Biggest winner: Daria Kasatkina (d. V. Williams 6-7 6-3 6-3)
There was a lot of hype surrounding Daria Kasatkina heading into season 2016 with many expecting the young Russian to climb up the rankings. However I don’t think many would have expected the 18-year-old to make such a massive impact in her first match of the season.
The Russian claimed easily the greatest victory of her career by upsetting defending Champion Venus Williams in three sets in the first round at the ASB Classic in Auckland. The manner in which Daria won was particularly impressive, after losing a tight opening set it would have been very easy for the Russian to become disheartened, however to the contrary she actually stepped up her game, it was very refreshing to see. Daria displayed her all-round game, her great movement and flashy forehand stood out. Now the challenge for Daria is to quickly forget about the victory and concentrate on moving further through the draw.
Biggest loser: Ana Ivanovic (d. by N. Broady 5-7 4-6)
Ana Ivanovic made a horrific start to her 2016 season, suffering an embarrassing straight sets loss to British qualifier Naomi Broady. After a disappointing 2015 season, Ivanovic would have been hoping to gain some much needed confidence in Auckland however this result will do the exact opposite and has the potential to have a lasting effect.
Ivanovic never looked comfortable throughout her first match of the season. Ana unable to read the Naomi’s serve as the Brit fired 14 aces past her racquet. Ivanovic’s own serve was as erratic as ever, committing 8 double faults including a couple towards the end of the match at very crucial stages. Ivanovic clearly has a lot to work on before stepping onto the court in Melbourne.
5. Roland Garros R3: Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-4 6-2
Victoria Azarenka came extremely close to prematurely ending Serena’s 2015 Roland Garros campaign when they met in the third round in Paris. The Belarussian led Serena by a set and a break but was unable to finish off the world number 1, a reoccurring theme in their matches in season 2015. Matches between Serena and Vika are famous for their extremely high intensity, this one was no different and it was played at a very high standard, from start to finish.
Serena and Vika’s third round clash in Paris loomed as a very difficult early round test for the American, one that she was able to navigate her way through. An inspired Azarenka took a 6-3 4-2 lead in this match and seem well positioned to cause an upset. However just like their meeting in Madrid a couple of weeks prior to this match, Azarenka would get tight as the finish line neared whilst Serena Williams would raise her level to ultimately force a deciding set.
Serena really ran away with the match in the deciding set, once again proving too strong for Azarenka when it mattered most. Serena finished the match with 41 winners and 21 unforced errors whilst Azarenka ended the match with 21 winners and 21 unforced errors.
The Birmingham Final between Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova was a classic. A high quality, close encounter featuring contrasting styles resulting in a supremely entertaining match. Angie’s fighting qualities really stood out in this match, the German was able to come from a set and a break down against a red-hot Pliskova to claim her first career title on a grass court.
Unpredictability and continuous momentum swings were a key feature in this match. Kerber was in control for the majority of the opening set but failed to serve it out at 5-4 before Pliskova just edged past the German in the tiebreak. Pliskova captured an early break in the second to take a commanding lead but Kerber would raise her level to win 6 of the next 8 games to force a deciding set. Angie hit 13 winners and just 2 unforced errors in the second set.
The third set was a lot like the first, Kerber led by at least a break for the majority. Kerber had numerous chances to go up a double break but Pliskova came up with some big serves to keep herself in the match. Kerber would again fail to close out the set at 5-4 before being pushed all the way to a tiebreak. With everything to play for in the tiebreak, it was Kerber who stepped up and executed her game to claim an outstanding victory.
Kerber finished the match with 34 winners and just 14 unforced errors whilst Pliskova finished with 51 winners and 42 unforced errors.
The quarter-final clash between Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska at Stanford was magical. Spectacular shotmaking was the key theme in this match, both ladies generally had to come up with something quite special just to win a point in this match-up.
Radwanska was a walking highlight reel for the majority of the match and seemed to be heading towards a straight set victory. However despite being the better player for almost all of the first two sets Radwanska was unable to capitalise, Kerber’s famous fight and determination kept her in the match and would pounce at her first real opportunity to send the match to a deciding set.
