WTA Best Matches of 2015: 5 to 1

And here we goooo… it’s time for the fourth and final post in the countdown of my favourite WTA matches in 2015. In case you missed it, you can read part one HERE, part two HERE and part three HERE. As always, i’d love to hear what your favourite matches were, especially if they were ones that i’ve missed!

5. S.Williams d. Sharapova, 6-3 7-6(5) (Australian Open, Final)

All four Slam finals in 2015 were memorable in their own unique way; the last three all yielded first time finalists with Lucie Safarova in Paris, Garbiñe Muguruza in Wimbledon and Flavia Pennetta and Roberta Vinci in New York. The first Grand Slam final of the year in Melbourne was an 18th clash between the top two seeds, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. While the match-up on paper is one-sided, there’s still a sense of grandeur when two of the most high profile female athletes play a Slam final. Sharapova had saved match points earlier in the tournament against Alexandra Panova but other than that, had cruised through to the final. Serena had had a tougher route and was struggling with a cold.

The match began as many Serena-Maria matches do… with a Serena break of serve! After falling behind early, Sharapova showed signs of settling before the pair were forced off for a short rain delay. Serena was reportedly unwell in the break but tightened her control of the match on return to win the opening set, 6-3. Serena’s superior serving and movement will always make this a tough match-up for Maria… not to mention Serena’s fierce desire to seemingly never lose another match to Maria. To her credit, Sharapova played a fine second set. She saved two break points early on with some stellar serving and was then forced to save a Championship point serving with scoreboard pressure at *4-5 *30-40, bringing out some gutsy tennis with a fearsomely struck forehand down-the-line that even got a clap from Serena (!).

There were lashings of WTA goodness in this final; Serena got called for hindrance serving at 3-3 in the second set after celebrating what she thought was another ace only for Sharapova to get the ball back into play. Serena also dropped her racquet in premature celebration when she thought she had won on an ace, only for it to be called on a let. She sealed Slam #19 on another super first serve after having delivered a number of hammer return blows in the tiebreak. Overall, it was one of their best matches in recent years and one of the warmer handshakes between the pair. This match did more than enough to whet the appetite for the season ahead…

Match Stats: Williams (38 winners to 25 unforced errors and Sharapova (21 winners to 15 unforced errors)

Match Time: 1h 51

 

4. Muguruza d. Kerber, 7-6(12) 1-6 6-2 (Wimbledon, R3)

Without a hint of deliberation, the first set of this match between Garbiñe Muguruza and Angelique Kerber was the best set of women’s tennis I watched in 2015… It was NUTS! This match was widely lauded by the hardcore tennis fans as one of the best women’s matches from Wimbledon. To this day, I am still disappointed that the match didn’t even get a mention on the Wimbledon 2day round-up programme aired on the BBC.

The quality of the rallies in the first set were magnificent. The pair combined for 43 winners in the opening set, eventually won by a fearless Muguruza who saved nine set points, many in the tiebreak with daring down-the-line winners. The pair produced a quite breathtaking point on the first point of the tiebreak; a 33 stroke rally of titanic baseline duelling that featured a wonderful exchange at the net. Kerber’s immense defence won her the point and I gave them a standing ovation whilst watching on TV haha.

After taking a second set breather, Muguruza regained her control of the match in the third set with an aggressive, yet accurate display of baseline hitting. Perhaps the most impressive facet to Muguruza’s game was her willingness to close points at the net. It was a crushing blow for Kerber and her second consecutive loss to Muguruza at the third round stage of a Slam. Kerber’s game is naturally suited to the grass and she was in great form having won her third Premier title (at the time) of the year in Birmingham just two weeks prior. Kerber would most likely have gone a long, long way in the draw if she hadn’t run into an in-form and razor-sharp, Muguruza. The Spaniard, who had never looked comfortable on this surface prior to Wimbledon 2015, finally found her grass feet to march her way into a first ever Grand Slam final.

Match Time: 2h 35

Match Stats: Muguruza (57 winners to 43 unforced errors) and Kerber (33 winners to 15 unforced errors)

3. S.Williams d. Azarenka, 3-6 6-2 6-3 (Wimbledon, QF)

2015 saw a welcome return of the Serena-Vika rivalry; the Belarusian has proven herself as one of the few players on the tour to consistently test Serena. The world number one still leads the head-to-head convincingly, 17-3, but many of their recent matches have been close. The pair played three times in 2015 with all three matches going the distance; Azarenka missed multiple match points in Madrid, was up a set and a break at the French Open and was also up a set in their clash at Wimbledon. This was their best match of the year in terms of quality with Azarenka playing a near-flawless first set and Serena turning the match around, aided by some magnificent serving.

