For far too long women’s tennis has remained under scrutiny in terms of its quality and appeal, and has been relegated to playing the supporting act to the men. While there has been plenty of debate revolving around equal prize money for both men and women at Grand Slams, the women went all out this year to prove their worth. They entertained the tennis crowds the world over with their new brand of aggression and grit, featuring in some memorable matches throughout the course of the year. Here is my top 5 list of the best women’s matches for 2012: –
1.Serena Williams d Victoria Azarenka, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5, US Open Final
The final at Flushing Meadows pitted the world number 1 against the best player this season. Serena’s run to the final can at worst be termed comfortable, as she stream-rolled all her opponents losing just a mere 19 games. With the three-time champion in such ominous form, the writing was on the wall for the Belarusian. However, the title match was anything but a walk in the park for Williams. She dominated proceedings in the first set, taking it 6-2 after blasting 16 winners to Vika’s 2. But a slight loss of form and concentration on the American’s part, and the world number 1 was right back in it. The 6 foot tall Belarusian, taking advantage of Serena’s erratic play, staged a spirited fight back and we were tied at one set apiece. In the decider, Azarenka was on the verge of a shock win at 5-3, and that is when the wheels started to come off. With her back against the wall, Serena produced a remarkable comeback, so typical of her, to hold aloft the US Open crown. It was a nail-biting finish to one of the greatest women’s finals in years. Knowing well that she had laid it all out there on the court, the world number 1 was gracious in defeat: “I’m just honored to be standing with such a champion here. I definitely gave it all today. Stepping out of this court today I will have no regrets.”
2.Angelique Kerber d Sabine Lisicki, 6-3, 6-7(7), 7-5, Wimbledon Quarterfinal
This all-German encounter at Wimbledon this year had a little bit of everything – drama, emotions and plot twists of a degree similar to an Alfred Hitchcock classic. What this match lacked in quality and elegance, more than made up for in its character and animation. With a semi-final place beckoning, the two blondes went toe-to-toe for three long, roller-coaster sets inside the closed Centre Court roof. Kerber, 24 and Lisicki, 23 have very contrasting game styles – the former a great retriever, while the latter know for her offense – so their match-up had the potential of being a classic, and it surely did not disappoint. The older German clinched the first set and ran off to a 3-0 lead, and just when you thought that Lisicki was done and dusted, she dug deep and drew level. Lisicki went on to save three match points at 4-5 and in the tie-break, before stealing the second set away from her opponent. This added to the frustration of an already volatile Kerber, who rolled her eyes and looked unhappy throughout the final set. Yet, when Lisicki took the lead and served for the match, Kerber relaxed and took advantage of her hit-and-miss opponent. In a strange turn of events, the tanking Kerber somehow pulled off the win and the two exchanged a cold handshake at the net. There was bad body language and a lot of psychological ups and downs on display, but the match did not fail to entertain.
3.Victoria Azarenka d Angelique Kerber, 6-7(13), 7-6(2), 6-4, WTA Championships Istanbul Round Robin
With the year-end top ranking on the line, Azarenka had to bank on all her reserves to sneak out a three-set win against her German counterpart. She had to fight off an in-form Kerber and a couple of match points before she got to the finish line. The first set tiebreak equaled the longest in championships’ history and the match also tied the WTA Championships’ record for most games played at 36. After a three-hour epic battle that saw some high-quality shot-making and high drama, the two women were proud of their efforts.
4.Victoria Azarenka d Samantha Stosur, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(5), US Open Quarterfinal
With the way the world number 1 cruised through the first set, nobody would have anticipated this quarterfinal turning into a classic. In front of a half-empty Arthur Ashe stadium and under dark clouds, there was little to inspire the Australian, who had never even managed a set off Azarenka in their six previous encounters. Using her big forehand, Stosur made an impressive come back, clinching the second set. The final set brought out the best of the two reigning hard court Slam holders and saw a series of momentum shifts. In a tense third set tiebreak, Azarenka hit a beautiful, spur-of the-moment drop shot to set up match point. One final forced error from the Australian and Azarenka clinched her first semi-final berth at Flushing Meadows.
5.Serena Williams d Zheng Jie, 6-7(5), 6-2, 9-7, Wimbledon Third Round
In a rematch of their 2008 semi-final at SW19, the diminutive Chinese showcased all her grass court prowess to push the four-time champion to the limit. With Hollywood legend Dustin Hoffman in her player’s box, Williams had plenty of reason to get inspired. She dug deep and blasted a record 23 aces to hold off the Chinese challenge in a real knife-edge battle. It was matches like these that kick-started Serena’s impressive run of form for the rest of the season.