WTA Best Matches of 2018

The best of 2018 posts on Moo’s Tennis Blog conclude with a countdown of my ten favourite matches of the year. This is the eighth year that I have written this post and you can reminisce with previous editions below. As always, this post comes with a caveat – these are my favourite matches of the year and there will likely be better matches out there that I simply did not watch and wasn’t able to catch up on. I’d love to know your faves in the comments and any memorable ones that i’ve missed. 

Best matches 2011: Click here

Best matches 2012: Click here

Best matches 2013: Click here

Best matches 2014: Click here

Best matches 2015: Click here

Best matches 2016: Click here

Best matches 2017: Click here

Best matches 2018: ⬇️

 

10. Ash Barty d. Aryna Sabalenka, 6-7(2) 6-4 6-4 (Australian Open, R1)

I always like to include a live match in my countdown and there were so many quality matches to choose from my trip to Australia. My favourite match featured home favourite, Barty against rising star, Sabalenka in the first of two night sessions we watched on Rod Laver Arena. The pair’s contrasting styles producing a fascinating clash that consistently delivered across three sets. Sabalenka, who I was excited to watch for the first time live, certainly created a stir with the crowd. While I was disappointed by some of the crowd reaction to Sabalenka’s grunting (not helped on by the stadium MC who imitated the grunt during the middle of the match), it did help to create a lively atmosphere. Barty showed impressive resolve to battle back from a set down as she used her backhand slice to dampen Sabalenka’s aggression and power.

9. Dominika Cibulkova d. Angelique Kerber, 3-6 6-3 6-3 (US Open, R3)

I haven’t done the math but i’d guess that Angelique Kerber is the most popular player in my best matches series since I started back in 2011. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the first time that she features in this year’s countdown. Kerber up against an aggressive striker often seems to produce eye-catching and engaging matches. This third round clash against Cibulkova from the US Open was a super match of pulsating rallies as Cibulkova increasingly dictated with her forehand to come from a set down to reach consecutive second weeks at the Slams. As a fellow short person, I have a great appreciation for Cibulkova’s hustle on the court. There may be retirement vibes with Cibulkova’s recent scheduling but she remain a huge threat against the best players on tour, always thriving in the role of underdog.

8. Hsieh Su-Wei d. Simona Halep, 3-6 6-4 7-5 (Wimbledon, R3)

Hsieh Su-Wei had some wonderful moments during the 2018 season as she reached the second week of both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, thrilling fans with her unique game. Hsieh-Kerber from Melbourne probably would have been in the conversation had I watched the match in full. The match that I have included in my countdown is Hsieh’s sensational win over the French Open champ, Simona Halep in the third round of Wimbledon.

Saving a match point and winning the last five games through an aggressive late surge, Hsieh showcased her full repertoire of intricate angles, touch and defence to bamboozle an increasingly passive and hesitant, Halep. It was lovely to see Hsieh have her moment out on No. 1 court in front of an excitable crowd. I loved Hsieh’s reaction on match point when she had a little chuckle at the crowd chatter in between first and second serves.

7. Wang Qiang d. Garbiñe Muguruza, 6-7(5) 6-4 7-5 (Hong Kong, SF)

Unfortunately work and life got in the way of watching tennis during the fall season post-US Open. Over a quiet and relaxing weekend, I did get to see the last three matches from Hong Kong, which always attracts great crowds and an eclectic line-up of WTA players. The second of the semi-finals between Muguruza and Wang Qiang was a stirringly intense match. There were no end-of-season vibes with this clash as the level of tennis peaked from the middle of the second set all the way up to the end. Even Muguruza’s coach, Sam Sumyk, said it was great tennis from both players when he came on to speak to the Spaniard at the end of the second set.

Wang Qiang produced a gutsy and battling display, rallying from a set down and then 1-4 down in the decider to topple Muguruza. The Chinese player finished off a tremendous serving performance of 11 aces with one on match point. Muguruza gave a lot to the match but became a little indecisive coming forward as a clutch and nerveless Wang Qiang thrilled the Hong Kong crowd with the victory.

6. Petra Kvitova d. Serena Williams, 6-3 2-6 6-3 (Cincy, R2)

It is a rather sweet moment when a hugely anticipated match-up lives up to the hype and expectation. This clash in Cincy between Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova, just the second of their seven clashes to go the distance, was a delicious slice of power tennis. I’ve always longed for a S.Williams-Kvitova match-up at Wimbledon with both playing at their peak and haven’t given up hope just yet!

