Thursday, December 01, 2016

The 2016 Match Compendium

The 2016 WTA season is complete, but we surely can't move on without a supersized look back at the most memorable matches of the year, right? Well, we COULD, but we don't HAVE to.

How many can you remember? (Not that it matters... Backspin will do the remembering for you.)

179 players. 7 Fed Cup teams. 266 matches. On your mark, get set... go!

They gave it their all, so their entertaining efforts should be remembered.

1. Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Aga Radwanska
Anytime Aga Radwanska steps onto a tennis court armed with her wand-like racket (and magician's mind), the overwhelming sense pervades that anything might happen -- including something you may have never seen ever before. Throw Dominika Cibulkova, tennis' always-in-motion version of a human sparkplug, into the mix and you get the sort of match that graced Court Three on Day 8 of Wimbledon.

A Round of 16 match that expertly doubled as performance art. A contest permeated with a menagerie of rallies that highlighted both touch and power, as well as unyieding tenacity, stubborn insistence and, naturally, a touch of magic dust (we ARE talking about a Radwanska match, after all). In the latter stages of its three-hour length, this shifting-in-momentum, marathon battle of wills left one of the most fit players on tour often bending over in exhaustion, and sometimes going so far as to roll over flat on her back and wish for it all to end. As long as she was declared the winner.

As it turned out, Cibulkova got her wish.

While much of the talk of WTA tennis in 2016 focused on things happening OFF the actual courts on which the sport lives and breathes, something happened a little under the radar, at least until this match. Namely, the burgeoning novella of dramatic excellence co-authored over the first half of the season by Cibulkova and Radwanska.

Going into their 4th Round meeting, the two women had already put together a three-match dance worthy of its own Tennis Channel marathon The other three matches, of course, can be found later in this Match Compendium but, essentially, here's what happened: In Indian Wells, Radwanska overcame Cibulkova's power shots and a 5-2 3rd set deficit, saving a MP and winning 7-5. In Madrid, Radwanska recovered from a set and 5-3 deficit to force a 3rd, then saw Cibulkova erase a break lead there and emerge the victor. Just before their Wimbledon clash, in Eastbourne, Radwanska led by a set and 2-0 when rain put a stop to her momentum, then the two returned a day later and Cibulkova broke back and pulled out the match. Since then, her winning streak was at eight matches heading into this match vs. the former Wimbledon finalist and #3 seed.

Even with all that, the two outdid themselves in 2016 match #4.

In the early going, it appeared as if Radwanska might have played herself out in her "classic Aga" 3rd Round win on the Middle Sunday vs. Katerina Siniakova. Cibulkova's power and aggression seized control early and threatened to subdue the Pole's magic tendencies and, at least at this slam, her amazing run of luck, which included saving three MP (one on a net cord) against Ana Konjuh in the 2nd Round, then seeing the young Croat be largely denied the upset after stepping on a ball while running for a drop shot, badly rolling her ankle. The #19-seeded Slovak broke Radwanska for a 3-1 lead, then forced her to save two BP in game #6 just to avoid going down a double break and essentially ceding the opening set. She held for 5-2, but was never able to reach BP on Cibulkova's serve. The Slovak held for 6-3 to claim the 1st set.

Cibulkova continued to out-hit Radwanska in the 2nd. In game #3, she went up love/40 on the Pole's serve and broke for 2-1. But Aga wasn't going away. She took a 15/40 lead a game later, and broke back with a drop shot that produced an error from the Slovak, then staved off the ongoing pressure applied by Cibulkova and held for 3-2. In game #7, the Slovak went up love/30 on Radwanska's serve, staved off a GP, and broke her for 4-3 when an Aga backhand went long. Again, though, Radwanksa would not go away quietly. She broke back a game later as Cibulkova was forced into three consecutive errors to end the game.

But in a match that would ultimately be filled to the brim with seesawing momentum shifts, Cibulkova's forehand winner broke yet again for 5-4, as Radwanska continued to struggle to use her full arsenal of shot variety due to the Slovak's power and pattern of consistently hitting most of her shots from inside the baseline. Finally, serving for the match, Cibulkova looked ready to put a stake through the heart of the Pole's Wimbledon dreams for yet another year. She went up 30/15 in game #10, only to see Radwanska pass her with a backhand. A Cibulkova DF followed and she was BP down. It was saved, but BP #2 arrived after Aga won a point that covered the entire court, from a drop shot at the net to all corners. Still, though, Aga had little margin for error. She netted a forehand return and Cibulkova was at MP.

Was this match not going to go the requisite three sets? Oh, come on...of course it was.

Cibulkova's wide backhand squandered her chance at a carefree afternoon and Radwanska soon reached BP #3. She stealthily moved in to the net to put away a FH volley and broke for 5-5. And away they went. Aga held for 6-5, then hit a forehand winner to go up 15/30 on Cibulkova's serve in game #12. Suddenly, momentum had turned enough to allow Radwanska to join the match midstream and quickly get up to speed. It took her nearly two full sets, but she'd finally broken down Cibulkova's defenses enough to play her OWN game. Flashing her renowned variety and knack for mind games, Aga began to fully utilize her great skills for anticipation, point construction and deft racket work. A backhand down the line winner gave Radwanska a SP, then Cibulkova's own backhand down the line went out and, all of a sudden, the Pole had somehow managed to save a MP in another round and sneak off with a 7-5 set win that had evened the match.