There was no letup from either lady in the deciding set, both continued to play jaw-dropping tennis. It was Kerber who was ultimately more solid and reliable under pressure at the end of the deciding set. Kerber would win the match and eventually go on to win the title in Stanford.
2. Wimbledon QF: Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka 3-6 6-2 6-3
Serena and Vika’s third and final meeting in 2015 was their best. The match followed a very similar pattern to their two previous matches in 2015, Azarenka opened up a commanding lead before Serena Williams came fighting back to take the match in 3 sets. Their quarter-final meeting at Wimbledon may not have been their most dramatic clash but it was certainly their highest quality match of the year.
A determined Victoria Azarenka came out firing in this match to take the opening set, Serena had to respond and she certainly did. Serena’s level of play in the second and third sets was arguably the best she played all year. Azarenka played her part in the match, keeping pretty close in the deciding set, only one break of serve was the difference in the end. Serena finished the match with 46 winners including 17 aces and just 12 unforced errors whilst Azarenka finished the match with 20 winners and 11 unforced errors.
Serena and Vika’s rivalry remains the best rivalry on the WTA tour. Hopefully Vika can continue to build her ranking in 2016 and these two will play many great matches towards the end of the biggest tournaments.
1. U.S Open R3: Victoria Azarenka def. Angelique Kerber 7-5 2-6 6-4
Picking the match of the season was actually quite easy this year, Victoria Azarenka’s epic third round victory over Angelique Kerber in New York stood out from the rest of the matches. This match was played at an unbelievably high quality from start to finish and ended in dramatic circumstances when Angelique Kerber saved 5 match points an epic service game before Azarenka eventually served out the match.
The drama towards the end of the first set was equally memorable. Kerber seemed to be in total control when she served for the set at 5-3, however the German was unable to convert set point and despite saving multiple break points was unable to hold the Belarussian back. A determined Vika would go on to win the next three games to take the opening set. Kerber came back with a vengeance in the second set, rocketing her way back into the match with a clinical set of tennis to level the match at one set apiece.
Azarenka claimed a crucial break in the middle of the deciding set and forced Kerber to serve to stay in the match at 3-5. The ninth game of the set would end being one of the best games of tennis of the year, Kerber would save 5 match points, the majority were saved with winners. Kerber would eventually hold and force Azarenka to serve out the match. The Belarussian made no mistake, holding to love to clinch a memorable victory.
10. U.S Open SF: Roberta Vinci d. Serena Williams 2-6 6-4 6-4
Roberta Vinci caused the biggest upset of the year when she defeated Serena Williams at the semi-final stage of the U.S Open. Serena was just 2 victories away from winning all 4 Grand Slams in 2015, no one gave Vinci a chance heading into the clash. However the Italian played the match of her life, coming from a set down to hand the 3-time defending champion an incredibly devastating loss. Vinci’s win was undoubtedly one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament and will be remembered for long time.
After comfortably claiming the opening set, it looked like Serena was on track for a routine victory. The world number 1 started to become tighter and tighter as the match wore on and Vinci was good enough to raise her level the make the most of the situation. Vinci played unbelievably well in the final set, particularly towards the end. Vinci closed the match out to love, hitting multiple winners at the net.
What made this victory even more incredible is that Serena didn't actually play poorly. Serena wasn't at her best but she finished the match with some pretty decent statistics, hitting 50 winners and 40 unforced errors including 16 aces and just 4 doubles faults. Vinci finished the match with 19 winners and 20 unforced errors. Serena actually won 8 more points but couldn't get the job done.
9. Stuttgart R2: Angelique Kerber d. Maria Sharapova 2-6 7-5 6-1
Angelique Kerber produced one of the best individual performances of the season when came from a set down to defeat three-time defending champion Maria Sharapova in the secondround in Stuttgart. Kerber played some ridiculously good tennis in this match to hand Sharapova her very first loss on the clay in Stuttgart. Sharapova seems to bring the best out of Angie, the German defeated Maria in an epic at Wimbledon last year in what was one of the matches of the year.
