This is the second of four parts in the countdown of my favourite WTA matches from the 2016 season. In case you missed it, you can read part one with matches 20 to 16 HERE. The second part features matches from the Slams, WTA Finals and Fed Cup including the first ever inclusion of a doubles match! Read on for matches 15 to 11.
15. Svetlana Kuznetsova d. Agnieszka Radwanska, 7-5 1-6 7-5 (Singapore, Round Robin)
The star of the first four days at the WTA Finals was Svetlana Kuznetsova. The Russian player arrived in Singapore following a brutal schedule that had seen her yo-yo between Asia and Europe in her bid to qualify for Singapore. After defending her title in Moscow, Kuznetsova sealed the eighth and final spot at the WTA Finals. Two days later, she was stepping onto the court in Singapore where she faced Agnieszka Radwanska in her first match.
This was an exhibition in point construction and all-court tennis as both players covered every region of the court with variety in abundance. Kuznetsova won five out of the last six games to win the opening set, 7-5. Radwanska quickly levelled up at one set all with a much improved success rate at the net. Three times up a break in the decider, Radwanska was in the ascendancy as she sought a rare win over Kuznetsova, who had won eight out of their nine previous encounters.
Radwanska had the match on her racquet but was unable to take a match point up *5-4 with a tight backhand into the net. Serving more effectively and volleying with greater precision, Kuznetsova reeled off the last three games to seal yet another win over Radwanska. It was a tremendously gutsy display from Kuznetsova who qualified for the semi-finals in Singapore and finished the year at world number nine, her best season-end ranking since 2009.
14. Serena Williams d. Christina McHale, 6-7(7) 6-2 6-4 (Wimbledon, R2)
In her toughest match at Wimbledon this year, Serena Williams survived a stunning charge from Christina McHale. This was arguably the match that propelled Williams en route to Slam title #22. After being up an early break in the first set, McHale was forced to battle from behind under the Centre Court roof. Hawkeye saved the 24-year-old at set point with a groundstroke that barely clipped the line. There was a remarkably intense feeling to this match and McHale gave as good as she got, going one better than their previous meeting in Rome by converting on a set point deep into a first set tiebreak.
Williams fought back to force a third set but she was always playing catch-up in the decider; a tenacious McHale lost her early break of serve lead in the third set but stayed in front, saving break points in lengthy deuce games at 2-2 and 3-3. The pair played one of the rallies of the year at 4-4 where McHale’s willingness to go down-the-line paid dividends. It was Williams though who made the breakthrough with a big, bold and beautiful return winner. Serving for the match, Serena’s champion instincts kicked into overdrive as she closed out the match with three aces.
13. Pliskova/Strycova d. Mladenovic/Garcia, 7-5 7-5 (Fed Cup Final)
I’ve never included a doubles match before in my countdown of favourite matches… until now! The Fed Cup final between the Czech Republic and France was one of the best tennis weekends of 2016 and it came down to a decisive doubles rubber. I questioned Petr Pala’s decision to play Strycova and Pliskova who had both played singles matches on the Sunday but it proved to be an excellent choice. Strycova carried Pliskova at the start of the match but the world number six in singles more than held her own as the match wore on. The second set lasted 75 minutes – I can’t remember a set in doubles ever taking so long but it was fabulous entertainment.
There was the underline of WTA drama with Strycova perturbed at Mladenovic for one putaway aimed in her direction, to which Strycova then started to zone at both Garcia and Mladenovic. The Czech pair converted a vital break point at 5-5 in the second set with Pliskova producing a magnificent volley winner. Strycova served out the match to seal a fifth Fed Cup in six years for the Czech Republic. While there was a bit of bad blood during the match, there were classy handshakes all round at the end. Also, an honourable mention for Karolina Pliskova’s 6-3 4-6 16-14 win against Kristina Mladenovic on the first day, which was a terrific match.
12. Serena Williams d. Simona Halep, 6-2 4-6 6-3 (US Open, QF)
The US Open provided another installment to the fascinating rivalry between Serena Williams and Simona Halep when the pair met in the quarter-finals. While Williams headed in as the favourite, Halep had been one of the in-form players on the tour through the summer having won two titles in Bucharest and Montreal.
Halep produced a stirring performance in the second to force a deciding set. The Romanian player bookended the set with titanic holds; Halep battled through a six deuce game at *0-1 and an eight deuce game serving for the set at *5-4, saving a total of 12 break points in the second set. Halep’s fearless depth forced Serena back behind the baseline and into some sensational rallies.
In the third set, all it took was one small lapse from Halep for Williams to gain the upper hand. Williams broke to lead *3-1 and dropped just three more points on serve en route to a hard-fought three set victory. There was a nice smile from Simona at the net… she knew she’d given it a real good go, but just came up short against an in-form Serena.
11. Venus Williams d. Daria Kasatkina, 7-5 4-6 10-8 (Wimbledon, R3)
On one of those infuriating days at Wimbledon where the weather just couldn’t make its sodding mind up, a classic battle of youth against experience ensued on No. 1 Court between Venus Williams and Daria Kasatkina. The pair had played each other in the first tournament of the year down under in Auckland where Kasatkina had won, 6-7(4) 6-3 6-3. Their Wimbledon clash was another three setter that went into extra time and then some.
Despite this being just her fourth ever match on grass in a first ever showing at Wimbledon, Kasatkina proved that she can adapt her game well to the green stuff. The Russian player held it together when the heavens opened with the match on a cliff edge as Venus had match point up 7-6* 40-30* in the third set. Kasatkina returned from the fourth and final rain break with a cheeky smile as she saved the match point, her second of the match, and held serve. Both players showed their battling qualities to stay in contention but it was Venus who finally made her move with a forceful return game to secure a plucky victory in two hours and 47 minutes.