Radwanska opened the 3rd set by holding to win her fourth straight game. Now, as Radwanska's game blossomed, Cibulkova's confidence began to dip. Her pressure waned just a tad, and her bigger groundstrokes were absorbed by Aga's racket. Radwanska reached BP in game #2, but Cibulkova saved it with a swing volley winner. She fired an ace to reach GP, then held for 1-1 three points later. Suddenly, just as quickly as she'd lost them, the Slovak's confidence and swagger were back.

The two would open up the throttle and go full out the rest of the way, with both players consistently grabbing leads on their opponent's serve only to see them then steer the momentum back in their favor and (usually) hold. In game #5, Cibulkova led 15/40 on Radwanska serve, but Aga saved both BP and held for 3-2. A game later, Cibulkova held from love/30. She then further upped her aggression in game #7, going up love/40, this time getting the break for 4-3. But Radwanska chased down a drop shot and flipped things back in her favor again, going up 15/40 in game #8 and breaking back with a backhand winner. From 15/40 down, Aga saved three BP with two Cibulkova errors, her own reflex reaction to a ball that landed at her feet and crosscourt forehand winner. The Pole held for 5-4 two points later when the Slovak netted a backhand return.

At 5-5, Radwanska went up 40/30 on serve, but Cibulkova denied her with a forehand return winner on her second GP. It began a long dance in what would be a six-deuce game. A forehand crosscourt winner gave Cibulkova a BP. Aga fired an ace. Cibulkova's forehand down the line gave her BP #2, but Aga hit a forehand winner as a follow-up to her wide serve. The Slovak's forehand swing volley got her a third BP, but she fired a backhand out. Re-set. Another Cibulkova forehand winner down the line gave her a fourth BP, which Radwanska quickly erased with another big serve. By this point, it was getting ridiculous, as neither player would bend to the desires of the other for long enough for it to matter. Cibulkova's backhand down the line gave her BP #5. Radwanska aced her... but a replay challenge overturned the point. So Aga instead fired a serve up the "T" to Cibulkova's forehand and the Slovak netted it. Finally, the Pole got a GP and her forehand skidded off the baseline and produced a Cibulkova error that allowed Radwanska to hold for 6-5.


In the next game, Radwanska prevailed in a 20-shot rally to get to 15/15, and soon reached MP when Cibulkova fired a forehand out. But the Slovak saved it with a forehand winner, then held for 6-6. In game #13, Cibulkova's angled forehand from deep in the court allowed her to reach BP. A Radwanska forehand error secured the break for 7-6. The Slovak then served for the match for a second time. But she wouldn't put it away this time, either. She led 30/15, but missed a forehand to knot the game. Radwanska broke her for 7-7 with a forehand winner.

But it was to be Radwanska's final stand.

In game #15, Cibulkova carved out another BP opportunity. She failed to put it away and fired a forehand return long, but her second chance resulted in a Radwanska backhand error that gave Cibulkova the break for 8-7 and a third chance to serve to reach her first Wimbledon QF since 2011.

In the end, the final moments were tense. Cibulkova reached 15/15 with a forehand off a drop shot, rolling over on her back in exhaustion and staring at the sky at the conclusion of the point. But she gave the point back with an error a moment later. At 30/30, Cibulkova received a time violation from the chair umpire (come on... don't become the story, no matter how much the AELTC insists that you should over-officiate matches), setting her off but not so much that she lost her concentration. Radwanska's wide backhand gave Cibulkova her second MP. She missed on a forehand, but she got a another chance. Finally, on her third MP, Cibulkova's forehand winner (her 56th winner of the match, to Aga's own high count of 37) into the corner sealed a 6-3/5-7/9-7 victory... and gave birth to a million stories that will last a lifetime.

While Cibulkova celebrated, Radwanska gave little hint of the likely emotional turmoil roiling inside her as, once again, she has failed to get the most out of a Wimbledon experience and came up short in her career quest for an elusive grand slam title. She warmly hugged the Slovak at the net.

This match links them together, but only one could keep her dreams alive and survive to the next round.

It's a pity, really. But it's the suddenly stark contrast between winning and losing that makes matches like this meaningful, as well as special. As always, it's about the stakes.

They'll both play again, and likely play each other again soon (yes, please). But this one will continue to exist in the mystical tennis ether... held aloft by a magic all its own.

2. Doha QF - Aga Radwanska def. Roberta Vinci
Radwanska may have ultimately come up well short in the Doha semifinals vs. CSN, but before that she delivered a brilliant performance in a crazy-good QF match vs. Vinci. In a contest that was either a criminally short 1:51 or a perfectly condensed masterpiece, the quality of the tennis was in no way evident in the deceiving final scoreline. With their somewhat similar, variety-loving styles perfectly complementing one another, Radwanska and Vinci alternated flashes of aggression and trick shot artistry for three complete, crowd-pleasing and awe-inspiring sets of competition that left not only the fans on the sidelines having to pick their jaws off the floor, but the players (well, at least Roberta, who was heard to loudly mutter "Not fair!" at one point), as well.

An on-fire Vinci dominated the 1st, but Radwanska slowly but surely began to seize control of the match's momentum soon afterward, pulling off roughly (and conservatively) a dozen to twenty shots (including three in a single game, if memory serves correctly) that would be in the running for Shot of the Month/Year if, you know, Aga was a regular mortal and the rules of shotmaking that apply to everyone else were something by which her particularly magical skills were even slightly constrained. Setting Twitter aflame, leaving an in-form Vinci nonetheless shaking her head and then admitting afterward that even she is occasionally surprised when some of her shots land in, this was a case of Aga at her Radwanskian best. So much so that you almost forgive her having nothing left to give a day later in the SF. Vinci's final surge to turn a 4-1 3rd set deficit into a not-a-runaway final stanza secured the goods that ensured this match would be included on the short list for, at the very least, the "Most Enjoyable Match" of 2016.

