By: Victoria Chiesa & David Kane
Need help making it through the long and winding off-season? Relive the best – and worst – of the WTA in 2014 with TTI’s weekly wrap-up series. Up first: stroll down memory lane with ten of the Tour’s best matches of the season.
10. Victoria Azarenka d. Aleksandra Krunic, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, US Open 4R
Aleksandra Krunic’s Cinderella run at the US Open came to an end at the hands of Victoria Azarenka, but before the clock struck midnight, she put on a show. The qualifier might’ve come out nervous and overwhelmed by the expanse of Arthur Ashe Stadium and the raucous night time crowd as she fell behind a double break in the first set, but her emotions quickly settled when Azarenka handed over her first game courtesy of a double fault. Krunic lit up the New York night with a dazzling combination of offense and defense, and won six of the last seven games to put herself a set away from the quarterfinals.
In the end, however, it was the Belarusian who relied on her experience, wore the Serb down, and came through in a three-set affair despite not playing her best. While this match kicks off our top 10 countdown, the post-match festivities also gave us one of the most awkward moments of the year, for better or worse.
9. Venus Williams d. Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, Montreal 3R
The first game of Venus Williams and Angelique Kerber’s third round match in Montreal was a harbinger of things to come, but it certainly wasn’t evident at first. After saving break points in a 12-minute opening service game, Williams rapidly built a 5-0 lead. Kerber, who had won her last three matches against the elder Williams, wasn’t ready to go down without a fight, and won six of the next seven games to lead 3-0 in the second. What transpired from there was one of the most intense WTA matches of the year, as Williams’ streaky offense went head-to-head against Kerber’s dogged defense. At the end of two hours and 25 minutes, however, it was Williams who came away with her first Top 8 win in nearly a year, and she carried that momentum all the way to the championship match.
8. Alizé Cornet d. Camila Giorgi, 7-6(3), 5-7, 7-5, Katowice F
There is something inherently compelling about an athlete solving new and unfamiliar challenges. There is something inherently entertaining about watching Alizé Cornet do anything, which makes her match-up against the enigmatic Camila Giorgi tons of fun. Looking to crush anything on her side of the court, the young Italian has begun to enjoy veins of consistency, particularly on the indoor hard courts that protect her high-risk style from the elements. Cornet had beaten Giorgi in their first encounter in Australia, and was coming off a big win over hometown favorite Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. Despite the Italian’s penchant for quick points, the Frenchwoman managed to slow things down until the two were locked into yet another titanic battle. Giorgi would have championship point, only for Cornet to battle back and edge out the win in a final set tiebreak. These two may lack the caché of a top-tier rivalry, but they combined to provide quality tennis for much of the season’s first quarter.
7. Angelique Kerber d. Caroline Wozniacki, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-3, Eastbourne SF
The match that turned around Caroline Wozniacki’s year was ironically one that she lost. Wozniacki came into the grass court season with a 15-9 record on the year, and was fresh off of a first round loss to Yanina Wickmayer at Roland Garros. Seemingly on her way out of the Top 20 before arriving in Eastbourne – a tournament that she won in 2009 – she reached a semifinal for the first time since Monterrey in March. She led Angelique Kerber by a set and a break, and although the German rallied to win the match, the two hour, 39 minute affair featured some of the fiercest baseline rallies of the season.
6. Li Na d. Lucie Safarova, 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-3, Australian Open 3R
They say that hindsight is 20-20, but had the Australian Open third round match between Lucie Safarova and Li Na gone a different way, the match could’ve changed the course of the entire season. In sweltering weather conditions that were a sources of controversy for the entire tournament, Li dropped the first set in just 27 minutes, hitting 18 unforced errors to just two winners. Safarova, who had lost the last six matches against Li, kept the pressure on by breaking serve to lead 5-3 in the second. After failing to serve out the match, the Czech got to match point in the ninth game, a chance to score her first win against Li in nine years. The tennis gods had other ideas. With divine intervention – and a perfectly timed Hawkeye review – Li managed to turn the match around and win not only a wild 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 encounter, but her second Grand Slam title.
