Just the one post this year for my favourite matches of the year (see previous countdowns HERE) and to wrap up my best of 2017 series. This is for various reasons – I haven’t watched as much tennis this year, mostly thanks to the WTA’s lack of a streaming platform for seven months and the inability to fully catch-up with matches. Thankfully, WTA TV is all in place now although i’m somewhat perplexed why Zhuhai wasn’t streamed on it this year. Furthermore, i’m ready for some time away from the blog and I just don’t have the motivation right now to write about twenty matches. My best matches post is always one of my favourites to write each year so I couldn’t miss this one out altogether!
I need to point out that I have missed out some classics from my list. This is not a meaningful oversight but more logistical in that I didn’t get to watch particular matches live or have a chance to catch up. I’m sure that the first round thriller between Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep at the US Open would be in my list. Other matches that i’ve missed out but deserve an honourable mention, in no particular order – Muguruza vs. Kasatkina from Brisbane, Kuznetsova vs. Jankovic from the Australian Open, Vesnina vs. Kuznetsova from Indian Wells, Siegemund vs. Pliskova from Stuttgart, Halep vs. Mladenovic from Madrid, Muguruza vs. Kontaveit from the French Open, Ostapenko vs. Halep from the French Open, Safarova vs. Cibulkova and Safarova vs. Gavrilova from Birmingham, Konta vs. Vekic from Wimbledon and Kvitova vs. Peng from Wuhan.
And so here goes – ten matches that resonated with me and kind of in order, at least with a very clear top three. Please sound off in the comments with your favourite WTA matches in 2017! I think choosing favourite matches is very subjective. I don’t expect anyone to agree with my top ten, but hopefully you’ll enjoy my recollection of why I liked these matches.
10. Ekaterina Makarova d. Angelique Kerber, 6-4 1-6 7-6(11) (Cincinnati, R2)
I enjoy watching high-quality tennis with plenty of winners – chuck in some fireworks though and i’m totally sold! This second rounder in Cincy between Kerber and Makarova was so damn dramatic that I just couldn’t take my eyes away from the action at the end. Makarova, who took a very questionable medical time-out towards the end of the third set, struggled to put away Kerber in brutal conditions. The highlight was an absolute marathon point on Makarova’s third match point in the deciding set tiebreak. I don’t blame Kerber for her swift handshake at the end after Makarova’s antics. The Russian player did a rather remarkable job to eventually close out the match.
9. Daria Gavrilova d. Dominika Cibulkova, 4-6 6-3 6-4 (New Haven, Final)
By the time that the US Open draw comes out, most of the attention has switched away from the Connecticut Open in New Haven where the final warm-up event takes place. This year’s final though was a stand-out match, fully deserving of the attention. I have great respect for the likes of Cibulkova and Gavrilova, who make up for their lack of height (short people unite!) with bundles of tenacity and determination. Cibulkova had wobbled for much of the year, yet seemed to have that intensity back and her groundstrokes were sharp. Gavrilova managed to turn the tide, coming from a set down and prevailing in a thrilling third set for her first ever WTA title. Dasha’s joy at the end was infectious!
8. Johanna Konta d. Simona Halep, 6-7(2) 7-6(5) 6-4 (Wimbledon, QF)
I was feeling a little glum on the last day of my three week tennis holiday during the grass court season. The last match that I got to enjoy was one of the best with a Centre Court showdown between Johanna Konta and Simona Halep. This was one of many tough losses for Halep during 2017, just two points away from the win in the second set tiebreak. However, there were plenty of positives to take away for the Romanian player in what was one of her best ever displays on grass. In the end, Konta’s positivity won her the second set tiebreak and eventually the match. This was the most watched women’s match in BBC history (a peak of 7.4 million viewers) and a fabulous advertisement for women’s tennis.
7. Laura Siegemund d. Venus Williams, 6-4 6-7(3) 7-5 (Charleston, R2)
Before a horror knee injury ended her year in Nurnberg, Laura Siegemund was one of the stars of the clay court season. The German player had won just one match heading into the clay court season, but came alive with a series of tremendous displays in Charleston where she reached the semi-finals. Siegemund got her clay game grooving with a stunning three set win over Venus Williams in the second round. While missing a match point in the second set, Siegemund saved one in the third set before rolling back with dazzling drop shots, court craft and fearlessness to oust Williams. The American actually played a very good match and was quick to compliment Siegemund in press.