Yep, Aga. We did.

3. Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova def. Kristina Mladenovic
The Eternal Sunshine of the Gavrilovian night ruled the evening in this one as the "Dasha & Kiki Show" took center stage and hogged the spotlight. With a business-like, focused look on her face rather than the constant smile she displayed while upsetting Petra Kvitova earlier in the tournament, Gavrilova put her quickness and aggressive game on the table against Mladenovic for three sets that went on for nearly three hours in a back-and-forth match that saw both women exchange swings of momentum throughout the night. While Gavrilova's fighting instincts ruled the day when she was on top, Mladenovic's bigger serve often commanded the stage when she took her turn. There were moments of frustration and elation for both, and down the stretch of an hour-and-a-half 3rd set the match would ultimately be determined by which player better handled the mounting pressure, could bounce back quicker from disappointment and was able to finally seize their opportunity to put away the match before the momentum changed yet again. Playing bigger-than-her-size and consistent tennis, Gavrilova overcame her three DF in the set (and Mladenovic's four aces) to serve out the 1st 6-4 when her wide serve produced a Mladenovic return that went off the net post. With the Aussie crowd ready to ride the Gavrilovian wave into the Round of 16, though, the 2nd set proved to be the Pastry's time to fight back and shine the brightest. When a replay showed that a Gavrilova shot had indeed hit the line, Mladenovic's decision to challenge broke her own serve and put the Aussie up 3-2. With Gavrilova's game maintaining its relentless drive and forward motion, it seemed as if she might pull away. But Mladenovic had other ideas, as she used her serve -- and Gavrilova's edgy rambunctiousness -- to her advantage while pulling herself back from the edge of defeat. The Pastry broke Gavrilova at love to forcefully reclaim the momentum, then later Mladenovic held at love for 5-4, forcing Gavrilova to serve to stay in the set. Perhaps feeling the moment for the first time, she strung together errors that quickly put her behind love/40. As Mladenovic completed her comeback from a set and a break down to win the 2nd set 6-4 and force a 3rd, Gavrilova erupted in frustration by tossing her racket (the chair umpire was soon seen giving her a "message").

The 3rd played out much like the previous two sets, as The Show featured each player in a constantly-shifting starring role. The Pastry's DF to break herself gave Gavrilova the chance to serve for the match at 5-4, but her inexperience showed as she tried to race through the point and ride the wave of emotion traveling through the stands, never slowing down to focus. She soon fell behind love/40, as Mladenovic broke to get back on serve at 5-5. As the 3rd set stretched deeper into the night, Gavrilova began to routinely hold serve. She held at love for 7-7, and went back to looking for another break. She nearly got it in game #15, going up 30/love on Mladenovic's serve, only to be forced to save a GP with a forehand winner. Still, Mladenovic held once more for 8-7. Gavrilova held at love again for 8-8, then again for 9-9 as the pair went back and forth, both seeking out the BIG point that would provide the final turn in momentum on the night. Finally, in game #19 it arrived. The Aussie's forehand return winner of a second serve put her up 30/love, then an overhead shot led to a Mladenovic error and break points at 40/15. The Pastry saved the first with a big serve, but then finally cracked at precisely the wrong moment. A DF broke her serve and handed Gavrilova a 10-9 lead and another chance to serve out the match. At 15/15, a Mladenovic forehand error brought Gavrilova within two points of the win. The crowd erupted. They could feel it now. This time it would happen. A long return gave the Aussie double match point. Mladenovic delayed Hisense Arena's gratification for one point longer, nailing a pass at the net on the first MP, but then she pushed a short ball long to end an Australian Open "instant classic" after 2:51 of competitive bliss.


4. U.S. Open 4th Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Venus Williams
On a Labor Day holiday that was seemingly set up to be the most recent celebration of the ongoing Williams era of professional tennis, a tall, big-serving wrench was thrown into the works. Her name: Karolina Pliskova.

While Williams reached the final in her Open debut in Flushing Meadows nineteen years ago, Pliskova just two days earlier had finally gotten over the proverbial "hump" by reaching her first Round of 16 at a major in her eighteenth appearance in the main draw of a slam. She was playing in her first career match on Ashe Stadium court. You'd never have known it.

Williams jumped on Pliskova early in the 1st set, closing on the net and essentially looking like the Venus of our tennis dreams. She got the early break and led 5-1. But when serving for the set at 5-3, her game dipped as Pliskova's lifted just enough for the Czech to save a set point and break Venus to get back on serve. After saving two more SP, Pliskova dropped serve to lose the set. But she was over her slow start and back in the match. Williams grabbed a break lead in the 2nd, as well. Once again, she lost that lead. Only this time Pliskova didn't squander the momentum. After falling behind 3-0, and with Venus serving up 3-1, 30/15, the Czech got the break, held, then broke again. Serving at 5-4, Pliskova was solid, blasting an ace past Williams into the corner to take the 2nd and send things to the 3rd, setting up a classic final set battle.

