, that's exactly what she did.

4.  V. Azarenka BLR d. S. Williams USA, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6(6), Western & Southern Open final, Cincinnati.
This match was played on August 19, the last day in 2013 that Serena lost despite playing a record 82 matches on tour this year, her most ever. This final was an important clash between the two best hard court players on the tour and was thought to be a key indicator of who would win the final major of the year in New York City. Serena started strong and easily won the first set, but then Vika showed why she has won the last two Australian Opens, easily winning the second set. Azarenka demonstrated her ability to match Serena's power with her own mobility and defense. The third set was a closely fought affair ending in Serena's only deciding set tiebreak she played all year long. Despite falling behind early 2-4 in the tiebreak Serena was able to go up 5-4 but then inexplicably played tentatively to lose the next three points and the match. It was this result which led many to believe that if the two met again at the US Open the result would be exciting and perhaps surprising.

5.  S. Williams USA d. N. Li CHN, 2-6 6-3 6-0, WTA Year End Championships final, Istanbul.
At the end of the longest tennis season of her career somehow Serena Williams was able to pull out one more win despite nursing an injury sustained in her 6-4 2-6 6-4 win over Jelena Jankovic the day before. For the first 45 minutes of this match Li Na was clearly the better player on the court, with the important exception of the serve. Despite winning the first set, Li Na was only serving at under 40% and as the match went on, Serena's groundstrokes became more accurate. The second set included multiple changes in momentum as Serena won 3 consecutive games, then lost 3 in a row but then she ended the match by winning 9 games in a row. She ended the season with an amazing 78-4 record, 11 titles and over $12 million in prize money.

6.  S. Williams USA d. M. Sharapova RUS, 4-6 6-3 6-0, Sony Open Tennis final, Miami.
Sharapova was playing some of her best tennis and was riding high after demolishing her least favorite person on tour (Jelena Jankovic) 6-2 6-1 the day before and having won the Indian Wells title by dismissing Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-2. However, ever since she lost twice to Sharapova in 2004, Serena has made it a mission never to lose to the world's most highly-paid female athlete ever again, racking up a string of ten consecutive wins in a row. Regardless, Sharapova simply outplayed Serena for a full set and a half, moving better than I have ever seen her move on a tennis court, winning points with her defensive skills. Serena was clearly not playing her best but after falling behind a set and a break, she just started smacking the ball and simply willed herself to refuse to miss. Sharapova became nervous and lost confidence; the result was that Sharapova lost the last ten games of the match and her best chance to end the streak of defeats to Serena. Their head-to-head is now 2-14 and I would not be that surprised if Sharapova never wins another match against Serena, although all streaks come to an end at some point.

7.  S. Williams USA d. S. Errani ITA, 6-0 6-1, Roland Garros semifinal, Paris.
Some would say that such a lopsided result should not be on the list of best matches of the year but I would argue that any major semifinal where Serena has 40 winners compared to 12 unforced errors in a 46 minute win over a World Top 5 player is notable. I'm pretty sure that Sara Errani will not forget it and I'm sure that it was a clear message was sent to both Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in the other semifinal that if they weren't careful the same thing could happen to them. Either in the final or in some other match in the future.

8.  S. Lisicki GER d. A. Radwanska POL, 6-4 2-6 9-7, Wimbledon semifinal, London.
This match is pretty much on the list because of the epic third set. It lasted well over an hour and was a mini-match in of itself. Amazingly, Lisicki started off down 0-3 in the set but somehow managed to battle back to even the score. One of the compelling aspects of the match was the contrasting styles of the powerful serve and groundstrokes of the German versus the wily shotmaking of the popular Pole. Radwanska must have realized this was her best chance to win that elusive major title, since she was undefeated against her potential championship opponent (7-0 against  Marion Bartoli and 2-0 against Kirsten Flipkens). All she had to do was figure out a way to get past Boom Boom on Centre Court. Unfortunately for Aggie, the German considers that court one of the places she is most comfortable and has facilitated her peak performances. After all, she had come back from 0-3 down in the third set to beat Serena Williams at Wimbledon so surely she could repeat that feat against Agnieska Radwanska. And so she did, and then, devastatingly was unable to perform at all against Bartoli in the championship match.

