The 2017 Volvo Car Open in Charleston will take place next week in South Carolina and to celebrate the start of the tournament, i’ve taken a look back at some of my favourite matches from following the tournament over the past five years. In a unique setting on green clay and always attracting an excellent entry list, it’s clear that this stop on the WTA tour is also a favourite with the players. I wonder what new matches will be joining this list!
5. Serena Williams d. Jelena Jankovic, 3-6 6-0 6-2 (2013, Final)
In a dream final between two former champions, Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic went head-to-head in 2013’s final showdown. Jankovic had played three three setters to reach the final but began in top form, serving brilliantly to win the opening set, 6-3. There was a slice of feistiness and words were exchanged across the net from both players at the start of the second set when Serena wasn’t ready to return a Jankovic serve. Serena responded “honestly, you have a problem? I’m not the one”.
The little war of words seemed to spur Serena on who won 12 of the last 14 games to win her third and most recent title in Charleston. It wasn’t the first time that Serena and JJ have had words (Rome and Dubai) and this will always be a memorable match-up on the WTA tour, providing both drama and quality in abundance.
4. Angelique Kerber d. Madison Keys 6-2 4-6 7-5 (2015, Final)
The 2015 edition of Charleston was the turning point for Angelique Kerber. Following a dire start to the year and from a set and a break down in her second round match against Evgeniya Rodina, Kerber went onto win Charleston, snapping a four match losing streak in finals. While the Kerber-Keys head-to-head was a one-sided affair in 2016, the pair were closely matched in their first two encounters.
This was an exciting and unpredictable final, showing off the contrast in styles with Keys’s flat power going up against Kerber’s nifty counter-punching. Kerber recovered from a 1-4 third set deficit to to take home the title, breaking in a fabulous eleventh game. There was a touching moment at the end of the match with the pair sinking to the clay with contrasting emotions.
3. Sloane Stephens d. Daria Kasatkina, 6-1 5-7 7-5 (2016, QF)
In another fascinating clash of game styles, Sloane Stephens was on the brink of defeat in her quarter-final match against one of the break out stars of 2016, Daria Kasatkina. Stephens had rolled through the opener, 6-1, but a clay-loving Kasatkina settled into the match in the second set, competing better in some lengthy rallies, to force a decider.
Kasatkina had a match point in the third set – Stephens, the bolder of the pair in the key moments, fired an inside-out forehand winner down match point and won the last eleven points of the match. There was an adorable moment at the net where Kasatkina seemed to ponder going in for the hug but the moment passed! Sloane went onto win the title… we miss you, Sloane.
2. Angelique Kerber d. Lara Arruabarrena, 6-2 5-7 7-6(3) (2016, R2)
Returning as defending champion, Angelique Kerber ended up in an almighty battle in her first match against the then, world #80, Lara Arruabarrena. Kerber looked in cruise control through the first set. Arruabarrena fought back with purpose and some gorgeous clay-court tennis – i’d go as far to say this was one of the best ever performances from the Spaniard. The third set featured one of the best games of the entire 2016 season, a thrilling ten deuce game at 2-1. Despite a superb effort from Arruabarrena, Kerber sealed the win in a third set tiebreak in front of a thoroughly entertained night crowd.
1. Jana Cepelova d. Belinda Bencic 6-4 5-7 7-6(7) (2014, SF)
The 2014 edition of Charleston was a cracker and the match that I will always remember fondly is one of the most unlikely semi-finals in the history of the tournament. After knocking out Serena Williams earlier in the tournament, Jana Cepelova went up against the then 17-year-old, Belinda Bencic. In a first WTA tour semi-final for both, the pair powered through nerves to put on a tremendous contest with lashings of WTA drama. The match peaked when Bencic started retaliating to Cepelova’s pome celebrations with her very own pome barks!
It was the quality of tennis though that shone bright like a beacon with Cepelova’s beautiful blend of potent hitting and variety edging past an at-times, inspired and emotional, Bencic. I’m gutted that there are no longer any highlights of this match on YouTube. A Charleston classic.