Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Best (Women's) Tennis Matches of 2009

After a year's hiatus in 2008, MadProfessah's list of the Best Tennis Matches of the Year has returned, this time, twice as long! You can still see that inaugural post, the Best Women's Matches of 2007.

Here are the most memorable tennis matches by women in 2009:

1. S. Williams USA d. E. Dementieva RUS, 6-7(4) 7-5 8-6,Wimbledon Championships semifinal, London.

Unanimously recognized as the best match of 2009 by competitors, fans and commentators, the semifinal showdown between Elena Dementieva and Serena Williams was the pivotal moment in the most important tournament of the year. The Russian was popularly regarded as having the most powerful ground strokes of any player on tour but also one of the weakest serves. Serena, of course, is well-known for having the best serve of any player on the WTA Tour and is also very powerful on both wings. Even so, few expected the battle royale which resulted with Dementieva holding a match point at 7-6(4), 5-4 which Serena saved after an extended rally ending with an error by the Russian. Despite the disappointment of not winning the match in the second set, Dementieva was able to exhibit incredible mental fortitude by extending the match to a record 2 hours and 49 minutes, the longest women's semifinal in Open tennis history. But Serena was able to prevail and it was this match which demonstrated that no one was going to be able to stop her from winning her 3rd career Wimbledon title, not even her sister, the best grass court player of her generation.

2. S. Williams USA d. D. Safina RUS, 6-0 6-3, Australian Open final, Melbourne.

None of the 2009 Grand Slam finals were stellar matches, but Serena Williams' dismantling of the World #1 player in the final of the Australian Open was still noteworthy. Although not as devastating as the incredible beatdown of Maria Sharapova Serena displayed in the 2007 final (in that match Sharapova was not playing badly but there's absolutely no one who could have beaten Serena the way she was playing that day), the 2009 final still ended up with a similar result: the humiliating defeat of the Russian player in the final of the Australian Open. It was Serena's 10th major title and her second consecutive Grand Slam title in a row.

3. S. Kuznetsova RUS d. S. Williams USA, 7-6(3) 5-7 7-5, Roland Garros quarterfinal, Paris.

It was clear at the outset that the person who won this match would go on to win the French Open title. The surprising aspect of this match was that the person who exhibited the superior mental toughness was Svetlana Kuznetsova, not 10-time major champion Serena Williams. Kuznetsova faced a set point in the first set but won that point and ended up winning the first set in a tiebreak. In the second set Kuznetsova held a significant lead at 5-3 and was 3 points from victory but ended up losing 4 consecutive games to lose the second set. Serena was up a break and had a lead of 3-1 in the decisive set when things fell apart and she never held a lead again. As Serena said, "It was like, 'Here, do you want to go to the semis? Because I don't.' She was like, 'OK.'" The win was a huge boost for the Russian, who Serena had beaten to win the first major of the year, and Kuznetsova went on to win the second major of the year and her second career major title.

4. C. Wozniacki DEN d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 2-6 7-6(5) 7-6(3), U.S. Open 4th Round, New York City.

The teenaged sensation had made a name for herself on the tour all year long but it was only at the final major of the year that the Danish player made her major breakthrough to defeat 2-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian was dominating in the first set, firing on all cylinders and simply overwhelming the youngster with her forehand and backhand. However, in the second set Kuznetsova started to make more errors and Wozniacki improved her retrieving abilities, often making the Russian hit two or three attempted winners to try to win the point, eventually leading to an overhit error. Eventually the second set was won by Wozniacki due to at most two points that could have gone either way. In the third set both players held and consolidated breaks of service but, surprisingly, it was the more inexperienced player who ended the match the victor. Wozniacki would go on to reach her first career Grand Slam final and end the year ensconced in the Top 5.

5. V. Williams USA d. D. Safina RUS, 6-1 6-0, Wimbledon semifinal, New York City.

Venus Williams humiliated the world #1 by delivering the worst thrashing in a Grand Slam to a top-seeded player ever and one of the most lopsided scores in a grand slam semifinal in the Open era. For the third time in the third major of the year, Safina's mental infirmities overwhelmed her not insubstantial strengths as a player but this time the meltdown occurred in a semifinal and not a final. Strangely, none of the supreme confidence and expert shotmaking Venus displayed in this match were apparent in the final against her sister the next day. Then again, it's easier to look good when your opponent is busy trying to look so awful.