9.  S. Stephens USA d. S. Williams, 3-6 7-5 6-4, Australian Open quarterfinal, Melbourne.
Since there were only four times all year that Serena lost, each occasion was notable in of itself, but this match between two Americans was also significant because it indicated that the 19-year-old Sloane Stephens was a force to reckon with. The match was very close and filled with drama, primarily because Serena was hobbled with a serious injury sustained in a hard-fought doubles loss to the top-ranked Italian duo of Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci. Serena fought desperately to win the match while not playing her best tennis, but Sloane was able to hold her nerve and pull out the victory. It's clear that Sloane is going to be the future of American women's tennis, and she ended at #12 in the world for 2013. Almost certainly she will take up residence in the Top 10 for most of 2014, perhaps while being coached by Roger Federer's former coach Paul Annacone.

10. C. Suarez Navarro ESP d. A. Kerber GER, 4-6 6-3 7-6(3), U.S. Open 4th Round, New York City.
This match is on the list because it was the most thrilling women's match I was able to see in person this year. The match took place in Louis Armstrong Stadium on Sunday September 7 and I was in the fourth row with a great view of the action. I had never been a fan of Carla Suarez-Navarro but was impressed with her one-handed backhand. Angelique Kerber also impressed me with her movement and defensive skills. In this match, it was clear that the Spanish clay-court specialist was the aggressor against the hard-hitting lefty. This must have been due to the game plan of her coach, Conchita Martinez, because this was not Suarez Navarro's usual playing style.
The feeling in the stadium was electric, as momentum shifted numerous times, and it seemed fitting that the result should come down to a third set tiebreak.

M. Bartoli FRA d. S. Lisicki GER, 6-1 6-4, Wimbledon final, London.
S. Williams USA d. M. Sharapova RUS, 6-4 6-4, Roland Garros final, Paris.
M. Sharapova RUS d. J. Jankovic SRB, 0-6 6-4 6-3, Roland Garros quarterfinal, Paris.
V. Azarenka BLR d. S. Williams USA, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3, Qatar Total Open, Doha.
S. Williams USA d. C. Suarez Navarro ESP, 6-0 6-0, U.S. Open quarterfinal, New York City.
U. Radwanska POL d. V. Williams USA, 7-6(5) 6-7(4) 6-4, French Open 1st Round, Paris.
S. Williams USA d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 6-1 3-6 6-3, Roland Garros quarterfinal, Paris.
V. Azarenka BLR d. A. Ivanovic SRB, 4-6 6-3 6-4, U.S. Open 4th Round, New York City.
C. Wozniacki DEN d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 6-2 2-6 7-5, Australia Open 4th Round, Melbourne.
S. Williams USA d. P. Kvitova, 3-6 6-3 7-5, Qatar Total Open quarterfinal, Doha.
P. Kvitova CZE d. A. Kerber, 6-2 0-6 6-3, Pan Pacific Open final, Tokyo.
A. Kerber GER d. A. Ivanovic SRB, 7-6(6) 6-4, Generali Ladies Open final, Linz.
P. Kvitova CZE d. V. Williams USA, 3-6 6-3 7-6(2), Pan Pacific Open semifinal, Tokyo.
M. Bartoli FRA d. O. Gorgotsova BLR, 7-6(8) 4-6 7-5, French Open 1st Round, Paris.
V. Duval USA d. S. Stosur AUS, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4, US Open 1st Round, New York City.
J. Zheng CHN d. V. Williams USA, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(5), US Open 2nd Round, New York City.
K. Kanepi EST d. A. Kerber GER, 3-6 7-6(6) 6-3, Wimbledon 2nd Round, London.

No comments:


Blog Widget by LinkWithin