The way Kerber was able to absorb and redirect Maria’s pace in this match was first class, Angie’s anticipation in this match was also quite spectacular. Maria was far too good in the opening set but Angie came back with a vengeance. The second and third sets were full of highlights from the German’s racquet. Angie came up with some scintillating tennis to close a tight second set before running away with the match in the decider in front of her home crowd.
Maria tried to rev herself up at the start of the deciding set but she was unable to keep up with the German. Angie was just far too good, a breathtaking performance by Angie to capture another win over Maria.
8. Madrid R3: Serena Williams d. Victoria Azarenka 7-6 3-6 7-6
Despite having a disappointing season, Victoria Azarenka remained one of Serena's biggest threats in 2015 and features prominently in my list of top 20 matches. Azarenka and Serena met on 3 occasions in 2015, all 3 matches were memorable. Azarenka was in a winning position in each match, however Serena would ultimately battle her way to victory on each occasion. Their first meeting of the year had the most dramatic ending, Azarenka came agonizingly close to handing Serena her first loss of the year but was unable to get the job done when it mattered most despite having a 40-0 lead serving for the match at 6-5 in the third set.
The first set was extremely close and could have really gone either way but Serena was too solid in the tiebreaker. Azarenka would justly send the match to a decider which is where all of the real drama would take place. Azarenka will remember the third set for years to come.
The Belarussian would save a match point in the tenth game of the deciding set before breaking the world number 1 to give herself a chance to serve out the match. Azarenka was 40-0 up but couldn't finish Serena off. Serena saved the first two match points with huge groundstrokes before Azarenka unbelievably served 3 double faults in a row. It was a game that pretty much summed up Azarenka’s luck in 2015. Azarenka would never recover in the deciding tiebreaker, Serena stormed to victory from the jaws of defeat.
7. AO R4: Dominika Cibulkova d. Victoria Azarenka 6-2 3-6 6-3
Dominika Cibulkova and Victoria Azarenka’s fourth round battle at the Australian Open was an epic. The two produced some of the best exchanges from the baseline of the year. Dominika was particularly impressive, the Slovakian was at her devastating best finishing the match with 44 winners and just 29 unforced errors in what was probably her best performance of an injury plagued season.
What made this match so great was that the level of play increased in each set. Cibulkova was on fire in the first set, winning 6 games in a row to take the lead. Azarenka responded in the second set, really raising her level and intensity to send the match to a decider. It was up to Cibulkova to respond and she did, blasting her way past Azarenka with her fantastic movement and thunderous groundstrokes.
6. Brisbane R1: Karolina Pliskova d. Victoria Azarenka 4-6 7-6 6-4
Karolina Pliskova was one the biggest improver's in season 2015. The Czech made an impact in her very first match of the year, producing one of her best performances of the year to edge past Victoria Azarenka in a memorable match in Brisbane.
Karolina showed great resistance and fighting spirit in this match, Azarenka twice led by a set and a break and would serve for the match at 5-4 in the second set where she would fail to convert a match point. The second set would eventually be decided by a tiebreaker, Azarenka would again see a match point come and go as Pliskova played bold tennis under pressure to force a deciding set.
The third set was extremely close and was played at a very high level. Pliskova obtained the only break of the set at 4-4 before saving multiple break points with winners to serve out the match. Pliskova’s ability to hit the lines under extreme pressure really stood out in this match, she was rewarded with a victory after a tick over 3 hours of play.
15. U.S Open R2: Petra Cetkovska d. Caroline Wozniacki 6-4 5-7 7-6
One of the biggest upsets of the year came in the second round at Flushing Meadows where Petra Cetkovska stunned 2014 U.S Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki. This victory came out of nowhere for Cetkovska who had not won a main draw tour level match prior to the U.S Open in 2015.
This match was a classic case of attack vs defence, in the end fortune favoured the brave. Cetkovska finished the match with a whopping 61 winners and 60 unforced errors whilst Wozniacki hit 23 winners and committed 32 unforced errors. Cetkovska's backhand was particularly destructive, hitting winners from every part of the court off her favourite wing.
