Monday, November 26, 2007

Best Women's Tennis Matches of 2007

by Mad Professah

1. S. Williams USA d. M. Sharapova RUS, 6-1 6-2, Australian Open final, Melbourne.

After a horrible 2006 where her ranking had fallen out of the Top 100, Serena Williams was completely disregarded as a possible factor in the 2007 Australian Open, even moreso after she lost in the quarterfinals of a Tier III tournament in Hobart, Australia, to little-known Sybille Bammer less than 2 weeks before the start of the year's first Grand Slam in Melbourne. In the early rounds, she looked scrappy and won easily before running into the No. 5 seed Nadia Petrova. She was down a 6-1 set and a break before she came back to win the middle set and cruise through the deciding set to win that match. She easily dispatched hard-hitting Jelena Jankovic in the next round and few people were expecting the fierce battle that occurred in the quarterfinal between Serena and Shahar Pe'er, who served for the match twice before succumbing 8-6 in the 3rd set. After every hard-fought match Serena's game looked stronger and stronger and her powerfully effective serve never abandoned her. However, the final against Maria Sharapova, the No. 1 player in the world and winner of the previous Grand Slam was one of the most powerful displays of tennis by Serena Williams ever--and this from a woman who 4 years before had won 4 consecutive Grand Slams! The performance completely stunned the tennis establishment and sent a devastating signal to the woman who had replaced her as the most highly paid female athlete in the world. There was never any doubt who would win the title from the end of the first two games of the match: Serena was hitting winners from every part of the court and serving aces at will. It immediately set the bar for the best match of the year, which was never surpassed.

2. J. Henin BEL d. M. Sharapova RUS, 5-7 7-5 6-3, Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Championships final, Madrid.

The last match of the year often ends up on Best Matches of the Year lists because it is still fresh in the memory when the entire year's matches are being re-evaluated and compared. In addition, the final of the year-end championships also provide a $1 million prize to the victor. However, this year, like last year (and the year before that) a match from the tour championships has landed in the Top 5 Matches of the Year. This time it was the 3 hour, 24 minute slugfest between the new No. 1 Player in the World and reigning 2007 U.S. Open champ, Justine Henin, and last year's U.S. Open champ, Maria Sharapova. Both players wanted desperately to defeat the other and played some of their best tennis of the year in an attempt to blast their opponent off the court. There were incredible rallies and unbelievable shotmaking from both sides of the net. Sharapova was attempting to salvage a horrible 2007 where she had won only one title during the entire year. Henin was trying to put an exclamation point on a year in which she had won two Grand Slam titles and maintained her #1 ranking for the entire year, winning 10 titles in the process. In the end, Henin won the battle, but Sharapova made the statement that the 5-years younger player would be a factor to be dealt with in 2008 and beyond.

3. S. Williams USA d. J. Henin BEL, 0-6 7-5 6-3, Sony Ericsson Open final, Key Biscayne.

After skipping the Australian Open to "recover from her collapsed marriage," this was the first opportunity the current No. 1 player in the world had to play against the resurgent Serena who had early in the tournament again dismantled Maria Sharapova in straight sets to prove her Australian Open beatdown was no fluke. The entire tennis world was curious to see how the two fierce competitors would match up, especially since it had been nearly 4 years since they had played a WTA tour match against each other. Serena started the match atrociously and before long she was not only bageled (0-6) but was fast approaching elimination as Henin earned two match points in the second set on Serena's serve (3-5). After saving those match points (one with a service winner and the other with a forced error) Serena went on to win a string of 6 consecutive games and easily won the match. However, although Serena was victorious in the first meeting of many these two combatants had in 2007, the 3 others occurred in the quarterfinals of the three remaining Grand Slam tournaments of the year and all went Henin's way, with only the Wimbledon quarterfinal providing a fraction of the drama on display in this Miami final. It will be interesting to see if the two players meet in 2008 and now that Serena's ranking is back in the Top 10, it should occur a bit deeper in the tournament, possibly even on the final Sunday of a Slam.

4. M. Bartoli FRA d. J. Henin BEL, 1-6 7-5 6-1, Wimbledon Championships semifinal, London.

Of course tennis fans were unsurprised to see Henin losing to a French player at Wimbledon, since the defending champion Amelie Mauresmo had beaten the Belgian in the 2006 final. However, the Frecnchwoman the No. 1 player in the world lost to at Wimbledon in 2007 was Marion Bartoli, a relative unknown more widely recognized for her coach/father's unorthodox training regimens. Mauresmo underwent an appendectomy in early Spring and was never much of a factor on tour for the rest of the year. In this match, Bartoli was down a set and 5-3 against the fearsome Belgian when she stormed back to claim the 2nd set and continued her momentum to take the deciding set easily. The result was easily the most astonishing upset of 2007 and I would argue was the biggest upset of the current decade. Bartoli went on to become firmly ensconced in the Top 10 for the rest of the year to confirm that this result was no fluke. However, Henin got her revenge at the year-end championships in Madrid, refusing to let the Frenchwoman win a single game (double bagel).

