The WTA Best of 2021 series concludes on mootennis.com with a countdown of the best matches. This year’s countdown is definitely skewed to the first half of the season and the Slams, and features the matches that moved me in 2021. For previous years’ countdown between 2011 and 2020, you can find them here. Let’s take a look at this year’s top ten…
10. Barbora Krejcikova d. Maria Sakkari, 7-5 4-6 9-7 (French Open, SF)
I’ve been in two minds about this pick. When I think back on the year, I cannot get this match out of my head. The first two sets were dreadful (😂) but the third set, particularly the last 45 minutes, was an absolute knock-out and one of the most enthralling, gripping finishes all year. Both Krejcikova and Sakkari saved match points along the tortuous cliff-edge path of the third set including a questionable call from the umpire who was out checking lines on match point! Krejcikova’s composure at the end was remarkable. The post-match interview and the mentions of Jana were special too. “I survived Krejcikova-Sakkari at RG21” t-shirts for everyone.
9. Ons Jabeur d. Garbiñe Muguruza, 5-7 6-3 6-2 (Wimbledon, R3)
The first of three Wimbledon matches in this year’s countdown was the highlight of the third round slate. The first set of Jabeur-Muguruza had a bit of everything. Tension, hot shots, drop shots, slips, missed opportunities and some fantastic rallies. Muguruza saved a total of 24 break points (!) throughout the entire match but it was an increasingly aggressive Jabeur and her delightful drop shots that changed the course of the match. One of many great moments in 2021 for Ons who really captured the imagination of the Wimby crowd.
8. Karolina Pliskova d. Amanda Anisimova, 7-5 6-7(5) 7-6(7) (US Open, R2)
The 2021 US Open was an absolute crackerjack of a tournament. I could quite happily fill out the top ten exclusively with US Open matches. Pliskova-Anismova was a match that I watched back having known the result so it’s appearance in the list is all the more impressive. This match was the 2021 version of Petra-Venus Wimby 2014. A match of exceptional quality, dominated on serve with first rally strikes. Pliskova served up 24 aces, a whole set of aces! I really felt for Anisimova who stayed with Pliskova all the way and even had a match point in the final set tiebreak. Anisimova just needs one of these matches to go her way…
7. Garbiñe Muguruza d. Anna Kalinskaya, 4-6 6-3 6-4 (Miami, R3)
This was a classic demonstration of the depth on the WTA tour as the #115, Anna Kalinskaya played well, well, WELL above that ranking and pushed Muguruza to the brink in Miami. Kalinskaya played an inspired first set and was still matching Muguruza most of the way in the third set which became an absolute slugfest. Long rallies, long games. This was a really great match. Muguruza did brilliantly to serve it out as Kalinskaya started painting the lines down match point. Muguruza backed herself deep in the third set and it was one of many impressive outings for the Spaniard on the hard courts in 2021.
6. Karolina Pliskova d. Aryna Sabalenka, 5-7 6-4 6-4 (Wimbledon, SF)
A shout-out for Wimbledon semi-finals day which was the most entertaining in years. The second semi-final between Pliskova and Sabalenka snapped a run of ten consecutive straight set semi-finals at Wimbledon. It was the first three set women’s semi-final since Muguruza-Radwanska all the way back in 2015. And it was one hell of a match! The quality was sky-high and I think it was the best match i’ve ever seen Pliskova play.
5. Paula Badosa d. Ana Bogdan, 2-6 7-6(4) 6-4 (French Open, R3)
Sometimes the best matches are the one where you have few expectations. Badosa-Bogdan was an absolute triumph. A brilliant match with sumptuous rallies. I found myself puzzled at how Bogdan is not higher in the rankings. Badosa saved a match point in the sensational second set and hit some fantastic forehands with her back against the wall. In an Osaka-less section, Badosa surprisingly emerged as one of the favourites to win the tournament. The Spaniard made it to the last eight, her best ever showing at a Slam.
4. Naomi Osaka d. Garbiñe Muguruza, 4-6 6-4 7-5 (Australian Open, R4)
The Australian Open delivered a trio of blockbuster match-ups on the middle Sunday, one of the best tennis days of 2021. I have wonderful memories of streaming the matches in the morning and watching not knowing the result which makes such a hugee difference.
The pick of the bunch was a first time meeting between Osaka and Muguruza. I couldn’t quite believe that they’d never played each other before! In a thrilling third set, Osaka locked in to her champion qualities as she won the last four games of the match from 3-5 and down two match points. It was the sliding doors moment of the tournament as Osaka powered her way through the final three rounds to claim a fourth Slam title.
3. Angelique Kerber d. Sara Sorribes Tormo, 7-5 5-7 6-4 (Wimbledon, R2)
Kerber and Sorribes Tormo received an extended standing ovation at the end of this match and the crowd didn’t stop clapping until they’d left the stadium. Just a marker of how bloomin’ great this match was. It lasted three hours and 19 minutes. One of six matches that Sorribes Tormo played in 2021 that went past the three hour mark. This was some of the most attritional tennis you’re ever likely to see, especially on a grass court. The rallies were so fun, so intense and of such a high standard. It was just a joy to watch.