The match was full of drama, late night on Arthur Ashe Stadium in front of a vocal New York crowd. Cetkovska looked to heading for a straight set victory when she led 6-4 3-0. Wozniacki had to dig deep to send the match to a decider. The real drama took place towards the end of the deciding set, Cetkovska saved four match points on her serve before producing a phenomenal level of tennis to blow Wozniacki off the court in the deciding tiebreaker.
Francesca Schiavone and Svetlana Kuznetsova have produced some epic matches over the years, their marathon second round clash at Roland Garros this year was certainly one of their best. Schiavone and Kuznetsova played out the longest ever match at Grand Slam in the open era at the Australian Open in 2011, a match that lasted 4 hours and 44 minutes. This match wasn’t quite as long lasting 3 hours and 49 minutes but it was just as dramatic. A memorable match between two former champions at Roland Garros.
The match was extremely tight from start to finish, Kuznetsova and Schiavone know each other’s games so well making it difficult just to win points in this match-up. Kuznetsova had her fair share of leads in the deciding set, twice serving for the match and even having a match point on her serve. However Schiavone’s heroics would deny the Russian, claiming another historic victory on the French clay.
This is the first of many matches in my list of top 20 to feature Angelique Kerber. The German and Caroline Wozniacki played out one of the most entertaining finals of the year in Stuttgart. Both ladies produced a high level of tennis as they looked to claim a rare clay court title. Kerber would ultimately finish on top to record back-to- back titles after claiming the title in Charleston the week before, much to the delight of the German crowd.
Angie was surprisingly totally outplayed by Wozniacki in the first set but really upped her intensity and level in the second set to send the match to a decider. The final set was particularly epic. Angie and Caroline were giving their all, it would usually take something pretty special in this match just to win a point.
It was Wozniacki who opened up a lead in the deciding set, serving for the match at 5-3. However Kerber would come roaring back, thriving off the energy from the crowd Kerber would go on to win 4 straight games to claim one of the biggest titles of her career.
12. Australian Open F: Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova 6-3 7-6
The Australian Open final may not have gone the distance but the quality of this match was certainly high enough to warrant being considered one of the best matches of the year. Serena Williams was forced to work extremely hard for her 19th Grand Slam title. Matches between Serena and Maria are always played at such a high intensity: this was no exception. Both Serena and Maria unleashed some almighty roars, the tension in the air was obvious.
The first set was pretty routine for Serena, it looked like she would cruise to another comfortable victory over Maria. However the Russian really raised her game in the second set and went toe to toe with the world number 1. The second set was extremely close, there were no breaks of serve. Both ladies had opportunities to break but both served very well under pressure.
Maria saved a championship point towards the end of the set before forcing a tiebreaker.The tiebreaker was particularly epic, with so much one the line the two best players in the world gave it their absolute all. Serena’s serve was ultimately the difference, the match fittingly ended with an ace by the American. Serena’s reaction and extremely moving speech after the match added to the occasion.
The 83-minute first set between Garbine Muguruza and Angelique Kerber at Wimbledon was arguably the best set of tennis of the year. The rest of the match was a bit of a letdown, both players were exhausted after the first set and the quality dropped a little.
The first set was truly epic, particularly towards the end. Muguruza survived a 16 minute 12th game, saving 5 set points in the process to send the set to a tiebreaker. The quality of tennis in the 17-minute tiebreak was jaw-dropping. Muguruza would save 4 more set points before triumphing 14-12. Muguruza ended up saving 9 set points in total, most of them were with winners.
The second and third sets were very one-sided, with Kerber sending the match to a decider before Muguruza stormed to victory. The Spaniard’s aggression was ultimately the difference, Garbine hit 57 winners to just 43 unforced errors whilst Kerber ended with a respectable 33 winners and 15 unforced errors.
Unfortunately there seem to be no highlight videos of the Schiavone-Kuznetsova match or the Muguruza-Kerber match.
20. Miami SF: Serena Williams d. Simona Halep 6-2 4-6 7-5
Simona Halep has emerged as one of Serena’s biggest threats over the last year, after thumping the world number 1 in Singapore last year, Simona came extremely close to another victory over Serena at the semi-final stage in Miami. This match was all about power vs defence. Serena was brutally striking the ball but Simona’s outstanding movement and counter-punching ability resulted in an extremely competitive semi-final in front of a vocal crowd in Miami.