6. M. Oudin USA d. M. Sharapova RUS, 1-6 7-6(3) 6-3, U.S. Open 3rd Round, New York.

Melanie Oudin is the third highest-ranked American player after the Williams sister who made a name for herself by dismissing former World #1 Jelena Jankovic in the fourth round of Wimbledon. She is nearly a full foot shorter than the statuesque 3-time major champion Maria Sharapova. However, despite losing the first set easily, Oudin never seemed to panic or feel that she was unable to win the match despite the stark difference not only between the two player's heights but the difference in their levels of success on the WTA tour. Oudin was aided by Sharapova's wobbly serve--the Russian former #1 double-faulted 21 times, the most of any player in a WTA tour match all year. The American also had a very partisan and rowdy New York City crowd behind her who never gave up on the diminutive American despite Sharapova's service-break lead in the final set. The 17-year-old became the youngest American semifinalist at the U.S. Open since Serena Williams nearly 10 years before on her way to winning the first of her 11 major titles.

7. S. Williams USA d. V. Williams USA, 7-6(2) 6-2, Wimbledon Championships final, London.

It's not often the Wimbledon final doesn't make into the Top 5 Best Matches of the Year but 2009 was that kind of year (on the Women's side). For the fifth time of the decade (and second consecutive year) the Williams sisters would face each other in the Wimbledon final. At the time, Venus was widely regarded as the finest grass court player of her generation with 5 titles and Serena was the current defending champion of two of the four majors and is clearly the best player of the decade. Unfortunately (as usual) the showdown did not live up to its potential. Venus demolished her semifinal opponent without breaking a sweat the round before and was never seriously challenged in London until the final. Serena got through the match of the year by defeating Elena Dementieva in an incredible match that lasted nearly 3 hours. However, in the final it was Venus who seemed the less physically present, and Serena was definitely the more mentally focused, thus leading to the relatively lopsided score after the relatively close first set, which was filled with deep powerful hitting and incredible ball retrieval by both players.

8. C. Wozniacki DEN d. V. Azarenka BLR, 1-6 6-4 7-5, Sony Ericsson Championships round-robin, Doha.

In the last tournament of the year, the young Caroline Wozniacki met the young Victoria Azarenka for the third time in 2009, having lost both matches played against the feisty Belorussian . After losing the first game of the match, Azarenka won 6 games in a row to take the first set. The second set featured an amazing 14-deuce fifth game and lasted almost 80 minutes, nearly half the duration of the entire match. Despite losing the second set, Azarenka served for the match at 5-3 in the deciding set but only had a match point on Wozniacki's serve at 4-5 but made an error to even the match at 5-all in the third. Eventually Wozniacki broke to go up 6-5 and won the match on a service winner. Azarenka and Wozniacki will most likely be rivals for many major titles well into the future.

9. K. Clijsters BEL d.V. Williams USA, 6-0 0-6 6-4, U.S Open 4th Round, New York City.

The first two sets of this highly anticipated match-up between the beloved mother of Jada and the 7-time Grand Slam champion were the two most lopsided sets of tennis of the year, with Clijsters starting off hot and Venus Williams committing error after error followed by a set where Williams settled down and started painting the lines with successive winners despite the Belgian's legendary flexibility. This match was a canonical example of "Big Babe Tennis" with both players banging away from the baseline, impressing the audience with huge serves, blistering groundstrokes and powerful athleticism. In the end, Clijsters' superior control was the edge that gave her the victory.

10. F. Pennetta ITA d. V. Zvonareva RUS, 3-6 7-6(8) 6-0, U.S. Open 4th Round, New York City.

Flavia Pennetta became the first Italian women to reach the Top 10 in August 2009 a few weeks before this classic showdown with the always combustible Russian Vera Zvonareva in the 4th Round of the U.S. Open. In the second set, Pennetta saved no less than SIX match points, several with winners on her racquet and ended up winning the middle set. Zvonareva was so mentally frazzled by this result that she failed to win a single game and lost the deciding set 6-0. An incredibly memorable result for the popular Italian.


Here are some honorable mentions for memorable matches of the year by women

D. Safina RUS d. A. Mauresmo, 4-6 6-3 6-4, Wimbledon 3rd Round.
S. Williams USA d. S. Kuznetsova RUS, 5-7 7-5 6-1, Australian Open quarterfinal.
J. Dokic AUS d. A. Kleybanova USA, 7-5 5-7 8-6, Australian Open 4th Round.
M. Oudin USA d. J. Jankovic SRB, 6-7(8) 7-5 6-2, Wimbledon 3rd Round.
C. Suarez Navarro ESP d. V. Williams USA, 2-6 6-3 7-5, Australian Open 2nd Round
K. Clijsters BEL d. S. Williams USA, 6-4 7-5, U.S. Open semifinal.
K. Clijsters BEL d. C. Wozniacki DEN, 7-5 6-3, U.S. Open final.
M. Oudin USA d. N. Petrova RUS, 1-6 7-6(2) 6-3, U.S. Open 4th Round.
V. Williams USA d. S. Williams USA, 6-1 2-6 7-6(3), Dubai Championships semifinal.
V. Azarena BLR d. S. Williams USA, 6-3 6-1, Sony Ericsson Open final.
S. Williams USA d. V. Williams USA, 6-2 7-6(4), Sony Ericsson Championship semifinal.

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