Azarenka started this match in tremendous form, serving pretty much close to her peak The world number one had began in slightly subdued fashion but she started to awaken towards the end of the set. Azarenka though, deservedly served out the set, 6-3. The second set featured some moments of pure brilliance that were unrivaled on the WTA tour in 2015. The game with Azarenka serving at *1-2 saw the noise level rise, but more importantly, the quality too. While Azarenka did remarkably well to claw her way out of that game, it was Serena who started to shine, saving break points herself at *2-2 and *4-2, and eventually taking the second set, 6-2. She was in the zone and taking advantage of the now-struggling Azarenka second serve, pummelling away some fierce return winners.

It was as good a serving performance you’ll see from Serena who hit 17 aces. It was somewhat reminiscent of their 2012 semi-final clash at Wimbledon where Serena had served a whole set of aces. Azarenka threatened to make a last-ditch comeback, but Serena swatted away the concern with a barrage of aces. Serena-Vika matches are always a treat and this was another intense and well-fought battle. The hug at the end was also pretty awesome.

Match Time: 2h 04

Match Stats: S.Williams (46 winners to 12 unforced errors) and Azarenka (20 winners to 11 unforced errors)

YouTube Video by Wimbledon

2. Kerber d. Sharapova, 2-6 7-5 6-1 (Stuttgart, R2)

For the second year in a row, a Sharapova-Kerber match is in my top three. While this didn’t quite live up to their bruising fourth round encounter at Wimbledon, the intensity was still there. Sharapova had never lost a match in Stuttgart having won the tournament in her only three appearances. However, the Russian player would come unstuck against a remarkable performance from Kerber. I’ve never seen Kerber play a better set than in the decider as she chased down everything, both side-to-side and up to the net, and hit some pulsating forehand winners, more often than not, hooked down the line.

Back to the start and after four close games that took 26 minutes, Sharapova pulled away to win the first set, 6-2. The world number three, playing in her first clay court tournament of 2015, looked surprisingly sharp and was moving extremely well. While Sharapova looked the more dominant player at the start of the second set, the tide slowly started to turn. Kerber’s ability to hang tough and feed off a buoyant crowd helped her seal the crucial break in the second set with an instinctive forehand passing winner.

Into a third set and Sharapova began to run out of ideas by the end, throwing in too many drop shots which Kerber was onto every time like a flash. The third set reminded me of Agnieszka Radwanska’s 6-0 final set against Victoria Azarenka in Australia last year. While it went by relatively quickly, it was a treat to watch peak Kerbs in action. This match resonated with me for some reason and it was the one I was most excited about watching back. More Sharapova-Kerber matches please!

Match Time: 2h 27

Match Stats: Kerber (22 winners and 20 unforced errors) and Sharapova (44 winners and 40 unforced errors)

YouTube Video by Daniel Abagero

Andddddddd my favourite WTA match of 2015 is…

1. Azarenka d. Kerber, 7-5 2-6 6-4 (US Open, R3)

Every year Angelique Kerber is an ever present feature in my top 20 countdowns but even more so in 2015 where she features seven times! My match of the year is from the wonderfully wacky US Open. Many of the previous Kerber-Azarenka matches had been eventful; their three hour and six minute clash in Istanbul in 2012 was sensational, as was their match in the same year at the Olympics which was as good a two setter as you are ever likely to see. This third round clash, their first at a Slam, took it to a new level.

Azarenka won the last five games of the set to claim it, 7-5. The set hinged on a dramatic six-deuce game with Kerber serving for the set at *5-3. Azarenka eventually broke after Kerber had demonstrated her full repertoire of forehand winners to stave off break points. Despite the disappointment of losing the first set, the German player refocused marvellously well to win the second set.

In a tight decider, it was Azarenka who played some of her best tennis of the entire season. She got the crucial break early on and managed to hold on to it. Azarenka hit over 50 winners and won 37 points at the net, a tactic that was very effective considering she was playing someone who loves a target. Kerber put up an admirable fight in the penultimate game of the match, saving five match points, and once again finding some magic with a handful of crashing down-the-line winners. Her reaction to winning that game was everythinggg.

Azarenka didn’t buckle and served out the match to love. The quality never dropped during the three sets with most games featuring something special. Both players finished with a positive winners to unforced errors differential and it ended with a really warm embrace at the net… Lovely!

