Here is part three of the countdown of my favourite WTA matches of the year. If you missed out on either of the first two parts then you can click on the links below:
Part 1 20-16
Part 2 15-11
10. Maria Sharapova d. Petra Kvitova, 6-2 3-6 6-4 (Australian Open, SF)
This year’s Australian Open semi-finals were particularly significant because they were the first since the 2006 US Open that both went to three sets. I have chosen the second of those semis between Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova to kick off my top 10. The statistics do not make this match stand out, but it was the intensity and the quality of the hitting that has made me rank it so high. Anything that was hit short in this match was gobbled up for breakfast and destroyed for a winner. There was a lot on the line for both players in this match because the number one spot was up for grabs. Sharapova and Kvitova split the first two sets down the middle; Sharapova was superb in the first set and played close to her best with the cross-court backhand doing all the damage. Kvitova cut down the unforced errors to deservedly take the second set as she hit 14 winners to 9 unforced errors and served it out with a convincing ace.
The final set was one of the most intense and gripping of the year. Kvitova had grabbed hold of the momentum and was the clear front runner in the third set. She had break points in several of Sharapova’s service games, but the Russian’s grittiness and fighting instinct that has made her so tough to beat, came alive once more. There was an incredible rally at 2-2 30-40 where Sharapova fought for her life (9:01 in the video). Sharapova managed to hold to 5-4 and after resisting all that pressure, Kvitova folded. It was a really disappointing ending to what was a fantastic match. It did kind of signal what was to follow for Kvitova who despite some consistent results, would not beat a top 10 player until August. I think this semi-final was a big one for Kvitova, whose confidence against the big players was certainly jolted.
Highlights from the Kvitova/Sharapova match
9. Serena Williams d. Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-1 2-6 7-5 (Wimbledon, R4)
It is now time for one of my more obscure picks, which is the 4th round match between Serena Williams and Yaroslava Shvedova at Wimbledon. I did not watch this match live as I was on number one court at the time, but having watched the highlights of this match, I had no doubt it deserved a place in my top 10. Shvedova had gone off-the-radar in the last couple of years because of injuries, but she burst back on the tour in 2012, reaching the quarter-finals of Roland Garros after knocking out the defending champion, Li Na. She didn’t do much wrong in the opening set of this encounter as Serena was unstoppable. She won the first set, 6-1 and looked to be heading to a comfortable win. Shvedova though, managed to draw on her rediscovered depths of confidence and win the second set. When on her game, she is one of the cleanest and most fearless ball strikers on tour. She found some rhythm on her serve, which gave her the chance to make more inroads on the Serena serve.
The final set was just terrific tennis. Both were being stretched all over the court and Serena’s movement for the majority was exceptional. Serena put a lot of pressure on Shvedova, but the Kazakh was in the zone and dug out of several holes, most notably at 4-4 0-40 with some brilliant winners. Towards the end, the rain became a factor as Shvedova took off her customary glasses, which are prescription glasses for a nervous tic in one eye; this proved to go against her. Serena got the all important break to lead 6-5, but still had to fight hard in a wonderful final game. Serena brought up match point with an incredible lob, which she then duly converted. Both players finished with excellent stats as Serena hit 35 winners to 11 unforced errors, meanwhile Shvedova was still extremely respectable with 24 winners to 20 unforced errors. This match may have been forgotten in amongst the excitement of Magic Monday, but it deserves to be remembered as one of the best matches of 2012…
8. Victoria Azarenka d. Mona Barthel, 6-4 6-7(3) 7-5 (Stuttgart, QF)
Aside from the UK events at Eastbourne and Wimbledon, my favourite tournament of the year was the Premier event in Stuttgart. Quarter-final day in Stuttgart was one of the finest days of women’s tennis in 2012; this match between Victoria Azarenka and Mona Barthel is the first of two quarter-finals to feature in my top ten. Barthel burst onto the scene in Hobart, coming through qualifying and beating four top 50 players on the way to the title. She was inches away from beating Azarenka in Indian Wells so the Belarusian was wary of the threat. The rollercoaster first set saw five breaks and both had leads, but it was Azarenka who was better on the decisive points to take it 6-4. Azarenka remained in control in the second set as she went up an early break, but Barthel kept fighting with this silent and deceptive steel to her character. She made a big hold to stop Azarenka going a double break up and then broke back to 3-3. Barthel is a joy to watch at times and can hit winners for fun, 62 in this match to be exact.
