This is the fourth and final part in the countdown of my favourite WTA matches from the 2016 season. In case you missed any of the first three posts, you can catch up with the following links:
Part 1, matches 20 to 16 HERE
Part 2, matches 15 to 11 HERE
Part 3, matches 10 to 6 HERE
This final post includes two tremendous finals and a Wimbledon classic. The top five was pretty clear for me, as was my number one match. Read on for matches five to one!
5. Sloane Stephens d. Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4 4-6 7-6(5) (Acapulco, Final)
Acapulco is a special tournament, attracting crowds like no other International tournament on the tour. The final lived up to expectation as Sloane Stephens outlasted Dominika Cibulkova in a three hour and five minute marathon of brutal baseline hitting. Serving a little better and holding her ground well against Cibulkova’s punishing groundstrokes, Stephens went up a set and a break, and had an opportunity to go up a double break in the second set. Cibulkova, well known as one of the most tenacious fighters on the tour, fired back with intent and a parade of forehand winners to force a decider.
The third set was more of the same as the pair duked it out from the baseline. The quality of the hitting was exceptional with Cibulkova taking the aggressor role more-often-than-not, but Stephens clinging on with some remarkable defence. Stephens backed herself in this final with a very committed display; the American saved break points at *3-4 in the decider and twice served to stay in the match with scoreboard pressure at *4-5 and *5-6. Into a deciding set tiebreak and Cibulkova lost her way with a big miss at 2-2; Stephens held on for a superb win, arguably one of her best, and become the first player to win two titles in 2016.
4. Petra Kvitova d. Angelique Kerber, 6-7(10) 7-5 6-4 (Wuhan, R3)
Petra Kvitova secured her best win of 2016 over the world number one, Angelique Kerber in Wuhan
bledon in the joint third longest WTA match of the year. Kvitova had her fair share of chances to win the 86-minute first set with four set points but Kerber’s ability to deliver in the crucial moments, an increasingly regular trait in 2016, saw the German player take the opener.
Kvitova didn’t back off; with her game nicely synced to the courts in Wuhan and the forehand firing on all cylinders, the Czech player served out the second set at the second time of asking. Energy levels must have been flagging, but the pair put on a show in the decider. Kvitova broke Kerber’s serve in the first game of the third set and never relinquished control, battling through the game of the year at *4-3, a seven-deuce slugfest that included a 41-shot rally (!)
There was a dramatic ending to the match; Kvitova was unable to convert on three match points serving for the win and she then started to cramp. Staving off a pair of break points, Kvitova managed to hang on for a monumental win. The Czech player went onto claim her second title in Wuhan, dropping just five games in her last two matches with sensational displays against Simona Halep and Dominika Cibulkova in the final two rounds. When she’s on, watch out for Peak Petra… 😉
3. Agnieszka Radwanska d. Roberta Vinci, 3-6 6-2 6-3 (Doha, QF)
In a world of powerful baseline hitting, Agnieszka Radwanska and Roberta Vinci produced a delightful slice of all-court tennis in Doha. The pair combined for a whopping 101 net approaches in what was a wonderful, wonderful match. One of my memories was the commentator, Guy McCrea, who was giggling at some of the exceptional shotmaking that the pair produced.
Vinci made a superb start to the match with a brilliant 6-3 opening set. It was a peak Vinci set and proof that when the Italian player is on, she’s SO much fun to watch (yay for Roberta continuing in 2017). Radwanska though, matched Vinci’s positivity and fought back to win in three sets. There were some delightful rallies including a handful of Radwanska hot shots; an on-the-run forehand pass that floated its way down-the-line and got a wry smile from Vinci, and a behind-the-back pick-up winner that won her WTA “Shot of the Month” for February.
2. Angelique Kerber d. Serena Williams, 6-4 3-6 6-4 (Australian Open, Final)
2016 will be remembered as the year of Angelique Kerber. In her first Slam final and up against the best player in the world in Serena Williams, Kerber produced a tremendous display to win the Australian Open in three pulsating sets of tennis. Kerber’s shock and joy at winning her first Slam is one of my favourite memories of 2016 and I still remember being incredibly moved by what she achieved on that day.
Kerber started brightly and successfully served out the first set to love. Williams rallied to win the second set but Kerber never went away. After an early exchange of breaks in the third set, Kerber produced a pair of outstanding drop shot winners to secure the break in a pivotal sixth game. This wasn’t vintage Williams as she won less than half of points (15/32) at the net and her serve became increasingly laboured in the third set. Kerber went toe-to-toe with Williams with her willingness to open up the forehand down-the-line and find the passing shot winners key to this match.
Kerber failed to serve out the match and Williams even had a game point to level up at 5-5. A powerful return from Kerber forced Williams to deuce and then two points later, a volley from Williams sailed long as Kerber dropped to the floor in astonishment. You never quite know how a player is going to react to the occasion of playing their Slam final but Kerber took to it like a duck to water. She would go onto produce quality tennis in two more Slam finals in 2016.
1. Dominika Cibulkova d. Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-3 5-7 9-7 (Wimbledon, R4)
Dominika Cibulkova’s extra-time victory over Agnieszka Radwanska tops this year’s countdown in a clash befitting of Wimbledon’s Magic Monday, the most jam-packed tennis day of the year. The pair had already staked a claim for the match-up of the year having played gruelling three setters in Indian Wells, Madrid and Eastbourne, each lasting at least two and a half hours. Their Wimbledon clash reached even loftier heights; the rallies were longer, the shots were more dazzling and the character shown by both players was admirable.
This match was one point away from being over in straight sets; Cibulkova, finding all the angles with her fearless forehand, had a match point up 6-3 *5-4 but couldn’t get across the finish line as Radwanska soared into life, winning the last three games of the second set to force a decider. Cibulkova slowly regained her composure in the third set and found the rhythm again on her battering groundstrokes.
Radwanska saved a myriad of break points at 4-4 and 5-5 in the third set, and even had a match point up 6-5* 40-30*. Cibulkova showed exceptional resilience to hold to 6-6 and keep the match alive. Both players were clearly tiring but in truth, the quality never wavered. At the third opportunity and exactly on the three hour mark, Cibulkova served out a magnificent win with yet another booming forehand winner.
The pair shared a nice embrace at the end; huge kudos to Radwanska for her sportsmanship after such a tough loss. It’s hard to imagine that Cibulkova could have played a better match than this and weary legs were on show the next day as she couldn’t back up the win, falling in straight sets to Elena Vesnina in the quarter-finals. Still, the Cibulkova-Radwanska match was one of the highlights of Wimbledon 2016 and of the entire WTA season.