This is the penultimate post 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 and part two with matches 15 to 11 HERE. The third part features tow finals and an underrated gem from Charleston. Read on for matches 10 to 6.
10. Serena Williams d. Angelique Kerber, 7-5 6-3 (Wimbledon, Final)
It may have been a straight setter but as far as two players producing a high level of tennis AND at the same time, the Wimbledon final was right up there. After a disappointing pair of Wimbledon semi-finals that received an unfair amount of criticism, Williams and Kerber came together to wrap up the women’s tournament in style.
Kerber is one of the best returners on tour but she had no answer to William’s first serve which had become more lethal by the round. Furthermore, the American benefited from 16 (out of 22) successful approaches to the net, one of the key differences from their Australian Open final. Serena looked determined, focused and with a sense of calm and control as she won Slam #22. The respect shown between Serena and Angie at the end was wonderful to watch… goosebumps aplenty!
9. Karolina Pliskova d. Venus Williams, 4-6 6-4 7-6(3) (US Open, R4)
Widely billed as the match of the day on the second Monday of the US Open, Venus Williams and Karolina Pliskova totally delivered with a barnstorming fourth rounder as Pliskova saved a match point to reach her first Slam quarter-final. The first two sets were solid, but the match reached a glittering crescendo with a fantastic final thirty minutes where both players saved match points; from Venus’s magnificent return game to save three consecutive match points, to Pliskova’s outstanding volley to gain the ascendancy in the tiebreak.
In the biggest match of her career on the biggest tennis stadium in the world and against a home favourite, Pliskova pulled it out of the bag. The Czech player continued her US Open journey where she would go onto reach the final, just coming up short against Angelique Kerber.
8. Angelique Kerber d. Lara Arruabarrena, 6-2 5-7 7-6(3) (Charleston, R2)
Angelique Kerber is always an ever present in these top 20 countdowns and this was another one of those gems involving the German player; a huge hearty applause also for Lara Arruabarrena who played arguably one of the best matches of her career. Kerber comfortably won the first set in this Volvo Car Open clash but Arruabarrena, who reached the final of an ITF event on green clay the week before, mounted a comeback to win the second set. The Spaniard reaped the benefits of being positive in her gameplan against an increasingly errant Kerber, winning 10 out of 11 points at the net in the second set.
This match was great because it felt like a lot of the points were being won rather than lost. Kerber earnt the first break of the deciding set in a titanic fourth game that featured ten deuces – it was one of the best games of the entire year! Kerber failed to serve out the match at *5-3 in the third set but her quality shone through in the third set tiebreak as she fended off an exceptionally brave effort from Arruabarrena.
7. Victoria Azarenka d. Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-6(6) 7-6(3) (Miami, R4)
Miami was one of the most exciting tournaments of the year and their version of Wimbledon’s Magic Monday where all the fourth round matches are played on the same day produced the match of the tournament between Victoria Azarenka and Garbiñe Muguruza. Azarenka was the form player through the first three months of the season and headed into Miami with a tremendous 16-1 W-L record. In an enthralling opening set, Azarenka saved two set points and fended off a barrage of forehand winners from a rapidly improving, Muguruza to take it on the tiebreak, 7-6(6).
While Azarenka showed bundles of mental resilience to claim the opening set, her level peaked at the start of the second set. A pair of return winners helped her seal a set and a break lead. Muguruza, whose fighting spirit when down had been somewhat questionable at times in 2016, scrapped her way back into the match. Azarenka failed to serve out the match in a rollercoaster game at *5-3 with Muguruza breaking on a fortuitous net cord. The Belarusian steadied herself though to prevail in the second set tiebreak.
I’m waiting with baited breath for part 2 in the Azarenka-Muguruza head-to-head, hopefully in the not-too-distant future…
6. Monica Puig d. Angelique Kerber, 6-4 4-6 6-1 (Olympics, Final)
Monica Puig, Olympic gold medallist… MONICA PUIG. The Puerto Rican had an absolute dream week where she produced performance-after-performance of sheer quality as she found a way to hit through the slow courts in Rio. Taking on Angelique Kerber in the final, Puig continued to play with such power and authority, hitting a stream of winners to secure the opener, 6-4.
The quality rose tremendously from the end of first set with many pulsating rallies. After two reasonably close sets, Puig drew away in the third set with an inspired display of aggressive hitting. The Puerto Rican was timing the ball beautifully, serving big and opening up the angles. It was one of the most impressive individual performances of the entire year and even more so, how Puig managed to maintain her composure. Puig never panicked, fighting back from *0-40 down in the final game and saving six break points. And that celebration… to see how much it meant to Monica and for her to achieve her dream was a truly special moment.