Part 1 20-16
Part 2 15-11
Part 3 10-6
This year’s Eastbourne final was an unlikely classic played out between the number 5 seed, Angelique Kerber and the unseeded, Tamira Paszek. The top three seeds all crashed out on the second day of action, but that did not matter because Paszek and Kerber delivered up the most entertaining final of 2012. Kerber started the match in fine form, producing some real power on her quirky groundstrokes. She had two break points for a 4-0 lead, but was quickly pegged back to 3-3 by Paszek, who started to find her mark in the match. Kerber though regained the ascendancy to edge an incredibly high quality first set full of long and pulsating rallies.
Many may have thought that Paszek would wilt after losing the first set, but she picked up her game in a big way arrowing some electric backhands to take a 4-1 lead in the second set. Kerber had a brief comeback, including a break to love, but Paszek held her nerve to force a decider. The standard of tennis continued to reach new heights; Kerber got the first break in a titanic fifth game, which saw Paszek produce her very best to save a string of break points. Paszek also tweaked her ankle, but adrenaline seemed to numb the pain as she battled hard on the brink of defeat. Kerber earnt three match points at 5-3 40-0, but Paszek saved all three, the first most impressively with a seriously sneaky drop shot and forehand winner combo (see 22:21 in video). She then saved another two to force Kerber to serve out the match.
The five wasted match points were still being replayed in Kerber’s brain as she lost the next two games and found herself serving to stay in the final. Kerber saved two match points, but on the third one, went long to hand Paszek her biggest title to date. It was a sensational effort from Paszek who had come from a set and break down in her semi-final with Marion Bartoli. In total, she had fought for a crazy 5 hours and 50 minutes over her last two matches. Paszek, who hit 44 winners to Kerber’s 41, gave one of the nicest winning speeches of the year and was extremely gracious towards Kerber, who was distraught following the conclusion of the match. Both would deservely have great runs at Wimbledon…
Highlights from the Paszek/Kerber match
The final of the US Open served up incredible drama, but it was the quarter-final between Victoria Azarenka and Sam Stosur that was my favourite match from the final Grand Slam of 2012. It was a rather surprising classic because Azarenka had completely owned Stosur in all of their previous matches with a 6-0 head-to-head and 12 straight sets. The match began precisely where the last one in Doha had finished as Azarenka started in quite majestic form, bombarding winners past Stosur as she waltzed her way with complete authority to the opening set, 6-1. You would not have blamed the reigning US Open champion for booking her taxi home after the conclusion of the first set because Azarenka was completely destroying her second serve and had the edge in all their baseline rallies.
Stosur started the second set with much more gusto and got the early break. It was quickly wiped out by Azarenka although Stosur was not letting up and did some quite magnificent retrieving to level up at 3-3 (see 6:23 in video). She then broke for the second time with a down-the-line forehand and held her nerve to take the second set, a first ever against Azarenka. Back on the Arthur Ashe court where she had her biggest triumph in defeating Serena Williams in 2011, Stosur was reaching those heavy heights once more. She was absolutely thumping the ball at the beginning of the third set, but Azarenka was playing with an unnerving consistency and won the first break of the set at 3-1. The pair traded a series of breaks as Stosur continued to thwart Azarenka with some incredible defence and power off her forehand (16:31 in the video below is a great example of Stosur’s awesome defence).
The pair were dead level as the match edged towards its conclusion; Stosur had a break point at 5-5 30-40, but Azarenka dismissed it with her first ace of the match. The pressure-packed third set tiebreak was filled with even more drama that delighted the crowd. Azarenka raced into a 4-0 lead, but was once again pegged back to 5-5 by the resilient Stosur. On the next point, a shot from Stosur clipped the net and Vika engineered a delightful drop shot to bring up match point… she converted with a deep forehand forcing Stosur long. A really tremendous match, full of variety, packed with winner-producing rallies and drama to the end. The match saw 66 winners and 56 unforced errors with Stosur topping the scales on both counts. This was the best match that Stosur played all year, which tells you how well Azarenka played to earn her spot in the semi-final.
