James of Moo's Tennis Blog is back with the second part of his overview of the best WTA matches in the season behind us. If you haven't seen Part 1, you can read it here, and don't forget to share your favourite 2013 WTA encounters in the comments below.
5. Sabine Lisicki d. Agnieszka Radwanska, 6-4 2-6 9-7 (Wimbledon, SF)
Nothing beats an extra time finish at Wimbledon as Sabine Lisicki and Agnieszka Radwanska proved in this thrilling semifinal. Women's Grand Slam semifinals were generally poor this year with six out of eight decided in straight sets, but this match alone made up for that. This contest had a similar vibe to Lisicki's clash with Serena as she played a fine first set, but then completely went off the boil in the second set as Radwanska, solid and highly capable on the grass, forced a deciding set. The third set was what made this such a fine match as the pair played a series of fantastic points under immense pressure.
Lisicki awoke from her slumber to come back from a break down in the third set to serve for a place in the final at 5-4. She was unable to fend off the nerves, but showed great character to keep a cool head and book her place in the final at the second time of asking as Radwanska, looking like a mummy with all the taping on her legs, faded terribly on serve. The biggest talking point from this match was probably the cold handshake from Radwanska. I can understand Radwanska's disappointment because she would have been a heavy favourite to defeat Marion Bartoli in the final, but not to even give Sabine eye contact in such a high profile match was disappointing.
4. Serena Williams d. Petra Kvitova, 3-6 6-3 7-5 (Doha, QF)
It is rare that anticipated matches live up to the expectation, but this was one of the few that exceeded them. I have always been fascinated by the potential that the match-up between Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova offers and this match proved that Petra, playing at her best, could give Serena a great match. The first set featured peak-Petra with a stunningly clean set of tennis. She served well, dictated play with her forehand and her volleying was sound. It took Serena until midway during the second set to get a break point on the Kvitova serve where she finally made the breakthrough and then quickly wrapped up the second set.
There was a lot on the line in this match for Serena as a win would take her to the world number one spot again. Kvitova led 4-1 15-0 in the decider, but Serena, aided by some fantastic angles, would not be denied as she came roaring back to win the match. This was a terrific tussle and I hope the WTA draw gods are kind in 2014 and deliver more Serena-Petra matches because they are always a lot of fun.
3. Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams, 7-6(6) 2-6 6-3 (Doha, F)
This year's Doha tournament was a real surprise with all the top players competing and some fantastic matches in the latter stages. I haven't seen this particular match, the final between Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams, mentioned in reviews of 2013, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The first set was scrappy, but intriguing nonetheless; the set was decided on the tiebreak where Azarenka looked to have lost her chance with a double fault to hand Serena a couple of set points. However the American, who was playing terribly in the first set by her insane standards, left the door open as Azarenka crunched some returns and took the opener.
The quality of the match ramped up significantly in the second and third sets with Serena finding her best form to take the second set comfortably. Serena looked like she would stroll to victory after going up 0-30 in the Azarenka's first service game in the third set, but the Belarusian put in one of the most impressive performances in the third set I watched all year. Azarenka, with a 2-11 head-to-head record against Serena at the time and having lost the US Open final in 2012 from a winning position, showed remarkable character to close out the match at the first time of asking.
2. Daniela Hantuchova d. Francesca Schiavone, 6-7(6) 6-4 7-6(3) (Birmingham, QF)
My favourite non-Grand Slam match is perhaps a surprise as I have chosen the quarterfinal from Birmingham between Daniela Hantuchova and Francesca Schiavone. I am slightly biased as I was in the crowd for the first two sets although to this day, I am still gutted I couldn't stay any longer as I had to catch my train… stupid rain!!! Anyway this was a sensational match between two of the most experienced players on the tour. I think what I liked most about this match was how it got better and better over the course of it's 3 hours and 23 minute duration.
Schiavone had all manner of leads with breaks in both the second and third sets, but Hantuchova, who looked close to retiring at one stage with a right foot injury, never gave up. It was the Slovakian's heart and fighting spirit that saw her edge past the Italian, who played a fine match herself and was quite majestic in defence. A third set tiebreak decided this one and it was a sensational forehand winner from Hantuchova at 4-3, which was the shot of the match and probably the shot of Daniela's career, based on the circumstances, that won her through. The icing on the cake was the warm handshake and respect both players showed after a truly epic battle. I still smile every time I watch highlights of this match!
1. Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka, 7-5 6-7(6) 6-1 (US Open, F)
Without doubt, the first two sets of the US Open final between Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka were greatly superior to anything else I watched on the WTA Tour this year. After a lacklustre tournament that was devoid of quality and storylines, the final between the two best players in the world gave the opportunity for the tournament to go out with a bang and boy did it do that. Immediately from the start, it was evident the wind would play a big part in the match. Serena, who said at one changeover "I can't play in this wind", struggled throughout the entirety of the first set. Azarenka played a magnificent game at 4-4 and had her chances to clinch the opening set; however Serena got out of a sticky situation at 4-5 40-40 and then settled to take the next two games and the first set.
The second set was the most dramatic and entertaining I watched all year. The crowd were incredibly vocal and I think it makes a big difference in making a match more exciting. Serena had all kinds of leads including twice serving the Championship, but Azarenka, determined and gritty throughout, forced the tiebreak. As Serena started to become more and more frustrated, Azarenka who was sporting some hideous sweat patches (shame on you, Nike) stepped up her game and played a tremendous tiebreak to force a decider. The physical and mental effort that it took for Azarenka to win the second set seemed to sap her of energy in the third set, which was unfortunate. Serena recovered well and finished the job like a world number one after all her issues in the second set. Yes, the third set was a dud, but the drama, the crowd and most important of all, the quality of tennis in the first two sets made this my favourite WTA match of 2013.
I hope you enjoyed my review of my favourite WTA matches of 2013. I'd love to hear what your favourite matches this year were too