5. Jana Cepelova d. Belinda Bencic, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(7), Charleston SF
It was the match no one predicted. It was the match that didn’t matter. It was one of the matches of the year. The second semifinal at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston was one of WTA debutants; not only did Jana Cepelova upset Serena Williams in the second round, but she quickly became the tournament darling when she revealed she was traveling solo, and was connecting with family back home by fist-pumping towards the cameras. On the other side of the net, Bencic was just beginning her breakthrough season after qualifying and upsetting Sara Errani in the quarterfinals. Following a three-set thriller by Eugenie Bouchard and Andrea Petkovic, which aired on ESPN2, this match was cast aside, and pushed off to ESPN3. But these two delivered just as much drama, if not more. While some in the crowd might not have known one (or both) players when they arrived that afternoon, they certainly did by the end of this two hour, 33 minute saga.
4. Serena Williams d. Caroline Wozniacki, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(4), Singapore SF
If you were Martina Hingis, you might say, “What rivalry? I win all the matches!” But this was the rivalry of the second half of the season, if not the year. It was hard to pick just which of Serena Williams’s four matches against the resurgent Caroline Wozniacki was best. Picking their final encounter in Singapore might be recency bias, but it was the one that hits the all-important trifecta: quality, importance, and drama. A week removed from her oft-discussed New York City Marathon, Wozniacki did some serious endurance training against Maria Sharapova in another three-set epic. From there, she swept the group and was full of confidence against her good friend. The American had been distinctly below her best in a shocking loss to Simona Halep, and was looking to shake off lingering doubts as she stood two matches from a third straight WTA Finals crown. The Dane had her chances, serving for the match and taking an ostensibly insurmountable 4-1 lead in the final set tiebreak. But Williams held firm and held off Wozniacki for the fourth straight match of 2014, parlaying the victory into a happy end of an up-and-down season.
3. Caroline Wozniacki d. Maria Sharapova, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, US Open 4R
The New York crowd loves a good contrast in styles, almost as much as they love a comeback story. Caroline Wozniacki has a long history with the US Open: it was where she made her first major final, and the first at which she claimed the top seed a year later. It was also the place where her career hit an unmistakable nadir when she bottomed out in the first round two years after that. Everything changed in 2014 for the Dane; looking leaner and gutsier than ever, Wozniacki felt free to play her game, but to the tenth power. In the searing Manhattan heat, she outlasted Sharapova in a grueling marathon of a match, retrieving many would-be winners from the higher-ranked Russian. The crowd was firmly behind the underdog, swooning over every great get, how Wozniacki skillfully turned – in her words – “offense to defense.” The former No. 1 came full circle in Flushing, beating another Russian Roland Garros champ in the fourth round en route to yet another US Open final.
2. Petra Kvitova d. Venus Williams, 5-7, 7-6(2), 7-5, Wimbledon 3R
The twilight of Venus Williams’ career has been difficult for many to process. Between her illness, injuries, and inconsistencies, a lot of the tennis world is simply happy when the five-time Wimbledon champion shows up. But her match against eventual champion Petra Kvitova did a lot to remind everyone why the former No. 1 still plays tennis – she didn’t need the reminder. For three grueling sets, the American went toe-to-toe with the best grass court player of the next generation, getting within a heartbeat of the upset. For her part, Kvitova also had something to prove; the 2011 champion had been beset by bouts of erratic play that made people doubt that once-undeniable talent. The Championships was just shy of the second week, but Kvitova and Williams conspired to play the women’s match of the tournament, one that spurred the Czech towards her second Wimbledon title.
1. Maria Sharapova d. Simona Halep, 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-4, Roland Garros F
Three set match? Check. Grand Slam final? Check. An all-out war between the two best clay court players of the season? Priceless. After over a decade of underwhelming Roland Garros finals, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep came to play. Their epic encounter in Madrid turned out to be a mere prologue for the see-saw battle that went down on the terre battue. Each time Sharapova looked the likely winner, Halep would claw her way back, showing little signs of inexperience in what was her first Grand Slam final. With Sharapova moments from a two-set win, Halep took control of her destiny, played at her pace, and rattled the Russian into a final set. Sharapova weathered the storm, and survived two more onslaughts from the Romanian to serve out her fifth major title. If the upsets of the earlier rounds were meant to illustrate everything “wrong” with the women’s game, the final was so, so right.