Both players have a record of bringing their A-game for the big clashes and they showed their respect for each other with their respective performances. Williams produced arguably the finest tennis of her comeback in the second set. Kvitova was absolutely stunning during the first and third sets, and this was by some distance her best performance post-Wimbledon. So good that I watched the entire match back in full on catch-up having already known the result.

5. Petra Kvitova d. Garbiñe Muguruza, 3-6 6-3 6-4 (Doha, Final)

Doha has seen its fair share of upsets and surprise winner through the past few years. The 2018 edition on the new blue courts was very memorable with top names turning up AND delivering with a string of superb matches. My favourite match of the tournament was the final where an inspiring, Petra Kvitova made it 13 straight wins with a come-from-behind victory over Muguruza.

The quality of ballstriking in this match was majestic as both handled the windy conditions remarkably well. This final has rather gone under the radar because it feels like it happened about five years ago. It wasn’t until I glanced on the highlights again that the memories of watching came flooding back to me. It was a special moment to see Kvitova hitting the ball with such purity and clarity. An in-form Kvitova, Peak Petra, is always a glorious thing to witness 😍.

4. Simona Halep d. Lauren Davis, 4-6 6-4 15-13 (Australian Open, R3)

Simona Halep’s route through the Australian Open draw was eventful to say the least. Battling on through an ankle injury that she picked up during her first round match, Halep staved off three match points in the third round to beat an inspired, Lauren Davis in a thrilling three hour and 47 minute encounter. I’ll always have fond memories of this match as I watched it on the plane heading back home from my trip to Australia. I’d managed to sleep on the first plane (a miracle) so was content watching tennis on the second flight. I was stunned at how the match unfolded. I remember my eyes went fussy during the third set. I thought I was hallucinating and that this match wasn’t real 😂.

The third set had drama in abundance as Davis required medical attention for a broken toenail at 11-11. Halep failed to serve out the match on three occasions before Davis missed three match points at 11-10. Credit to Halep for digging in so deep and staying in the moment. I think this is the best match that i’ve ever seen Davis play and she produced some world class backhands. In the end it was a gutting loss for the American player who sadly was not able to build on this performance, ultimately enduring a miserable year that saw her drop out of the world’s top 200.

3. Daria Kasatkina d. Venus Williams, 4-6 6-4 7-5 (Indian Wells, SF)

The Indian Wells semi-finals have been at night for the past few years so I have enjoyed catching up with the matches the following morning without finding out the result. I remember being so pumped for V.Williams-Kasatkina. Their two previous matches had both gone the distance including their most recent match-up at Wimbledon, an epic that Venus won 10-8 in the decider and ranked at #11 on my best matches countdown from 2016. As soon as I opened up the WTA TV stream and saw the length of the match, I knew it was going to be another three setter! And no surprise, it proved to be a superb match.

It was fascinating to watch the two players try and wrestle control of the match. Williams controlled the net to grab the opener. Kasatkina was more positive in the second set and managed to wear down the American to force a decider. Williams was two points away from the match on Kasatkina’s serve at 5-4* in the third set. To be honest, I thought Williams had it in the bag as i’ve watched enough sets with Kasatkina serving to stay in it to know how that one pans out. To my surprise Kasatkina showed bundles of mental toughness to hold, producing a crafty no-pace backhand slice at *15-30 that turned things in her favour. Kasatkina then capitalised on a wayward final few games from Williams to reach the biggest final of her career. Kasatkina’s joy and disbelief at the end was lovely to see. More Venus-Dasha matches please! 🤞

2. Simona Halep d. Sloane Stephens, 7-6(6) 3-6 6-4 (Montreal, Final)

Halep and Stephens may have only played twice in 2018 but it was a memorable match-up that produced two brilliant finals. The pair faced off in Paris and Montreal with both matches going the distance, and of excellent quality and riveting drama. I’ve chosen the second of their finals in Montreal which was an exhausting and exhilarating watch. There were so many twists and turns, and unexpected changes in momentum. I included one rally in my best points post but really there half a dozen that deserved a mention. At the time there had been a real lack of quality matches and this one came along and just blew my mind. Stephens was exceptionally classy in defeat as Halep made it ten straight wins in Montreal.