The crowd was actually a major factor in this match, despite Serena being an 8 time former champion and playing at her home event, the majority of the crowd were vocally supporting the Romanian. Serena was not happy about this and really let it get to her.
The final set was particularly entertaining, Serena was battling herself, the crowd and Simona. Serena led 4-1 but Halep managed to fight back to level the set at 5-5. In the end Serena had too much firepower and captured a memorable win. This rivalry is one which should flourish over the next couple of years, Simona looks like the biggest chance to contend for the number 1 ranking and has shown that she is capable of beating the American.
19. Singapore F: Aga Radwanska d. Petra Kvitova 6-2 4-6 6-3
This is the only match to make the list from the WTA Finals in Singapore. The tournament didn't produce as many truly spectacular matches as it usually does. However the best was saved until last. The final between Aga and Petra was truly memorable, a battle of extreme contrasting styles. Radwanska would ultimately produce an amazingly clean performance to prevail and claim the biggest title of her career.
Remarkably, Radwanska finished the match with just 5 unforced errors and 15 winners whilst Kvitova hit 41 winners and committed 53 unforced errors. It was match unlike any other, it is extremely rare to see a player hit just 5 unforced errors in a highly competitive final against a high quality opponent.
Radwanska totally outplayed an erratic Kvitova in the first set and a bit before the Czech starting playing lights out tennis to send the match into a decider. Kvitova would carry her momentum into the decider where she captured an early break. Radwanska managed to weather the storm before raising her level to claim a famous victory.
18. Wimbledon R3: Jelena Jankovic d. Petra Kvitova 3-6 7-5 6-4
Wimbledon was full of great matches in 2015, the first of the matches from Wimbledon to make the list is Jankovic’s epic victory over Petra Kvitova, the defending champion.
Jelena Jankovic’s shock third round victory over Petra Kvitova at Wimbledon was one of the biggest upsets of the year. Kvitova was the defending champion at the event and was considered one of the favourites after storming through her first two matches. Kvitova looked like she would cruise through this match but Jankovic staged a stunning fightback to record one of her greatest victories.
Kvitova was at her ruthless best early in this match, opening up a lead by a set and a break. However Jankovic would show all of her famous fighting qualities to turn the second set around before claiming a tight deciding set. It really was a superb performance by Jankovic, especially considering it was on her least preferred surface up against an opponent that has played her best tennis on grass.
17. Toronto SF: Belinda Bencic d. Serena Williams 3-6 7-5 6-4
Belinda Bencic produced the biggest victory of her career thus far and one of the biggest upsets of the year when she defeated Serena Williams at the semi-final stage of the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Bencic played superb tennis leading into the match but she was given little chances against the almighty world number 1, however Bencic would produce a stunning display to dent Serena’s U.S Open preparations.
What made Bencic’s victory over Serena more special is that she was forced to come from a set down. Serena is the best front runner in the game, coming from a set down to defeat Serena is almost unheard of. Serena comfortably won the opening set before Bencic raised her level to claim a tight second set and send the match to a decider.
Bencic had a 5-1 lead in the deciding set before Serena came roaring back with 3 straight games. It looked like Serena would make another trademark comeback as Bencic twice failed to serve out the match. However Bencic would break for the match to secure an extraordinary win before going on to win the title.
16. Wimbledon R3: Serena Williams d. Heather Watson, 6-2 4-6 7-5
Serena Williams and Heather Watson’s third round clash at Wimbledon exceeded all expectations. Heather Watson came agonisingly close to pulling off one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament and sending the vocal British crowd into hysterics.
Serena comfortably claimed the opening set and looked destined for a routine victory. However Watson became much more competitive in the second set and a result the British crowd became a major factor. Watson claimed the crucial break in the ninth game before serving out the set to a massive standing ovation from the crowd.
Watson opened up a 3-0 lead in the deciding set and a famous upset suddenly seemed possible. Serena would raise her level to produce a signature comeback, a truly memorable clash. Serena was forced to work so much harder than expected, the world number 1 ended the match with 53 winners including 13 aces and just 33 unforced errors.