With Venus seemingly tiring early in the set as the rallies grew longer, Pliskova went up a break at 2-1. One game later, the Czech fired an ace on a Williams BP, then saved another with a big wide serve that produced an error on the return. After another big serve up the "T" gave Pliskova a game point, she double-faulted and was soon forced to save a third BP. She called upon her serve once again to reach her second GP, then saw a Williams return skid off the net cord and go out to give Pliskova a hold for a 3-1 lead. With the Ashe crowd definitively (as one would expect) on the side of Williams, Pliskova stepped up to the baseline to attempt to hold serve for a seventh straight time and get within four points of the win. But Williams moved in to put away a volley, then Pliskova missed a volley of her own to go down BP. A backhand error gave Williams the break as things were again even at 4-4. Two games later, Pliskova served to stay in the match. A Venus return at her feet elicited an error from the Czech that gave Williams a match point.

Pliskova's Open epitaph seemed to have already been written. But it really wasn't.

Rather than accept an unwanted fate, Pliskova did what too few players looking to make a breakthrough do -- she threw caution to the wind and settled in behind her biggest weapons. Coming into the net behind her serve she swatted a swing volley winner to save MP, then fired a crosscourt forehand winner to reach game point. Another big serve got her a miraculous -- and frighteningly efficient in its closing points -- hold for 5-5. Suddenly hitting full out on all her shots, after having briefly been tentative and trying to avoid mistakes while seeing her 3rd set lead slip away, Pliskova came back from love/30 down and broke Williams with a crosscourt backhand that bounded off the net cord and over the racket of Venus, who'd been in perfect position for an easy put-away volley. Pliskova's break gave her a 6-5 lead and a chance to serve out the match.

With her summer of progress hanging in the air and in the balance, Pliskova hit a service winner, ace and forehand winner to reach triple MP. But with Pliskova seemingly trying to fire a match-ending ace on every serve, she failed to pull it off each time. Instead, she double-faulted on MP #1, then saw Williams put away and volley on MP #2 and get back to deuce with a MP #3-saving crosscourt backhand winner that looked remarkably like the one that the Czech hit to break Venus for a 6-5 lead. Williams stepped into the court to put away a forehand winner to reach BP, then whacked another behind Pliskova at the baseline to record her fifth straight point after falling down triple MP, getting the break to force a deciding tie-break.

Pliskova took a mini-break lead at 1-0, but saw Venus get it back two points later with a backhand down the line. From there, while Pliskova's game held steady, it was the veteran Williams whose errors brought her down to earth. A netted backhand put the Czech up a mini-break again at 3-1. Serving up 3-2, Pliskova fired a serve up the middle that Williams reacted to with a backhand down the line, only to see the Czech's half-volley drop shot put her up 4-2. Back-to-back Williams errors made it 6-2, as Pliskova upped the ante from her earlier triple match point by being up quadruple match point. On MP #4, Pliskova saw Williams' shot go wide to end the match. Ah, but wait. Venus challenged the Czech's ball at the baseline before her own reply. Replay showed that it was out, handing Williams the point and extending the TB. On the next point, though, Pliskova put in another big serve to Venus' backhand. Williams' return flew out, giving the Czech a 7-3 TB win to reach her first career quarterfinal at a major. She eventually also defeated Venus' sister Serena to reach her maiden slam singles final and climb past Venus to a career-best #6.
5. Fed Cup Final Match #1 - Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Kristina Mladenovic/FRA
In an instant classic, the two friends battled in a match which both had to know might not only go down as THE signature contest of the final, but the one that could determine which nation would ultimately lift the Cup. Things didn't start out in classic fashion, as Mladenovic had a pair of DF in the final game of the 1st set, including on set point. In the 2nd, Pliskova had three DF of her own in game #6, but managed to save two BP, only to break herself on her fourth DF of the game to fall behind 3-4. After the two exchanged breaks, Mladenovic finally held to send things to a 3rd set. The Pastry saved a BP game #2, only to see Pliskova break to take a 4-2 lead four games later. The Czech ultimately led 5-2. Then, quite simply, it all went down in Strasbourg.

Eight consecutive times, Mladenovic held serve with the match on the line, from down 2-5, 4-5, 5-6, 6-7, 7-8, 8-9, 9-10, and 10-11. When Pliskova served for the match at 5-3, the Czech was broken, but she pulled out two big serves at 30/30 hold for 9-8. During the changeover, Captain Mauresmo added another line to her job description (which already included "Pasty whisperer," master strategist, etc.) when she took to oiling up and massaging the legs of a cramping Mladenovic. Kiki saved two MP in game #18, the second with an ace, and was soon treated by an actual trainer as the match time hit 3:00. The Pastry broke Pliskova to take a 12-11 lead. She served for the match, but was unable to secure the hold. Pliskova then proceded to save a BP and hold for 13-12, while Mladenovic held two more times with the match on the line. Cramping badly, though, Mladenovic fell behind love/40 as she tried to hold yet again when down 14-15. Finally, she was unable to do so, as Pliskova outlasted her when Mladenovic's forehand sailed long to end the marathon match. After fighting but not being able to quite get over the finish line in several matches at the WTA Finals in Singapore, Pliskova did so on this occasion, finding a way to record what turned out to be a key point in the tie in a 3:48, "four-and-a-half-set" match that, at nearly 2016's eleventh hour, went down as one of the most memorable of the entire season.
6. Fed Cup 1st Rd. Match #2 - Richel Hogenkamp/NED def. Svetlana Kuznetsova/RUS
In an historic, Fed Cup record four-hour match the provided THE key point in the Dutch upset of the migthy Russian team in Moscow, the #141-ranked player who hadn't played a FC singles match in two years bested Russia's #17-ranked all-time FC match win leader in the longest women's match of 2016. After taking the 1st set in a tie-break, Hogenkamp came back from 3-0 down in the 2nd to extend Kuznetsova, who eventually got a break of serve to knot the match. In the 3rd, the Dutch failed to serve out the victory at 5-4, then saw the Russian earn a MP at 7-6. Hogenkamp outlasted Kuznetsova, though, converting her own MP in game #18 of the final set to finish with a 146-145 point advantage in the match. While Kuznetsova led in winners (44 to Hogenkamp's 34), she also had more unforced errors, totally 72 to the Dutch woman's equally "impressive" 56.