5. V. Williams USA d. J. Jankovic SRB, 4-6 6-1 7-6(4), U.S. Open Quarterfinal, Flushing Meadows.

It's not often the Wimbledon final doesn't make into the Top 5 Best Matches of the Year but 2007 was that kinda year. Jelena Jankovic and Venus Williams both played several excellent matches during the year but this showdown at the final Slam was I think the best of their meetings in 2007. Unfortunately for Venus, I think she peaked in this quarterfinal match and thus was not at 100% against Henin in the semifinals. Jankovic also was simply outlasted here but this match could have gone either way, and was Venus' revenge for losing another incredibly tight match to Jankovic earlier in the year at the Charleston semifinals in a 3rd set tiebreak. Venus had demolished the other "Serbian sister" Ana Ivanovic in straight sets the previous round and thus earned the rare distinction of beating both Serbians in the same Grand Slam. However, Henin earned the even rarer distinction of beating both Williams sisters in a tournament and winning it. After this match it was revealed by her mother and coach Oracene Price that Venus had been complaining of tiredness and anemia was suspected. Hopefully the condition will be treated and Venus will be 100% and fully committed to the tour in 2008.

V. Williams d. M. Bartoli,
6-4 6-1, Wimbledon Championships final.
J. Henin d. A. Mauresmo,
7-5 6-7(4) 7-6(2), Eastbourne Open final.
A. Ivanovic d. N. Vaidisova CZE,
4-6 6-2 7-5, Wimbledon Championships quarterfinal.
M. Sharapova d. V. Williams USA,
2-6 6-2 7-5, Sony Ericsson Open 3rd Round.
V. Williams d. M. Sharapova RUS,
6-1 6-3, Wimbledon Championships 4th Round.
S. Kuznetsova d. J. Henin BEL, 6-4 5-7 6-4, Qatar Telecom German Open semifinal
A. Chakvetadze d. V. Williams USA,
6-7(5) 7-6(3) 6-2, Acura Classic quarterfinal.
A. Ivanovic d. S. Kuznetsova RUS,
3-6 6-4 7-6(4) , Qatar Telecom German Open final.
J. Jankovic d. M. Sharapova RUS, 4-6 6-3 7-5, Birmingham DFS Classic final.
E. Dementieva d. S. Williams USA 5-7 6-1 6-1, Kremlin Cup final.
A. Mauresmo d. K. Clijsters BEL,
6-4 7-6(4), Diamond Proximus Games final.
K. Clijsters d. J. Jankovic SRB, 4-6 7-6(1) 6-4, Medibank Sydney International final.


Albert said...

I am surprised you didn't include Henin-Venus USO semi final. I think it deserved at least an honorable mention.

eagleinyourmind said...

anyone see the toronto final between justine and jankovic? it was easily the best sustained shot-making i've seen all year from both ends, with plenty of crazy tension, ups-and-downs (even though justine won in straight sets...)

matches with both women at the top of their games are better than 61-62 beat-downs...

rabbit said...

"little-known Sybille Bammer"??!

Craig Hickman said...

mad can speak for himself, rabbit, but it's safe to say Sybille Bammer was "little-known" in January of 2007.

eagleinyourmind, it's interesting you point to Toronto. The best match of that event was Jankovic against Golovin in the semifinals. Talk about sustained shotmaking from both ends.

As for the final. I'm so sick of watching Jankovic choke to Justine, I can't find a lot to recommend in any of their encounters in 2007.

rabbit said...

I was kidding.

Craig Hickman said...

Oh, okay. Ha ha.

Mad Professah said...

I think the 61 62 beatdown of the WTA It girl in the final of a major deserved its status as the best match of the year. Jankovic played a lot of great matches last year but she WON very few of them, espcially against Henin.

Savannah said...

That beatdown in Melbourne deserves it's number one for several reasons.

First of all it was totally unexpected. I think some Serena fans felt she would win but not in the way she did. I rewatched that match recently and I don't think any player totally dominated another player more this year than in that match.

Second of all it set the tone for the year in women's tennis. Sharapova was never a factor in a major the rest of the year.

That match led directly to the US Open WTA draw which split the tour in two. Without Serena having shown the way does Aggie Radwanska dare do what she did in New York and stand up and refuse to be roadkill?

Was it the best quality match? Were tennisheads treated to great shotmaking and derring do by both women? Well one woman stepped up to the plate and the other seemed lost. Without that match does Sharapova fight like hell after backing into the YEC after Venus so graciously left the door open for her?
I think not.

"Best" may be what's throwing people off. It was the most influential and therefore the most important match of the year.

Craig Hickman said...

For the most part, I agree with mad's choice and Savannah's comment. But I didn't pick it as the best match although it's clear from where I sit that no player on either tour performed as well on a grand stage as did Serena in that final.

I think you'll be somewhat, not entirely, surprised at which match gets my Gonad Award in the upcoming weeks as best WTA match. It too was important and influential but not in quite the same way.

Alex said...

Craig - it's pretty obvious you have a Serena-fetish and really have it in for Justine. Don't worry the bias isn't too blatant.

Craig Hickman said...

Thanks, alex. If you didn't tell me that, I wouldn't have known.

brooklyn1006 said...

Fun list to read and I definitely agree with your #1! Everytime I think of that match, I think "YES!!!"