Kerber missed a match point in the second set and then was seen shaking out her wrist at the start of the third set. It felt like Sorribes Tormo had finally worn down Kerber, yet the German player kept on battling away and was ultimately rewarded for being the more aggressive of the pair. Watching Kerber do her thing on grass is the best.
2. Leylah Fernandez d. Angelique Kerber, 4-6 7-6(5) 6-2 (US Open, R3)
Emma Raducanu obviously dominated the headlines with her stunning victory at the US Open. In terms of her route through the draw, it was Leylah Fernandez’s matches that I will remember as she knocked off Osaka, Kerber, Svitolina and Sabalenka to reach the final. All four of those matches were memorable but the one that stands out is the last 16 showdown with Kerber.
It was a great match from start to finish which peaked towards the end of the second set with the most enthralling tennis I watched all year. The crowd were absolutely engrossed. It makes such a difference when there is a passionate crowd and Fernandez got them on side.
Fernandez has a funky game, dare I say showcasing some similarities to Kerber with the lefty forehand. The forehand exchanges were gorgeous. Fernandez’s energy was unlimited and it was a rare occasion where Kerber was worn down over time. For the second match in a row, Fernandez rallied from a set and a break down to beat a Slam champion. And there was more to come in the next two rounds as Fernandez officially announced herself on the big stage.
1. Paula Badosa d. Victoria Azarenka, 7-6(5) 2-6 7-6(2) (Indian Wells, Final)
Played in the Autumn and appearing on the calendar for the first time in two and a half years, Indian Wells produced another spectacular final that rivalled the most recent edition in 2019 between Bianca Andreescu and Angelique Kerber. It’s a first for MTB as it’s the first time a match from Indian Wells has ever topped the charts. I don’t think that is a coincidence as I’ve always found Indian Wells a tough watch with the gritty, slow courts and thin, desert air producing bizarre conditions. In this particular final, you would never have guessed it was a slow court as both players hit through the court with ease.
Badosa-Azarenka was one of those rare gems where both players were playing well at the same time. Many matches this year had peaks of brilliance in a set. This final was one of the few matches that I can remember where the quality was sustained for large chunks of the match and it got progressively better as the match wore on, peaking in the third set. The tennis from both players was inspired at times and they both pushed each other to be better.
It was the crowning glory of what was a smashing break-out season for Badosa. Up against one of the tour’s stalwarts, Badosa didn’t look out of place. In fact it was the Spaniard’s mentality that shone through in the end as she showed remarkable resilience to rally from adversity and hold her nerve in the final set tiebreak to claim the biggest title of her career. There was a lovely end to the match too with super speeches from both. A real feel-good moment where the quality of tennis was the talking point.
Best of the rest:
Ash Barty d. Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-6(3) 6-4 (Yarra Valley Classic, Final): A high level match just one day before the Australian Open! Up until the latter stages of Wimbledon, this was the best match i’d seen Barty play as she threw a red-hot Muguruza off her game.
Donna Vekic d. Kaia Kanepi, 5-7 7-6(2) 6-4 (Australian Open, R3): A clash of power hitting games often cancel each other out. This was a rare big hitting match that delivered with both playing well. Vekic could barely speak at the end, overcome with emotions. Hard not to see why as she scrapped and gave everything, saving a match point in the process to beat Kanepi.
Bianca Andreescu d. Sara Sorribes Tormo, 6-4 3-6 6-3 (Miami, QF): These two seemingly love a three setter. Andreescu was pushed all the way in this thoroughly entertaining quarter-final from Miami. This was the height of Sorribes Tormo’s hot form where she just would not buckle. Great match. Great handshake.
Angelique Kerber d. Petra Kvitova, 3-6 6-4 7-6(3) (Bad Homburg, SF): Kerber and Kvitova playing each other on grass in front of an invested home crowd. What more could you want?!
Leylah Fernandez d. Elina Svitolina, 6-3 3-6 7-6(5) (US Open, QF): Another stunning match from the US Open. Didn’t quite reach the glittering heights of Fernandez-Kerber but had a frenetic finish as Fernandez continued her dream run.
4 thoughts on “WTA Best Matches of 2021”
Love following your best matches series and I have to say I agree with all of these although I do think at least one of the Andreescu Sakkari matches deserves a mention. Love to see angie still there in best matches my fave 😻
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Selorm. Fair point. I missed their US Open match which is why it didn’t feature in my countdown. My guess is Angie is the most featured player in all the years!
This review of best matches has made me look forward to next season with enthusiasm. I watched eight of the ten matches that you mention including the top three and agree that those three were the best ones and also agree with the order that you have placed them in.
Here’s hoping for some more excellent tennis in 2022 starting with the AO which I plan to watch thoroughly on TV but only if spectators are allowed in.
Have a nice Xmas James.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Peter. I think the plan is for spectators at the AO but as we all know, things can change so quickly these days. Wishing you a very Merry Christmas, Peter! 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person