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2018 in review: The best WTA matches of the 2018 season

Live Tennis Staff in WTA Tour 19 Nov 2018
  • Our editors pick the best WTA Tour matches of 2018
  • Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and more feature but which pair played the best WTA match of the season?
Simona Halep and Sloane Stephens after the French Open final, one of our ten best WTA matches of 2018 (ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

The 2018 WTA Tour season saw some extraordinary matches - we pick the ten best played this year.

With the star players off on their holidays soaking up sun in the Maldives, or training hard for the 2019 season, we're missing our fix of women's tennis - badly! 

But before we look forward to another year of top-flight women's tennis, let's take a look back at the one we just enjoyed. 

We asked our core team of editors, Hannah Wilks, 'Leye Aduloju and Andrew Hendrie, to nominate the matches that stood out for them as the stars duelled from January to October.

In no particular order, here are the matches we picked as our top 10 WTA matches of 2018! 

1. Simona Halep d. Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 4-6, 9-7, Australian Open semifinal

Nominated by: Andrew Hendrie

It might have happened right at the beginning of the season, but I don’t think any other contest for the remainder of 2018 matched the pure drama and emotion of this one. It appeared as if the semi-final could be a one-sided affair after Halep raced out to a 5-0 lead after 13 minutes and also served for a 4-1 lead in the second set, but it ultimately transformed into a classic, with Kerber fighting back to level the match and force an advantage set in the third - the first time an Australian Open semi-final has gone beyond 6-6 since 2005.

Both players had match points as momentum swung rapidly towards the closing stages, while Halep and Kerber were each left gasping for air on their knees at various stages after multiple energy-sapping and breathtaking rallies. In the end it was Halep who prevailed, but both played their part in creating one of the most captivating matches of the year.

'It was very tough. I'm shaking, I'm emotional,' said Halep.

2. Simona Halep d. Sloane Stephens, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, French Open final

Nominated by: Hannah Wilks

Grand Slam finals don't always lend themselves to the best tennis - but the two that Simona Halep were involved in during 2018 were tremendous tussles, and the two matches she played against Sloane Stephens were unanimously acclaimed two of the best matches of the year.

The Rogers Cup final might have been the finer match throughout, but the drama, the scope of the occasion and what was at stake elevate this Roland Garros clash for me. First, Stephens played nine games of untouchable brilliance to take the first set 6-3; pummelling the American's usually-weaker backhand produced the worst possible results for Halep when Stephens broke with a backhand winner to lead 3-1. When Stephens is playing her best, she looks like she's broken tennis wide open and you can't imagine how she ever loses, and that was the performance she produced throughout the first set and a half, almost invariably coming out on top of lengthy rallies that drew gasps and screams from the crowd.

Stephens started to come down from the cloud she had been on in the second set, but still led by a break before Halep flipped the script. As Stephens's first serve faltered, Halep broke back and then levelled the match, climbing on top of her opponent in the decider as she reaped the rewards of having made it a physical contest from the start - and having committed to an aggressive approach. Watching Halep claim her maiden Grand Slam title and exorcise the demons of having lost to Jelena Ostapenko in the 2017 final after leading by a set and a break was, for me, what made this match unforgettable.

3. Maria Sharapova d. Jelena Ostapenko, 6-7(6), 6-4, 7-5, Rome QFs

Nominated by: Leye Aduloju.

For 3 hours and 10 minutes, Maria Sharapova and Jelena Ostapenko went head-to-head in rivetting ultra-aggressive slugfest, as they battled for a semifinal spot in Rome.

Given their styles of play and on-court mannerisms (aka. grunting), a match between Ostapenko and Sharapova was never likely to be for the purists - and this wasn't - as proven by 21 double faults and 101 unforced errors in total!

But amidst their imperfections, these ladies delivered a compelling contest, littered of rip-roaring winners and wild momentum swings.

In the end, it was Sharapova's relatively cleaner game- she made 21 less unforced errors- that just about got her over the line.

4. Simona Halep d. Lauren Davis 4-6, 6-4, 15-13, Australian Open R3

Nominated by: Andrew Hendrie

I personally thought the Australian Open was the most exciting tournament of the year on the women’s side, and once more Halep was involved, this time in a marathon clash with the diminutive Lauren Davis. It was a match that neither player deserved to lose as the pair combined to equal the record for the most games ever played in a women’s match at the Australian Open. Halep was dealing with an injured ankle and Davis almost completely ripped off her toenail on court, but they each soldiered on in a gripping showdown that ended with Halep emerging triumphant after three hours and 45 minutes under scorching temperatures inside Rod Laver Arena, saving three match points to boot.

'I’m almost dead,' Halep said after the match.

'You sit through one of those matches every 10 years,' coach Darren Cahill told Channel 7.

5. Naomi Osaka d. Aryna Sabalenka, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, US Open fourth round

Nominated by: Hannah Wilks

A lot of these matches feature gruelling contests between counterpunchers, but there's a special place in my heart for women who hit big winners, and this match showcased that style of play to perfection. 

It was a great year for young players on the WTA Tour, but Aryna Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka were its brightest young stars. Sabalenka came into this fourth-round encounter on an eight-match winning streak after claiming the New Haven title, not to mention the multiple wins over top-10 players she had scored during her breakthrough summer, and played scorching tennis throughout. But Osaka, though only about seven months older than Sabalenka, had more experience playing these types of matches and the Indian Wells champion kept a slightly cooler head to edge through the deciding set, which was on a knife's edge throughout - although that certainly didn't stop both young women going for their shots. 