1. Simona Halep d. Angelique Kerber, 6-3 4-6 9-7 (Australian Open, SF)

There will be no surprises with my match of the year for 2018 as i’ve gone for the second of this year’s semi-finals at the Australian Open between Simona Halep and Angelique Kerber. The Australian Open was a fantastic tournament that produced gift-after-gift. Both players had been pushed to the brink to reach this stage of the tournament – Kerber was one game away from defeat against Hsieh Su-Wei in the fourth round, while Halep had to fend of a trio of match points in the third round against Davis (see match #4).

Halep-Kerber was the first Australian Open semi-final to go past 6-6 into extra time since 2005. It seemed highly unlikely after Halep had stormed into a 5-0 first set lead in just 13 minutes. The momentum swung violently from side-to-side which made it such gripping viewing – Halep served for the match at *5-3 and had two match points at 5-4*, while Kerber had two match points leading *6-5. There were so many lung-busting rallies that drew the crowd in. Even watching back now out of the context, the points are still breathtaking to witness.

Despite coming second best to Wozniacki in the final, Halep was arguably the star of this year’s Australian Open. She’s also been the star of this post featuring in four of my ten favourite matches of 2018!

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10 thoughts on “WTA Best Matches of 2018

  1. Good list, I’d maybe swap #9 for the AO FInal, mainly for the drama and possibly put in the FO FInal and Madrid final in also. Great matches this year though!

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  2. Really good list James! There’s no surprise with a Kerber match always being in the top 2.
    I feel like Ostapenko vs Sharapova in Rome QF’s could get a mention cause that was a match where there was hard hitting for over 3 hours. It may not be pretty but it sure was entertaining to watch them two trying to outhit one another.

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  3. Some great matches there James; I’ve just been watching the highlights of Angie and Simona’s AO semifinal. The spectators certainly got their money’s worth with that one!

    It was a shame that Lauren (Davis) was unable to capitalise on her epic match against Simona at the AO, which she very nearly won. Makes me wonder about the wisdom of limiting the number of games players have to play in the final set though; yes you’ll preclude any more John Isner 26-24 ace-heavy snorefests from happening but you’ll also not get matches like that one.

    I think an honorary mention should also go to Domi’s final against Nastia Pavlyuchenkova at Strasbourg (which Nastia won); it’s the only match I can ever recall which went to a tiebreak at the end of every set. Unfortunately it was somewhat overshadowed by its position in the calendar coinciding with the qualifying stages at Roland Garros.

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    • I enjoyed watching back the highlights of Halep-Kerber before writing this post! Cibulkova-Pavs definitely worthy a mention. I was disappointed to miss that one as I was away at the time.

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    • I put it down to Halep’s experience. She was playing for a slam title and Lauren was playing to beat the top ranked player. She knew she just had to survive to get through. But to be honest, for the love of all things great, good and inspiring in this world, those long tie breakers in the end doesn’t do anyone any good. Maybe save it only for the finals so the players can go home and work off the pain in ice baths or something. It was a battle of two gentle warriors. Always appreciate the amount of fight Davis brings to the court. Svetlana is another who enjoys the rush these long tie breakers bring. I think it’s also in their style of play which is opposite to the ace fest of the men’s. With the men, you can actually feel the dread settle on court. You just don’t want to make mistakes.

      With some of the women walking off into the sunset kind of, I hope Cibulkova chooses to play a while longer. Don’t know, with her being married and all(getting into her thirties) could nesting plans be taking a hold. It was more average than up this season. Same goes for Pavs, a bit of a non-factor this season. Maybe Aga can return for a splash of doubles like Hingis. Lucie seemed to be having so much fun in her doubles matches prior to injuries that I thought it would be enough to want her to just play longer, if only in doubles. Anyway, still wish her the best on her next journeys.
      Fortunately, there is a Kiki Bertens to watch next year, although she is engaged now too….

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      • Might have your wish after latest news about AO! Midway through the season I thought Cibulkova might be close to retirement but she played some brilliant tennis at the final two Slams.

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  4. I like this one. Svitty’s decided to take some boxing lessons with Anthony Joshua and David Haye;

    Her opponents had better watch out now!

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