7. Miami 4th Rd. - Victoria Azarenka def. Garbine Muguruza
A immediate nominee for the best two-set match of the year, this one produced some of the highest-quality, gut-busting tennis we'd see all season long. The 1st set alone was fit for a time capsule, set to be opened any season around the time everyone meets up in Paris, London or New York in order to inspire the masses. Muguruza led the TB 6-4, only to see Azarenka raise her game and save two SP and win 8-6. In the 2nd, Vika led 2-0 and held from love/30 down for a 5-2 advantage, then reached MP from 15/40 down two games later. Right on cue, the Spaniard saved two MP via volley (#1) and overhead (#2) shots, then broke the Belarusian on a net cord dribbler to get back on serve at 5-4. Muguruza held at love in game #12 to force another TB, which simply gave Azarenka another opportunity to lift her game in the clutch. She grabbed a mini-break lead at 2-1, went up 4-1 and finally won on her fourth MP. The best thing about this one? That it was the FIRST match-up between these two (then) Top 5 players. May it be the first of many battles.

8. Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Irina-Camelia Begu def. CoCo Vandeweghe
Begu added another big moment to her high-flying spring clay campaign, taking out a surprisingly-good-on-the-red-stuff Vandeweghe in a 3:38 duel -- the longest in a tour-level event in '16 -- that featured the (sometimes irritatingly) expressive Bannerette consistency putting herself into bad situations with her tendency for wild groundstroke errors (especially when put on the run behind the baseline) only to dig her way out with big serves and monster forehands. Vandeweghe did have a chance to close out the match when she served at 5-4 but was unable to do so, breaking herself with an error on BP. It'd be the last time in the match in which she'd have an advantage. In four consecutive service games she was faced with holding to stay in the match -- at 5-6, 6-7, 7-8 and 8-9. In the first attempt, Begu, as she would often in the late going, three times got within two points of victory, only to see Vandeweghe hold on her own sixth GP of the game for 6-6. Two games later, Begu reached MP, but Vandeweghe saved it with a big serve and mishit return. Back-to-back aces got another hold for 7-7. Begu then held at love, hitting just her third ace of the day. A game later, Vandeweghe fired another ace to hold for 8-8. Another love hold from the Romanian (who had another ace) pushed Vandeweghe's back to the wall for the final time as the clock read 8:46 p.m. local time. This time, she wasn't able to hold the Romanian back. Begu's brilliant backhand passing shot got her a second MP, and another backhand pass attempt that forced a Vandeweghe backhand volley error finally ended it.


9. Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Barbora Strycova
In a duel between two of the most entertaining players on tour, Radwanska led Barbora Strycova 6-2/3-0 and seemed on her way to a straight sets win in the 2nd set tie-break (she led 5-3), only to be forced to a deciding 3rd. There, Radwanska broke the Czech to open the set on her fourth BP of the game, took another 3-0 lead and finally secured a 6-2/6-7(6)/6-2 win. But, of course, the story here was the series of great points constructed by the two (check out the combination of Strycova's quick hands at the net and Radwanska's high backhand volley that bounces out of reach of the Czech, who slides disconsolately into the changeover area, at 1:01 of the highlights package above), including the immediate "winner" for the oddest/craziest/most awkward-looking single point of the season:


10. Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Ana Konjuh
Radwanska hardly seemed to be in for a dramatic afternoon when she took the 1st set at 6-2 from eighteen year-old Croat Konjuh, a two-time junior hard court slam winner in 2013 (Belinda Bencic won the other two majors that year). Konjuh won a tour title on the grass in Nottingham last year, but her bigger-hitting game hasn't quite allowed her to rise as quickly as junior counterpart Bencic has the last few years. She arrived in London as the #103-ranked player in the world, and faced off with former junior Wimbledon champ and Ladies finalist Radwanska, who came in having reached at least the Round of 16 at the event seven of the last eight years. Radwanska looked to be on her way to a straight sets match win when the momentum turned in game #5 of the 2nd set. And it turned quickly.

Konjuh got the break for a 3-2 lead, and her game suddenly turned lethal. You could tell that Aga was feeling the pressure of it, too, for (as sometimes happens vs. bigger-hitting players) her error totals began to climb as she tried to compensate. Konjuh failed to put away a set point on Radwanska's serve at 5-3, but finally did so, after saving a break point, on her fourth try in game #10 alone, taking the 2nd at 6-4 and pushing Aga to a 3rd set. The late 2nd set trend continued into the 3rd, as Konjuh's game forced Radwanska into uncharacteristic errors. The teenager broke the Pole to take a 2-1 lead, then backed it up by securing a hold on her fourth GP to go up 3-1. At 30/30 in the next game, and facing the possibility of being down 5-1 the next time she served, Radwanska hit forehand and drop shot winners on successive points to hold and bring the match back from a perilous edge. Still, Radwanska found herself having to hold to stay in the match four games later at 5-3. She did, saving a MP and once more surviving to play another game.