It was an absolute feast of shotmaking, and in terms of the scoreline, was the toughest test Osaka faced on her way to a maiden Grand Slam title in New York - it was the only match in which she dropped a set. Sabalenka, meanwhile, would go on to win Wuhan and finish the year just outside the top 10. 

6. Daria Kasatkina d. Ons Jabeur, 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, Moscow final

Nominated by: Leye Aduloju

If only for the emotions and hug at the end, this was a beautiful match, but there was a lot more to like within the match itself, as two of the finest shot-makers on tour battled for the Moscow title.

For a set and a half, Jabeur, with her sumptuous blend of power and touch, looked set to cap a historic week with a first WTA title. She lead 6-2 4-1, but as the finish line approached, the Tunisian faltered and Kasatkina simultaneously raised her level.

Jabeur was playing her eighth match of an outstanding tournament - she came through the qualifiers - but a punishing week finally took its toll on her body towards the end, with the cramping 24-year-old barely able to walk as she dropped her serve, and the match, in the tenth game of the deciding set.

7. Simona Halep d. Sloane Stephens 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-4, Rogers Cup final

Nominated by: Andrew Hendrie

Once again Halep is involved (and the winner), but I couldn’t possibly leave out arguably the WTA’s most compelling current rivalry. Halep and Stephens combine to produce some scintillating tennis, with both players capable of turning defence into offence in the blink of an eye due to their supreme movement and racquet skills, and it almost always leads to punishing, jaw-dropping baseline exchanges for the majority of the match. Both players had chances to win, but it was Halep who repeated her French Open final triumph over Stephens, saving four set points in the opener before registering another three-set victory.

“She makes me play better and better every time we meet each other,' Halep said.

8. Petra Kvitova d. Mihaela Buzarnescu, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, Prague final

Nominated by: Hannah Wilks

As the final of an International-level event, the J&T Banka Prague Open, this one may have been missed by quite a few - but for me it was one of the most absorbing matches of the year. 

For two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the stakes may have been relatively small in terms of prize money and prestige and ranking points - it was the smallest of the five tournaments she won in 2018 - but the emotional stakes were through the roof. To win a title in front of her home crowd, having stayed with her parents while playing the tournament, clearly meant the world to the Czech as a way to exorcise some emotional demons - and to give back to her home fans after they supported her in the aftermath of the knife attack she suffered in late 2016. 

On the other side of the net, Mihaela Buzarnescu was in the midst of a mid-career surge which saw the Romanian - proud owner of a PhD - end 2018 at world no. 24 after having started 2017 outside the top 500 (and she would have climbed further if not for a very unlucky injury in Montreal). Buzarnescu's on-court demeanour isn't particularly endearing but she's a tremendously passionate competitor with a fun, crafty game, and she made Kvitova work for every single point during a lengthy, absorbing contest - made all the more so because of the consciousness that Kvitova needed to head off to Madrid, which had started the same day. The match itself was gripping, and Kvitova's emotion afterwards made it plain just how much it had meant to her to win it, and lift that title in front of her home crowd.

9. Caroline Wozniacki d. Simona Halep, 7-6(2), 3-6, 6-4, Australian Open final

Nominated by: Leye Aduloju

Another Melbourne classic between two great counter-punchers (I obviously have a thing for counter-punchers).

I'm not very sure if I covered this match on social or not, but this one will live long in the memory, given the stakes, the conditions, and the match itself.

Amidst soaring temperatures and humidity, Halep and Wozniacki put their bodies on the line for a maiden Grand Slam title. Halep, who had badly rolled her ankle earlier in the tournament, had her blood pressure checked in the second set as she battled exhaustion, while Wozniacki needed attention on her knee as the combatants left everything out there. Beyond the scintillating exchanges, this was a brutal examination of physical and mental fortitude, and it was Wozniacki who emerged with the win, and the world no. 1 ranking after a grueling two hours and 50 minutes.

10. Olga Danilovic d. Anastasia Potapova, 7-5, 6-7(4), 6-4

Nominated by: Hannah Wilks

For my last pick, I'm once again eschewing the Grand Slams and the Premiers - and in fact the top echelons of the rankings altogether. 

The ingredients are unpromising: Two players ranked outside the top 150, the final of an International-level clay event held in the weeks after Wimbledon (traditionally the absolute doldrums of the season). But two teenagers, Serbia's Olga Danilovic and Russia's Anastasia Potapova, made it one of the most exciting tussles I watched in 2018.

Danilovic, daughter of a basketball player and coached by the respected Alex Corretja, was in the draw as a lucky loser, but the world no. 187 blasted past Julia Goerges, Aliaksandra Sasnovich and Kaia Kanepi to make her first WTA Tour final, while Anastasia Potapova - a slightly more familiar figure - had repeatedly come back from a set down to make her first WTA final. She nearly pulled the same trick on Danilovic in a topsy-turvy final, but the Serb hung on to get the win by the skin of her teeth. The camaraderie between the two teenagers after the match, and the way that both youngsters kept going for their shots at the biggest moments, offered an intriguing glimpse into futures that might be very, very bright.

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2018 in review: The best WTA matches of the 2018 season

With the 2019 season fast approaching, we look back at the absolute best matches played in women's tennis over the past year - selected by our core team of editors, the matches include Grand Slam finals, showcase emerging rivalries and star Simona Halep, Naomi Osaka, Angelique Kerber and more

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