The WTA Best of 2020 series continues on mootennis.com with the ten year anniversary (!) of the countdown of best matches. Despite the abbreviated season, there were still many memorable matches on the WTA tour in 2020 that are worth reliving and deserving of entering the vaults of WTA classics. An honourable mention to the Bertens-Errani match from this year’s Roland Garros which will forever have a place in my heart. Let’s take a look at this year’s top ten…
10. Ons Jabeur d. Karolina Pliskova, 6-4 3-6 6-3 (Doha, R3)
Ons Jabeur was one of the fleeting feel-good stories of 2020. After reaching a first Slam quarter-final in Melbourne, Jabeur was knocking on the door for a big scalp. Jabeur agonisingly missed a match point in Dubai against Simona Halep. In her very next tournament, she held on to beat the world number three at the time, Karolina Pliskova, in a fantastic match. Jabeur was cheered on by the biggest and loudest crowd i’ve ever seen in Doha. Those were the days…
Jabeur didn’t put a foot wrong in a glorious opening set. Pliskova actually played well. Jabeur was just too good. Pliskova rallied in the second set and served her way into a deciding set. Jabeur’s level remained high and she continued to dazzle with her shotmaking – is there anyone as exciting to watch as Jabeur when playing well? While clearly bothered by her leg at the end, Jabeur managed to serve out the match for the biggest win of her career.
9. Sofia Kenin d. Garbine Muguruza, 4-6 6-2 6-2 (Australian Open, Final)
The first Slam final of the new decade produced yet another new Slam champion which at the time, was the seventh newbie in the last ten Slams. It was a strange final to preview in that I couldn’t decide who I wanted to win, nor did I have a clue who would actually triumph. Kenin produced the performance of her life, saving 10 of 12 break points and simply playing the big points better.
The key game, the most memorable game of the entire 2020 season, took place at *2-2 in the third set where Kenin hit five straight winners from *0-40 down to hold her serve. From there on, Kenin didn’t drop another game as she powered her way to the title as Muguruza’s serve unravelled. This was another prime example of a recent first time Slam finalist who was utterly fearless and backed herself all the way.
8. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova d. Angelique Kerber, 6-7(5) 7-6(4) 6-2 (Australian Open, R4)
Such is the nature of how this year unfolded, I was surprised to remind myself that this match actually happened in 2020! Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova produced two of the most impressive individual performances at this year’s Australian Open. Pavlyuchenkova snapped a six match losing streak to beat Karolina Pliskova for the first time. In this particular highlighted match, Pavlyuchenkova hit 71 winners (!) to beat Kerber.
This match wasn’t all about Pavs. From 2-5 down in the first set, Kerber started swinging which is always a joy. The Kerber forehand down-the-line is, and always will be, one of my favourite shots in tennis. Pavs didn’t back down and kept firing winners herself in what was a thoroughly entertaining contest. My only disappointment was the sparse crowd because both players deserved a full-stadium standing ovation at the end.
7. Shelby Rogers d. Petra Kvitova, 7-6(5) 3-6 7-6(6) (US Open, R4)
This was the first match post-pandemic resumption where I was completely invested and living every point. It was a pertinent reminder why I love this sport. Perhaps this match would have been higher in my list if it hadn’t ended in such crushing fashion for Kvitova who had four match points, including one on her own serve, which she double faulted on. It was one of those double faults that you could see coming a mile off and were already hiding behind the sofa.
The takeaway from the match was an incredible performance from Shelby Rogers who went toe-to-toe with Kvitova for two and a half hours. The 28-year-old American didn’t get the credit she deserved for beating Serena Williams in Lexington. This result added further weight to Rogers’s rise and demonstrated that is she playing the best tennis of her career.
6. Wang Qiang d. Serena Williams, 6-4 6-7(2) 7-5 (Australian Open, R3)
My nerves are jangling every morning of the Australian Open when I wake up to check the scores. Every year there’s one result that makes me do a double take. Unsurprisingly, it was Wang Qiang’s third round win over Serena that knocked me sideways. In their previous match at the US Open, Serena had thrashed Wang Qiang, 6-1 6-0 in one of most nondescript Slam matches of recent memories.