Highlights from the Azarenka/Stosur match
3. Victoria Azarenka d. Angelique Kerber, 6-7 (11) 7-6 (2) 6-4 (Istanbul, RR)
Victoria Azarenka and Angelique Kerber are the two most featured players in my countdown and their pinnacle match of 2012 was against each other in a round-robin match in Istanbul. The Year-Ending-Championships (YEC) were another triumph in front of the vast and appreciative Turkish crowd; following a dour opening day, this match kicked the tournament into gear on the second day. Both started in fine form setting the tune for the rest of the match ahead; Kerber got an early break, but was quickly pegged back by Azarenka. It was such a terrific opening set full of pulsating rallies with both walloping the ball away for winners. It went to a tiebreak where both had their chances to close out the opening set.
Azarenka led 6-2, but was undone by Kerber’s demanding defence, which saw her play a horrendous drop shot into the bottom of the net. It is hard to pick out an individual rally because they were all of an extremely high standard but the one at 9:15 in the first video was certainly a highlight. After saving six set points, it was Kerber who edged the opening set. The match saw a lot of aggressive hitting and somewhat surprisingly, it was Kerber who hit the most winners throughout (49 to Azarenka’s 45). Azarenka started the second set with much more intent, but lost her early break and found herself staring defeat in the face. At 4-4, they played out an epic nine deuce-game where Kerber produced some inspired serving on the decisive points to frustrate Azarenka. Kerber held and then brought up two match points in the next game. Azarenka though showed what she was made off with four cracking shots to keep the match alive.
Azarenka’s aggressive and consistent striking finally dented a hole in Kerber’s defence and she eased through the second set tiebreak to give this match a thoroughly deserved third set. Azarenka quickly grabbed hold of the early break, but Kerber was not going to let this one go without a fight. She broke back and once again saved her best tennis for the break points as she produced a quite marvellous backhand at 3-4 after another punishing rally (see 10:28 in the 2nd video). Azarenka would eventually get the break and despite Kerber breaking straight back, she sealed the match with a forehand winner and an almighty fist-pumping celebration. Some of her wins this year were quite remarkable and she showed what significant strides she has made this year with her mental toughness. A quite unbelievable match lasting 3 hours and 6 minutes; I cannot wait to see these two face off again in 2013 because its bound to be fun…
Highlights from the Azarenka/Kerber match
2. Maria Sharapova d. Sam Stosur, 6-7 (5) 7-6 (5) 7-5 (Stuttgart, QF)
The runner-up in my countdown goes to the most intense match of the year, an epic 3 hour and 1 minute quarter-final between Maria Sharapova and Sam Stosur in Stuttgart. Stosur had breathed life into their one-sided head-to-head with a first ever victory over Sharapova at the end of 2011 in Istanbul. Sharapova, who had famously described herself as a “cow on ice” on the clay, had made incredible improvements on the surface and demonstrated that during this match. The match started as it would proceed with Sharapova smashing a forehand return past Stosur on the first point before the Aussie held serve to 15 in the first game. The whole encounter was characterised by high quality hard hitting and the serving was akin to a mens match. It was exceptionally tight all throughout the first set with no breaks of serve...
In the tiebreak, it was Stosur who was the more aggressive and made great use of her tricky slice to unsettle Sharapova as she edged it 7-5. The intense hitting continued into another epic set of tennis. Stosur gained the first break of the match to lead 7-6 4-3 and would find herself with a match point in the next game. However Sharapova stood tall with a fantastic backhand that forced Stosur into the net. You did not get a sense of a choke from Stosur, but more Sharapova upping her level and demanding herself that she break back, and that she did as the match sauntered into another tiebreak. It was close once more as Stosur hit a delightful backhand down-the-line to level it up at 5-5, but it was Sharapova who powered through the next two points to force a decider.