Match Time: 2h 52

Match Stats: Azarenka (51 winners to 33 unforced errors) and Kerber (46 winners to 31 unforced errors)

YouTube Video by WilliamsTennisAssociation

20 thoughts on “WTA Best Matches of 2015: 5 to 1

  1. Hi James, thanks for allowing me to contribute. Some great choices here but I think three others deserve a mentionhree

    1 / Roberta Vinci def Serena Williams in the semifinal at the US Open, 2-6 6-4 6-4.

    Probably more has been written about this one than any other match this year, and IMO it deserved it. Absolutely no one thought Roberta was going to win this one (not even Roberta herself), but she managed it by not only utilising her panoply of skills from years and years of playing doubles, but also her fearsome powers of concentration; towards the end of the match in particular, she played every shot as though her life depended on it.

    2 / Belinda Bencic def Agnieszka Radwanska in the final at Eastbourne in June, just before Wimbledon; 6-4 4-6 6-0.

    Aga didn’t play a bad match, far from it, but she was simply blown away in the third and final set by a young player who somehow found the zone and managed to stay there, winning every game in that set. The first two sets were a lot closer and featured some good rallies between the two players.

    An honorary mention should also go to their rematch in Tokyo, again in the final, which Aga won this time, 6-2 6-2. She played two superb sets and made very few mistakes; it was one of the best performances (if not the best, taking the match as a whole) that I’ve seen from her.

    I also enjoyed Simona Halep’s performance against Serena Williams in their semifinal in Miami; I can’t remember if you mentioned that one in your top 20, but Simona pushed Serena very hard in that match although she didn’t manage to win it and there were some great exchanges between the two of them. It was a pity IMO that that match wasn’t the final.

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    • Hi Graham, thanks for your comment! Serena-Vinci was a really difficult one and I couldn’t decide whether to put it in my top 20. In terms of memorable matches, it was certainly up there. Bencic v Radwanska was also a good match and Halep v Serena from Miami was definitely one I considered.

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  2. Hi again James,

    Just another thought on the Serena-Simona match in Miami. At one point in the first set Simona’s chasing one of Serena’s shots to the back of the court, and as the camera focuses on her face you can see that she’s actually laughing as she does so. She not only clearly loves the game but she shows it at times when you wouldn’t expect her to.

    Incidentally, early on in that match Serena produced one of the fastest forehands ever seen in the womens’ game; it was measured at 97 mph.

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  3. Hi James, I enjoyed reading these features of match countdowns! Looking forward to the next portion, predicting 2016 Top 10 🙂 Keep it up!

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  4. I personally loved watching Flavia v Sabine Indian Wells Quater Final. The match kept going back and forth and was anyone’s games. Flavia saved a match point, then Sabine saved 3 match points to finally take the match!

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  5. Some good matches. To me Kuznetsova vs Schiavonne was #1 this year. It had absolutely everything and was on par with epic mens Slam matches.

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    • Yep, it was a real shame to have missed this one out (this is the match I was alluding to in the first part) but I didn’t get to watch it and there are no highlights anywhere 😦

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  6. Dont know what I would do without your blog, James. Thank you for a wonderful year of tennis coverage; can’t wait to follow you again in 2016.
    P.S. Maybe you could make similar lists for the WTA quarterly? like, best match of the month, player/s of the month, etc.?

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  7. Haha unsurprisingly, my favourite match of the year was Angie-Vika too 🙂 Thanks for writing this blog, James! Always a pleasure to read through your posts and thoughts. It is my most favourite blog and I like that you always try to stay neutral with predictions even though you have your own favourites. Keep it up and never stop writing 😛

    P.S. I absolutely love the fact that Angie is featured that much…hate her or love her but she is entertaining (especially her sarcastic self)

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    • Thanks, Murphy! And thanks for all your comments throughout the year 🙂 Kerber is one of my favourite players to watch and it’s no coincidence that she’s always in my top 20 lists each year.

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  8. Hello again James,

    Two other matches which I think are worth a mention were Venus Williams vs Aga Radwanska in Doha (which Venus won – some superb rallies in that one) and Simona Halep vs Carla Suarez Navarro in the semifinal in Rome, which Carla won. (She went on to play Maria Sharapova in the final, and ended as runner-up overall).

    Carla’s a player who can very much blow hot or cold on the court, but this was a match where she played her best tennis and the result was well worth watching. Simona competed very well nearly to the end but unfortunately faded in the last two games.

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  9. Nice selections, but your omission of both the Kuznetsova/Schiavone epic from the FO (understand about the highlights though), and even worse, the Azarenka/Cibulkova 4th rounder from the AO, are huge errors. They both should have been in the top 5

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    • To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with my best matches this year. I missed some big matches and decided it wasn’t fair to include them when I hadn’t watched them. I’m hoping not to miss so many key matches in 2016!

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