6. Kristina Mladenovic d. Yulia Putintseva, 6-2 6-7(3) 6-4 (St. Petersburg, Final)
The first match of the year that got me thinking about my best matches countdown was the St. Petersburg final, one of many great finals in 2017. Mladenovic had played top five level tennis to build a 6-2 5-2 lead – Putintseva was actually playing a decent match. As a first title loomed on the horizon for Mladenovic, a mix of nerves and indecision, and flashes of Peak Poots, saw the match swing in favour of the Kazakh player who forced a third set. Mladenovic finally pulled through on her fifth match point in the third set, staving off another stirring comeback by Putintseva with a gorgeous forehand winner.
5. Venus Williams d. Petra Kvitova, 6-3 3-6 7-6(2) (US Open, QF)
How could I miss out a Venus vs. Petra match, probably my favourite match-up on the WTA tour?! I think this match would have been higher on my list had I watched it live. I managed to catch up but I rarely find a match as intense or exciting when you know the score and how it unfolds. I just love watching these two thwack the ball at each other. There is something about the way their games stack up and you just know that they have the utmost respect for each other which adds to the occasion. I didn’t think the quality of this clash quite matched their Wimbledon match from a few years ago. However, it was still an enthralling affair that captured the imagination of the crowd. Three sets is a given with these two – the pair have played six times and all six matches (!) have gone the distance.
4. Laura Siegemund d. Kristina Mladenovic, 6-1 2-6 7-6(5) (Stuttgart, Final)
The highlight of Siegemund’s clay court season was a second WTA title in Stuttgart, capping off an eventual year at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. The final was a story of two halves – the first two sets were nothing special in terms of a contest with neither playing their best at the same time. However, this was completely overlooked for the third set which was fantastic – high-quality clay court tennis, variety in abundance and bundles of drama too! Siegemund held her nerve at the end, chasing down a drop shot on match point and angling it away for a winner that needed final clarification from the umpire. Another classic from Stuttgart.
3. Angelique Kerber d. Karolina Pliskova, 7-6(5) 7-5 (Tokyo, QF)
Even in a pretty miserable year for Angelique Kerber, she is again the most heavily featured player in my list of top ten matches! I think that my general mood at the time of watching this match may explain why it is so high on my list – I was on holiday in Switzerland, chilling with vast quantities of chocolate and pastries. I wasn’t blogging that week and actually, quite enjoying the stress-free nature of watching matches for fun. There was just one break of serve from 18 break points, which came in the very last game. Both players were absolute demons on break points, coming up with a big serve or a brave winner. I wouldn’t say no to more matches between Kerber and Pliskova as their styles always combine for entertaining matches.
2. Garbiñe Muguruza d. Angelique Kerber, 4-6 6-4 6-4 (Wimbledon, R4)
Wimbledon’s Manic Monday is the best and worst day of tennis each year. At one point, six of the eight women’s matches were being played at the same time – absolute carnage. I got lucky in that one of the matches I focused most of my attention on turned out to be the match of the day. Muguruza and Kerber had played out a cracker on Court No.2 in 2015. Lo and behold they were back on the same court for Magic Monday where they produced an instant classic. This was arguably Kerber’s best performance of the entire year as she coupled defence with aggressive down-the-line forehand strikes. In the end, Muguruza’s eagerness to come forward and clutchness on key points, a trait that characterised her Wimbledon run, helped her navigate what would be her toughest match of the entire week en route to winning her second Slam title.
1. Eugenie Bouchard d. Maria Sharapova, 7-5 2-6 6-4 (Madrid, R2)
I’m not going to lie that it kind of pains me to put this match as number one. In terms of the quality, intensity and excitement, this match ticked all the boxes. Perhaps because I don’t have an affinity to either player is why I enjoyed this match so much. It’s a rare moment when a hotly anticipated match lives up to expectation and this did that and then some with the actual tennis standing out. The match had been heavily hyped up as just a few weeks before, Bouchard had laid into Sharapova calling her a “cheater”.
There was never really a moment where the standard dipped and all three sets were thoroughly entertaining with such an incredible intensity. The desire of both players to win was just fascinating to watch. Bouchard didn’t come remotely close to replicating the level that she produced on this day against Sharapova.
A sensational match.