With Konjuh serving for the match and the biggest win of her career, Radwanska fell behind 40/15. Konjuh's forehand error (the shot would start to go awry from this point forward) lost MP #2, then on #3 another forehand shot clipped the net cord, hung ever-so-teasingly in the air for a moment, then fell onto the Croat's side of the court. If you'd listened carefully, maybe you could have heard our favorite disembodied entity gently blowing the ball back in Konjuh's direction. Or maybe not. Make no mistake, though, whether or not The Rad saw her standing there and wanted to hold her hand, for Aga, everything changed after that point. Radwanska moved in to put away a volley to reach BP. A few moments later, as the Pole began to prey on Konjuh's shaky forehand, the Croat produced back-to-back errors on that wing to give Radwanska a break at 5-5. She now had new life. It nearly didn't last long, though, as Aga fell behind 15/40 in the next game and was broken, only to turn around and go up love/40 on Konjuh's serve in game #12. A loose backhand error from Konjuh gave back the break for 6-6. A game later, Radwanska aced Konjuh to take a 30/15 lead then, after losing out (in a rare Aga scenario) on a point that involved a face-to-face at the net AND lob contest, she fired another well-timed ace to go up 40/30. A long Konjuh forehand gave Aga a 7-6 lead. Konjuh squandered a 40/15 lead a game later, but saved a MP with a smash that forced a Radwanska response to sail long. The Croat held for 7-7 in an eight-minute game on her fifth GP.

In game #14, the weirdness returned.

At 30/15, Radwanska hit a drop shot, a shot that her opponent had used often in the last few games in order to hide her own forehand inconsistency. Konjuh raced to the ball, but couldn't quite reach it. But as she lunged for the shot, she took a long stride and stepped directly on the ball. She nastily rolled her ankle and fell in a heap in front of Radwanska's changeover chair after avoiding sailing into the net post.

Konjuh, hurting badly, managed to get back to her own chair, where she cried during what seemed like a forever wait for a trainer to arrive. As she winced throughout, her right ankle was taped heavily, though she could barely stand to put pressure on it. But it was too late. You could tell by the expression on her face that she realized that she now had little hope to win a match that had been on her racket three times just minutes earlier. Still, she returned to give it a try. After having stretched and practiced serving during most of the delay, Radwanska double-faulted on the first point when play resumed. After that hiccup, she held for 8-7, then watched as a clearly limited Konjuh tried to serve and play her game. It was largely a going-through-the-motions situation, though. Finally, Aga could stand it no longer and, not wanting to compromise her own game plan because of her opponent's health, pulled out a drop shot that Konjuh had no chance of chasing down to go up 30/15. A backhand winner gave her her second MP. Finally, a last Konjuh forehand error ended it on Radwanska's third MP of the day, ending things after 2:36 as she lived to fight yet another day.

For the match, Konjuh fired 45 winners, but was ultimately undone when the match was still within her grasp by 52 unforced errors. Aga, for her part, had 28 winners of her own (high for her), and will have to live with failing to convert twelve of a whopping eighteen BP chances on the day. In the end, it was just enough... along with a fateful net cord, and an under-foot tennis ball that was in just the right place to cause enough havoc to end one player's Wimbledon dreams and resuscitate those of another.
11. Miami SF - Victoria Azarenka def. Angelique Kerber
Azarenka may lead the head-to-head vs. Kerber by a 7-1 score, but that stat -- like many of the particulars of this match -- had no corralation to the expected quality of any match-up between the two. Last summer, they teamed up to produce the match of the tournament at last year's U.S. Open (Azarenka won a three-set 3rd Rd. clash), and they met three times in major matches in the 1Q of '16, with the winner of all three contests ultimately being crowned the tournament champion. In Brisbane, Azarenka blew out the German in the final to set the tone for her blazing opening to the season, only to see a more aggressive Kerber knock off the poorly-serving Vika in the Australian Open QF en route to her title there. In Miami, they butted heads once more. If not for Azarenka/Muguruza a few days earlier, this would have been THE sterling example of a great early season straight sets match (even if the final scoreline might not suggest the measure of firepower, guts and glory displayed in this one by both players). In the Miami semifinal, points were won rather than lost. Kerber played with a strapped thigh that left her wincing at the conclusion of some points, but it didn't seem to hold her back or lower the level of fight in her blood. Both played with aggression, and the German made Vika work overtime for everything she got. But after being out-attacked by Kerber in the AO QF, a bigger-serving and forward-moving Azarenka made a point to not be beaten to the punch this time. In the closing moments of the 2nd set, Azarenka's (still) occasional service foibles (the result of going for more on her serve) led to Kerber very nearly being able to push things to a 3rd when Vika double-faulted and fell behind love/30, then DF'd again to break herself. But Vika was not to be denied, with her lethal return game leading the way as she continued to raise her '16 game vs. stiff competition. When these two meet, history tells us that it's right to expect something great. Once again, they didn't disappoint.

