We’re on the final straight with the WTA Best of 2016 posts… last but not least is the annual tradition on Moo’s Tennis Blog with the countdown of my favourite WTA matches of the year. This is a personal selection so i’m sure there will be some matches that will raise a few eyebrows! As always, comments are appreciated and i’d love to know what were your favourite matches of 2016. For all my previous countdowns since 2011, click HERE. Read on for part 1 with matches 20 to 16.
20. Monica Niculescu d. Barbora Strycova, 6-3 6-7(3) 6-1 (US Open, R1)
One of the highlights of my year was visiting the US Open and experiencing Slam tennis under the lights in New York. My first night match was a memorable one between Barbora Strycova and Monica Niculescu – while it didn’t quite match the dramatic heights of Strycova v Errani from Eastbourne last year (see HERE), it was still pretty damn great.
Niculescu barely put a foot wrong through the first set and a half as a frustrated Strycova lost her cool on occasion, launching one ball out of the court. Strycova did roar with delight after one magnificent point where she was yo-yoing between the baseline and net. Niculescu served for the match at 6-3 *5-4 but Strycova produced a rampant return game of peak volleys to break back, before running away with the ensuing second set tiebreak.
Niculescu regained control in a one-sided third set but there were still plenty of highlights such as Niculescu flapping her arms wildly after she lost one point and Strycova flinging her racquet to the side of the court. Niculescu powered through the last five games to overcome an increasingly dejected, Strycova.
Monica and Barbora are two of my favourite players to watch live and they didn’t disappoint…
19. Garbiñe Muguruza d. Timea Bacsinszky, 7-5 6-2 (Rome, QF)
This is one of those matches where I was so engrossed that I ended up taking an extended lunch break at work! Do not be fooled by the straightforward-looking scoreline because this was a superb match between Garbiñe Muguruza and Timea Bacsinszky. The Spaniard had to work exceptionally hard for her fourth consecutive win against Bacsinszky in 18 months.
Bacsinszky gave a great account of herself on her favourite surface; when she’s able to hit with depth and sustained variety off the forehand side, her game lights up. Muguruza though has always enjoyed this match-up and drew on an improving serve, crushing returns and ultimately more aggressive hitting to pull away at the end.
18. Johanna Konta d. Svetlana Kuznetsova, 3-6 7-5 7-5 (Rio Olympics, R3)
If there is a match that symbolises the startling strides that Johanna Konta has made in her game over the past 18 months then it’s probably this thrilling third round encounter against Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Olympics. There were many moments where it looked like Kuznetsova had this nailed on; the Russian player was up a set and a break, and after Konta mounted a comeback, had break points that would have seen her serve for the match. Konta showed plenty of courage and battled back to win the second set.
After Konta had failed to serve out the match at *5-4 in the third set, Kuznetsova looked to pounce with three beaming break point opportunities at 5-5 in the third set. Konta though backed herself big time and held her nerve in the tense moments. Kuznetsova showed off her full repertoire of defence but in the end, Konta was rewarded for her risky but bold approach, edging a physically draining and dramatic encounter in three hours and nine minutes.
17. Garbiñe Muguruza d. Serena Williams, 7-5 6-4 (French Open, Final)
2016 was a wild year for Garbiñe Muguruza… her results were very inconsistent throughout the year but the one tournament where it all clicked into place was the second Slam of the year in Paris. Muguruza demonstrated her champion qualities to outhit and outplay the then world number one, Serena Williams in a superb final of huge baseline duels. It was a decent display from the American but she came up against a blaze of clutch winners from Muguruza.
The stats were pretty even between the pair; in fact, Williams hit more winners (23 to Muguruza’s 18) and less unforced errors (22 unforced errors to Muguruza’s 25 unforced errors) but Muguruza increasingly won the points that mattered, showing a surprising sense of calm in just her second Slam final. Williams saved four Championship points to force Muguruza to serve it out at *5-4 in the second set. The Spaniard did so with aplomb, serving it out to love and winning her first Slam with an exceptional lob that bamboozled Williams.
16. Serena Williams d. Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4 7-6(1) (Indian Wells, SF)
Agnieszka Radwanska put up one of her bravest efforts against Serena Williams in the first of a dynamic duo of semi-finals in Indian Wells. Serena would eventually go onto win her tenth consecutive match against Radwanska but it certainly wasn’t easy. The current world number three came out with the right game plan, attacking against a sluggish-starting Serena. There were chances for Radwanska to claim the double break to lead 4-1 first set but Williams saved them and eventually fought back, aided by a string of crushing return winners, to bag the opening set, 6-4.
Williams built up a commanding set and a break lead but Radwanska began to dazzle in the desert night, breaking back with some delightful tennis. Radwanska broke again at 5-5 to bring up an opportunity to serve for the second set. Radwanska’s rising level forced Williams to search for her A-game… and she found it. An instinctive forehand passing shot winner, the shot of the match, saw Williams break back to force a tiebreak. The American’s footwork and returns were peak at the end as she sailed through the second set tiebreak for the loss of just one point. If you missed it, bring up a tape of the second set… you won’t regret it!