Towards the end of the second set, Barthel dug deep to save several break points that would have given Azarenka the chance to serve for the match. Barthel, backed by a growingly appreciative crowd, forced a tiebreak, which she dominated and duly took at the expense of a wasteful error from Azarenka. The final set, once again, saw many shifts in momentum as Barthel’s unpredictablity and lack of rhythm kept Azarenka on her toes. The match was so intriguing because you really did not know what was coming next. Barthel had a massive hold at 4-5, which included saving a match point, but unfortunately she could not replicate it at 5-6 as she was broken to love and rather limply and out-of-sync with the whole match, double faulted on match point. Nevertheless, this was a very high quality match dominated by powerful winners and Barthel will have felt disappointed not to have won the match. Azarenka played an extremely consistent match and demonstrated her worth as the world number one.
Highlights from the Azarenka/Barthel match
7. Angelique Kerber d. Sabine Lisicki, 6-3 6-7(7) 7-5 (Wimbledon, QF)
Angelique Kerber and Sabine Lisicki‘s all-German Centre Court duel was a fascinating match worthy of gracing the finest stage in tennis. The prospects were good before the match had begun; Kerber had dismantled Kim Clijsters in the 4th round in her last ever Wimbledon appearance, meanwhile Lisicki’s all-out attacking game had ousted the world number one at the time, Maria Sharapova. Lisicki began the match in error-strewn fashion and despite a mid-set comeback, she double faulted to hand the first set to Kerber, 6-3. Lisicki looked set for a swift exit at 3-6 0-3, but she managed to dig deep. She developed more of a game plan with her shots as she found the corners with some powerful hitting. Kerber remained in control though as she fashioned two match points; however Lisicki, fearless and reckless, produced a stomping backhand winner and then somehow stayed alive with incredible defence and an awkward volley winner.
The second set went into what became a magnificent tiebreak and a fitting end to a stunning set of tennis. Lisicki swiped away another match point with a gorgeous backhand winner and then out of nowhere, took the set as Kerber disastrously left a ball that clipped the baseline. The quality of tennis dipped considerably in the final set, but the action still remained gripping. Kerber was twice a break up, but her sarcastic attitude on ever error she made, or winner that Lisicki hit was becoming her downfall, most probably a result of having wasted five match points in the Eastbourne Final to Tamira Paszek just a week ago. Lisicki earnt the chance to serve for it at 5-3, but Kerber suddenly loosened and broke straight back. The real turning point though was at 4-5 0-15 when Kerber challenged a backhand into the corner that was called out. Kerber raised her arms in delight as Hawkeye showed the ball to have grazed the line. The rest was history as Lisicki’s wild unforced errors returned and Kerber wrapped up the drama-fuelled match in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
6. Serena Williams d. Virginie Razzano 4-6 7-6(5) 6-3 (French Open, R1)
The most shocking match of the year and the one that had me on the edge of my seat (and at the end, mainly standing) was the first round match at Roland Garros between Serena Williams and Virginie Razzano. The French Open rather petered out into a tournament of largely uneventful matches; this was the exception. Serena had been the heavy favourite to win the title following stellar performances in Charleston and Madrid. Despite taking the opening set 6-4, it was a shaky opening from Serena who dropped her opening two service games. The second set went to a tiebreak where Serena was inches away from victory at 5-1. Serena is regarded as one of the best closer of matches, but she showed both nerves and indecision as she let Razzano back into the match. She left a ball that was in and collapsed from there as Razzano won the next six points and the second set with it. Serena was visibly distressed at the changeover and having gone for broke in the second set, then went completely into her shell as Razzano dazzled to a 5-0 lead. As Razzano tried to close it out, she started to suffer from calf cramps… more drama? You betcha 😉
In a race against time to close the match, something akin to an action thriller, Razzano started to realise the magnitude of the situation. The calf cramps intensified as she was called for hindrance twice as she squealed with pain during rallies. The first one OK, but how can you give point penalties when Sharapova/Azarenka do it on every point?! Serena, still play dire, clawed her way back to 5–3. It would all come to a crescendo in an astonishing 23-minute, 12-deuce game that saw match points and break points a-plenty. Both players produced their ultimate best when down and their ultimate worst when posed with a chance to win the game. However on the eight match point, a backhand error from Serena gave Razzano the sweetest moment of her career; having lost her husband to a brain tumour last year, it was a richly deserved and touching moment to take place at her home Grand Slam. This was the first time Serena had ever lost in the first round of a Grand Slam, but she recovered impeccably as she would lose just one more match in 2012.
|I couldn’t find any good highlights from Serena/Razzano so have a picture 😉
This weekend – The final part of my series of WTA matches of 2012 as I count down my 5 top matches this year.