Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka faced off four times this year, but the final at the Western & Southern Open was the most dramatic. (Aaron Doster/Icon SMI)
The Beyond The Baseline awards are our look back at the best — and worst — of the tennis season. Today we highlight some of the best women’s singles matches, leading with the tightly contested match between Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams in the final of the Western & Southern Open. Click here for our complete archive of year-end awards.
Victoria Azarenka d. Serena Williams 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (8) in the final of the Western & Southern Open.
Three of their four meetings this season went the full three sets, but Azarenka's comeback win over Williams in Cincinnati featured the most dramatic finish. Williams was broken when serving for the match at 5-4, leading to a tiebreaker. Serena built a 5-4 lead, only to miss a backhand volley that would have given her match point. Azarenka finally sealed the deal in the see-saw tiebreaker with some phenomenal net play. At 6-6, she hit a beautiful volley winner and won the next point to notch her second win over Williams this season.
(via The FanChild)
Williams got her revenge a few weeks later when she beat Azarenka 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1 in a memorable U.S. Open final, which also could have made this list. Click here for the full match.
Sabine Lisicki d. Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 2-6, 9-7 in the semifinals of Wimbledon.
Radwanska never recovered from what could have been. Heading into the semifinals, the 2012 Wimbledon finalist was the highest seed remaining and was 10-0 combined against Marion Bartoli and Kirsten Flipkens, the other potential finalists. She led 3-0 in the final set before Lisicki found her range just in time. Radwanska broke at 4-5 to stay alive, but Lisicki got the decisive break at 7-all. To top it all off, the post-match handshake was the coldest we've seen recently. When it came to drama and shot-making, no match was better this year.
Sabine Lisicki d. Serena Williams 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 in the fourth round of Wimbledon.
After dropping the first set, Williams won nine games in a row to take the second set and open a 3-0 lead in the third. The defending champion, who was riding a 34-match winning streak, with a 3-0 lead in the final set at Wimbledon? That's turn-off-the-TV time in most circumstances. But Lisicki is one of the few players with the weapons to hit through Williams, and as the German battled her way back to level the third set, Serena tightened up. She was broken after playing a horrible game at 4-4, and Lisicki boom-boomed her way to a service hold and the win.
Serena Williams d. Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the quarterfinals of the Qatar Open.
Serena's return to the No. 1 ranking was inevitable whether she won this match or not, but the opportunity to clinch it early in the season clearly motivated her to make the trek to the Middle East. Not unlike her matchup with Lisicki, Williams knows that Kvitova's lefty power can cause her problems, especially when she's not at her best. Sure enough, Williams fought through the bum ankle that soured her Australian Open campaign to even the match, but fell behind 1-4 in the third. She went on to take six of the last seven games to win the match and become the oldest WTA No. 1 in history.
(via Top 10 Tennis Network)
Victoria Azarenka d. Li Na 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Australian Open.
What the match lacked in quality was made up for in drama. Azarenka came in as the villain after her questionable medical timeout during her semifinal win over Sloane Stephens, and she was booed and mocked as the match began. Li seemed poised to win her second major title, but then she took not one, but two bad tumbles -- the second of which required trainers to evaluate her for concussion symptoms. From there, the match -- which lasted 2 hours, 40 minutes and included a 10-minute delay for Australia Day fireworks -- was nothing more than an intriguing battle for momentum and a fight against nerves for both players.
Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 in the final of the French Open.
This was the most evenly contested match between Williams and Sharapova in years. (Sharapova took a set off Williams in the Sony Open final in March but lost the third 6-0.) The tense affair saw Sharapova fighting to both red-line her game and play with belief, while Williams tried to stay calm and ease the nerves creeping in with her first French Open title since 2002 so tantalizingly close.
Urszula Radwanska d. Venus Williams 7-6 (7) 6-7 (4), 6-4 in the first round of the French Open.
Venus' raw competitiveness was on full display during this 3-hour, 19-minute marathon. Playing with the back injury that would affect her most of the season, Venus came within three points of suffering a straight-set loss. Down 0-4 in the second-set tiebreaker, Venus reeled off seven straight points to force the final set. Radwanska quickly built a 4-0 lead in the third set before Venus once again fought back, getting to 4-5 amid chants of "Let's go, Venus!" from the crowd. Radwanska, however, finally closed it out to hand Venus her first opening-round loss at Roland Garros since 2001.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands d. Anastasia Rodionova 6-4, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (7) in the first round of the Family Circle Cup.
You had to be there to believe this one. Lasting 3 hours, 42 minutes, it was the longest WTA match of the season, and it was so thoroughly entertaining that other players crowded onto an overlooking balcony to watch. Rodionova spent a significant portion of the match throwing tantrums and yelling at anyone and everyone -- whether it was the umpire, the trainer or the fans sitting on a packed Althea Gibson Court. Injured and cramping, Rodionova screamed in anguish during points, limped in between points and still played solid tennis. And through all that absurdity, Mattek-Sands struggled to maintain her focus and intensity.
The drama begins at the 25th minute:
Petra Kvitova d. Venus Williams 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in the semifinals of the Pan Pacific Open.
Venus had her best week of the year in Tokyo, playing at an impressively high level in defeating Mona Barthel, Azarenka, Simona Halep and Genie Bouchard and pushing Kvitova to the brink. The final set against Kvitova was tense, with both players saving multiple break points to force the tiebreaker.
Sorana Cirstea d. Caroline Wozniacki 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-4 in the second round of the Rogers Cup.
Cirstea upset three top-10 players on a fantastic run to the final, but no win was as impressive as her comeback against Wozniacki. She saved two match points in the second set and reeled off 15 straight points behind some gutsy hitting, and she managed to sustain that level through the tight final set. The contrast of styles between Cirstea's power and Wozniacki's defense made this a fun one to watch.