The most impressive aspect of Wang Qiang’s performance was her court positioning as she spent most of the match on or inside the baseline. You could see it in her eyes that she meant business and believed that she could win. Wang Qiang served for the match at *5-4 in the second set but Serena played a mean return game to break and then went onto win the second set tiebreak. I assumed it was game over for Wang Qiang, yet the Chinese player managed to reset brilliantly in the decider. Serena lambasted her performance after the match which sadly took the shine (unfairly IMO) off a sensational performance by Wang Qiang.
5. Naomi Osaka d. Jen Brady, 7-6(1) 3-6 6-3 (US Open, SF)
US Open semi-final day was wonderfully uplifting and arguably the best day of tennis in 2020. It was the first time since 2017 that both Slam semi-finals have gone three sets. The first of the semi-finals was a no-nonsense, high quality affair as Naomi Osaka held off a valiant charge from first-time Slam semi-finalist, Jen Brady.
The pair were both rock solid on serve as they battled to get the first forehand strike in play. Osaka eased through the first set tiebreak as Brady’s level dropped. However, Brady’s bounce back from losing the first set was an indicator of her vastly improved mentality. As well as Brady played and competed, forcing the match into a third set, I never doubted that Osaka would win. Osaka went onto win the US Open in what was an exceptional tournament for the 23-year-old, both on and off the court.
4. Simona Halep d. Elena Rybakina, 3-6 6-3 7-6(5) (Dubai, Final)
Dubai produced plenty of great matches and most of them involved Simona Halep. The Romanian player won her 20th title, beating the red-hot, Elena Rybakina in my favourite final of 2020. It was a bruising week for Halep who came from a set down to win on three occasions and even saved a match point in her opening match of the week against Ons Jabeur. Halep managed to contend with Rybakina’s clean groundstrokes and menacing moves forward as she conjured up some wonderful passing shot winners, just squeaking through in a third set tiebreak.
3. Karolina Pliskova d. Naomi Osaka, 6-7(10) 7-6(3) 6-2 (Brisbane, SF)
The best match in the run up to the Australian Open was from Brisbane between the number two and three ranked players in the world at the time, Karolina Pliskova and Naomi Osaka. This was a no-frills contest of sensational tennis. Both players were clutch when challenged on serve in the first two sets and the pair combined for a total of 105 winners (Pliskova 52 W 28 UE, Osaka 53 W, 37 UE).
The only disappointment is how the third set petered out as Osaka’s energy dipped and her frustration boiled over after failing to serve out the match and convert on a match point in the second set. A resilient-as-always, Pliskova, went onto win the whole caboodle and claim a record-breaking third title at the Brisbane International.
2. Clara Tauson d. Jennifer Brady, 6-4 3-6 9-7 (French Open, R1)
This year’s runner-up is a barnstorming first rounder from the French Open. It’s important to set the scene. Roland Garros was played in the autumn, in mostly damp, dreary conditions on heavy clay and supposedly with heavier balls. Clara Tauson and Jen Brady both managed to hit through the clay and finish this two hour and 45 minute match with positive stats, an indicator of the quality (Tauson 48 W 46 UE, Brady 39 W 25 UE).
Tauson delivered one of the most impressive main draw Slam debuts. Displaying clutchness beyond her years, Tauson saved two break points at *3-4 *15-40 in the third set and then saved two match points at *5-6 which prompted Brady to scream “are you kidding me, Jenny” 😂. Aside from a sprinkling of errors at the very end, Brady played a fine match and lost. Tauson served out the biggest win of her career at the second time of asking. Safe to say that Denmark has another exciting talent waiting in the wings.
1. Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, 1-6 6-3 6-3 (US Open, SF)
There are no match-ups that get me more hyped than Serena Williams against Victoria Azarenka. This is a record seventh appearance for Serena-Vika in the MTB countdown and it’s the FIRST repeat match-up to claim the ultimate accolade of being my match of the year. I remember happily waking up before 6am, so excited to watch this match. It lived up to my expectation and I didn’t want it to end.
The highlights, of which there were many: A peak Serena first set, one of her best sets of tennis in 2020. A peak Azarenka comeback in the second set as she completely transformed herself on serve and then led from the front with one of the most convincing displays of frontrunning that I can remember in a long time. And the pinnacle, the peakk 🔥🔥🔥 rallies, laced with intensity and simply addictive viewing from start to finish. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time that Serena and Vika play each other on the WTA tour.