All three sets were brilliant, but I think the best tennis was seen in the decider. There were some absolutely thumping returns and the high pace to the match made it very enjoyable to watch. The pair remained on serve and played out the point of the match (15:43 in the video) as Sharapova produced some exceptional defence before clinging onto a forehand that somehow found the line. Sharapova was totally pumped up for this match; she had her chances, but finally claimed only the third break of the match at 5-5 in the decider. She then closed out with tremendous authority with a forehand into the corner, her 43rd winner of the match. It was a beautifully intense match and one that I believe was crucial for Sharapova’s run through the clay court season, which culminated in the French Open title. I think things would have turned out a lot differently if Stosur had converted on her match point…
Highlights from the Sharapova/Stosur match
My favourite match of the year was the first round encounter between Caroline Wozniacki and Tamira Paszek at Wimbledon. At 3 hours and 12 minutes, this epic had literally everything you could ask for in a great tennis match; drama in abundance, two players going for their shots (yes, Wozniacki included) and pulsating rallies. Wozniacki had selected the short straw by coming up against Paszek, who was one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw having just won the title in Eastbourne. However Wozniacki began in inspired form as she turned defence into attack racing into a 2-0 lead. The match was scheduled last on Centre Court and was halted midway through the set because of the rain.
It recommenced the following day under the roof where Paszek rediscovered her thunderous backhand that had helped her beat Angelique Kerber in the Eastbourne final just a few days ago. Paszek found herself with two set points at 5-4 40-15, but Wozniacki delivered some of her finest tennis. She hit a killer down-the-line forehand and then ran a mile before finishing off with a brilliant backhand (2:04 in the video). Wozniacki had turned the match on its head to take the first set. The second set was probably the most dramatic and entertaining of the whole year. Twice Wozniacki fashioned an early break, but both times Paszek came back as she dominated some fabulous lengthy exchanges. The game at 2-1 was particularly impressive (see 8:21 in the video where Wozniacki plays an amazing point). Paszek levelled up but Wozniacki had found some tremendous rhythm on her serve and was puttting the pressure right back on the Austrian. Wozniacki earnt two match points at 5-6 15-40 but the match was nowhere near over yet. Wozniacki looked to have it on an all-or-nothing backhand, but Paszek clung on with a backhand and then doubled up the saves with another terrific backhand.
The tiebreak concluded an outstanding set and it was Paszek who claimed the mini-break with the biggest forehand of the day before sealing the tiebreak. There was a slight lull in proceedings with Wozniacki taking advantage of a mental breather from Paszek to lead 2-0. Paszek though came fighting straight back to hold and then at 3-4 30-40, played perhaps her best point of the match as she took a leaf out of Wozniacki’s book by turning defence into exceptional attack to finish with a bullet of a forehand (see 18:34 in the video). Wozniacki had crept into her shell in the third set, but out of nowhere, raised her aggression once more with a truly sensational game to break Paszek when serving for the match. However the Dane could not recreate the same pace in the next game as Paszek started banging winners and had two match points at 4-5 15-40. She needed just one as she hit a fearless down-the-line forehand to claim an incredible win.
Paszeks’ character and heart throughout the grass court season was quite phenomenal. The last three matches she had played (including this one) had seen her battle for over nine hours. Wozniacki will have been very disheartened by the loss, but she actually played a really great match. She was just beaten by an inspired opponent, who had that bit more firepower from the back of the court, as Paszek‘s 54 winners outweighed Wozniacki’s 31. Although it was tough to call between the top three, this match just had it all and that little bit more excitement with incredible shotmaking on the crucial points.
I really hope you enjoyed my countdown of the top matches on the WTA tour in 2012. Please feel free to leave comments with YOUR favourite matches of this year. I will be doing a quick round-up of my favourite ATP matches before focusing on my previews for 2013!