12. Indian Wells Final - Victoria Azarenka def. Serena Williams
The 21st meeting -- and ninth final -- in the series revolved around Williams' struggles with her forehand, return of serve and not-as-overwhelming-a-weapon-as-usual serve against Azarenka's top-notch return abilities. Meanwhile, while Serena quested to find her game, the Belarusian relied on a good 1st and 2nd serve, kept her errors to a minimum, flashed signs of her old defensive skills with her renewed fitness and rediscovered quickness and showed her ability to remain focused on the biggest points. Yet, still, it almost wasn't enough to allow Azarenka to prevail without her '15 failures vs. Serena flashing before her eyes. While Azarenka (until the nearly bitter end) deflected the pressure throughout the day, it turned out to be the stress that rested on the shoulders of Williams, seeking her first Indian Wells title since the controversial and hurtful win in the final over Kim Clijsters in 2001 that precipitated a 14-year boycott of the event, that lingered above the around the court from the first ball to the last. Always one to wear her emotions on her sleeve on the court, it was clear that even Williams' knowledge of the danger factor of facing Azarenka, she was going to have a difficult time brushing her memories and emotions totally aside and just play her best tennis. Some players may not have been able to take advantage of that fact. But Azarenka is not one of those players.

While Williams got off to a slow start, Azarenka was immediately in tune. After breaking Serena to open the match, Vika served well and managed to fight off a slew of chances that Williams had to turn the momentum in her favor. Showing no fear while firing big 1st and 2nd serves, Azarenka saved two break points in game #6, then three more two games later. After playing brilliant defense that allowed her to get to successive balls in both corners of the court, Azarenka induced a long Williams backhand to hold for 5-3. Playing a nearly error-free game, Vika served out the set at love to take the 1st by a 6-4 score, as Williams failed to convert on all five of her BP chances.

The start of the 2nd set saw the story continue. Williams' DF on BP once again put her in a 1-0 hole. A game later, Azarenka saved four more BP (making Serena 0-for-9) with a combination of an ace, a Williams error, and big first shot after a Serena return, and one of Williams' many bad returns on the day. Another wild Williams error broke her own serve again as Vika took a 3-0 lead. Williams crushed her racket on the court on the way to the changeover area, then destroyed another without even removing it from the wrapper once she reached her seat. She tossed it aimlessly over her shoulder, perhaps providing the breaking point that caused chair umpire Marija Cicak to issue her a point penalty.

Azarenka didn't need the 15/love advantage heading into game #4, but she took full advantage of it, holding at love to take a 6-4/4-0 lead... the same score as the AO QF she managed to lose to Williams in 2010, one of the many of her close-call losses to Serena over the years, including three defeats in '15. As it turned out, Azarenka didn't let this one slip away. But -- whoosh -- it ended up being a close call, with the match seemingly a few points from going either way at any given moment down the final stretch of the 2nd set. Williams finally got on the board at 4-1, but Azarenka's 1st serve continued to remain strong as she held at love for a 5-1 lead, having won 29 of 34 1st serve points. Serving for the match at 5-2, Vika had the cushion of a two-break lead, though she surely didn't want to have to depend on that fact. As it turned out, she needed it.

As happened in Madrid when she hit three consecutive DF up triple MP vs. Williams, DF's began to become Azarenka's undoing. Back-to-back giveaways handed Serena a double BP situation, and when Williams' deep returns elicited a long error from Azarenka the world #1 finally had her first BP conversion in ten attempts on the day. Down 5-3, suddenly Serena's serve caught fire. Two aces and a service winner easily held for 5-4 and things were getting tighter and tighter by the second.

Serving for the match once again, Azarenka fell behind love/30 after Williams won a "Point of the Match" rally and then fired a big return. But Vika was still looking for a good "pinish" -- the "finish + punish" mantra she broke out at last year's U.S. Open. When Serena's huge return got her to double BP at 40/15, it looked like things were going to get far stickier before everything was settled, but it was at that moment that Azarenka managed to turn the momentum back in her favor long enough to pull out the win. She fired an ace to save the first BP, then Williams' long backhand secured the other. It made Serena 1-for-12 in BP chances on the day, and she wouldn't get another. With a sudden return of the errors that plagued her earlier, Williams ended the match with back-to-back forehand errors that finally pushed Azarenka over the finish line for a 6-4/6-4 win, her first straight sets win over Serena in nearly seven years ('09 Miami), notching her fourth career victory over Williams as she becomes the only player to ever defeat Serena four times in finals (not surprisingly, all have come on hard court) while also handing her her first back-to-back losses in finals (w/ her AO loss to Angelique Kerber) since the 2004.

13. WTA Finals Round Robin - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Aga Radwanska
Just in from a title run in Moscow, Kuznetsova continued to be up to her Sveta ways. In a 2:48 thriller, the Russian battled back from a 4-1 deficit to take the 1st set, then did it again from 5-4 down in the 3rd, saving a MP and taking a 6-5 lead (then performing a bit of follicle surgery in the changeover area, as she snipped off part of her ponytail because it'd been whacking her in the face on her swing follow-through). Kuznetsova soon held a MP of her own, choosing not to challenge a close call on the first, then earned a second chance when her shot tripped off the net cord and caused an error from Radanska, who'd been ready to put away a volley winner. Finally, Sveta converted on MP #3.


14. Auckland 2nd Rd. - Naomi Broady def. Jelena Ostapenko
Broady added her name to the list of Brits to Watch, and added a few more intriguing layers to her personal story in Week 1 in Auckland. Already once a controversial figure a few years ago when she had her funding pulled due to supposedly questionable photos posted on social media, qualifier Broady found herself smack in the middle of a headline-grabbing situation vs. wild card Ostapenko. The teenage Latvian led by a set and 5-2, and held two MP. Broady saved both. In the ensuing TB, either in desperation, frustration or by sheer "accident," Ostapenko's racket went flying at a ball that she was unable to reach, then bounced up and hit a ball boy. Broady immediately protested to the chair umpire that her opponent should be defaulted for the incident. The rules essentially say as much, though the chair umpire didn't see fit to "pull the trigger," giving Ostapenko the benefit of the doubt (which Broady did not) largely, one would suspect, because there was a legitimate question about the nature of the "accidental" slip/intentionally frustrated toss actions by Ostapenko and, one might consider, maybe because she was up a set and had just held MP a few minutes earlier and, truth be told, it felt a bit desperate the way that Broady (literally bringing herself to tears) pleaded for the default and even called out a tournament official to argue for it. As things turned out, Broady finished off the TB, recovered from a 5-1 3rd set deficit and fired 21 aces to win the match as Ostapenko failed on three occasions to serve out the victory. Then, at the net, Broady sparked a confrontation with Ostapenko after the Latvian complained about her earlier reaction, leading to the Brit yelling in her direction in the changeover area and the two continuing to verbally go back-and-forth after the match. Later, fellow players stood behind Broady while commenting on issues they'd had with Ostapenko during her first season on tour last year. Whether the Latvian deserved to be defaulted, or whether Broady's over the top reaction during and after the match was warranted, the match was surely one of the most memorable/crazy/notorious matches of the year.

15. Australian 1st Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. Misaki Doi
The match that was overlooked by most at the start of the tournament turned out to be the most important one of the fortnight by the time it was over as Kerber went on to become the first slam winner to go on to win the title after having faced a match point in the opening round of the event. After racing out to a 4-0 lead in the 1st, and maybe mistakenly feeling like she had the match in the bag (Kerber allowed just one game in her last meeting with Doi on hard courts last summer), the German saw her Japanese opponent grab the momentum as Kerber's level of play dropped, erasing the two-break deficit and taking the 1st set in a tie-break. In the 2nd, Kerber went about trying to get it right a second time. She took a 4-1 lead, and soon found herself serving up 5-3, 30/love only to see Doi suddenly surge again, leaving Kerber grumbling and looking for answers to all the proverbial tennis questions that go though a player's mind at such moments. Smacking lefty forehand winners from all over, the diminutive-but-deceptively-powerful Doi (Justine Henin was her idol, so you get the idea) won four straight points to break to get back on serve at 5-4. Things again went to a tie-break, where Kerber's well-timed winner put her up 2-1, only to see her then give the lead back with a double-fault. Doi's put-away at the net gave her a match point, but her long return allowed Kerber to stay alive, even as the German was having a devil of a time avoiding (and catching up with) Doi's whipping, aggressive forehand shots. At 6-6, a long Doi backhand mercifully gave Kerber a set point, and she converted it when Doi finally netted a forehand rather than plant it into the corner, ending the 1:01 2nd set and sending things to a 3rd. In the deciding set, Kerber finally began to go on the attack once again. Saving a break point, she managed to barely hold for 4-2. Two games later, Kerber found herself down love/40. But two Doi errors, and a Kerber slice off the corner line saved all three BP and she ultimately held on her own third GP to go up 5-3. It was finally enough to escape Doi's web. Kerber grabbed a 40/love lead a game later on Doi's serve, then won it with a clean forehand return winner. She let out a roar, winning in 2:41 despite Doi's fifty-nine winners (Kerber had 35) and 20/26 net points won. "I was with one foot on the plane back to Germany," Kerber said of her afternoon experience in Melbourne. Having kept both feet on the ground, the rest turned out to be history. Down Under, and for the rest of the 2016 season, as well.
16. Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Monica Puig def. Kristyna Pliskova
Karolina's sister Kristyna set a WTA record with thirty-one aces in a single match, but STILL lost despite holding five match points, including triple MP in a 2nd set TB in which she was serving twice up 6-3. I guess that's the very definition of a Pyrrhic victory (or maybe "Pyrrhic defeat"), isn't it? Really, the match was lost by Pliskova in that tie-break. Pliskova's lefty shot put in back-to-back aces to go up 2-1, then placed another big serve up the middle that Puig failed to get back as she secured both serve points to go up 5-2. At triple MP, though, Pliskova's serve didn't pay the price of admission, failing to give her any noticeable edge. Puig saved one MP with an overhead winner, then a second with a long Pliskova backhand. A long return from the Czech wasted the third MP on Puig's serve, then another forehand error gave the Puerto Rican a set point. She won it to claim the TB at 8-6. Pliskova's serve again heated up in the 3rd, but it still wasn't enough. She held for 6-5 and 7-6 (the latter time with back-to-back aces to lift her final total to 31, four past Sabine Lisicki's 2015 mark of 27, which she got in TWO sets), but Puig countered by doing the same to keep her hopes alive. Pliskova failed to convert two more MP on Puig's serve, then lost her serve a game later. On her own second MP, Puig put away a forehand winner at the net and collapsed on the court.

17. Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Teliana Pereira def. Kristyna Pliskova
Once again, Pliskova found herself on the losing end of a slam marathon match which ended late in the day in a 9-7 3rd set. In Melbourne, the Czech lost to Monica Puig in a match in which she fired 31 aces and held five MP. In Paris, on a cold day with the darkness of evening approaching, she fired 15 aces as she and Pereira traded momentum in the final moments. The Brazilian broke for 6-5, then Pliskova broke back. The Czech barely held for 7-6, but Pereira finally notched the final break for 8-7 and served out the match.

Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Monica Puig def. Julia Goerges
Like her AO victim Kr.Pliskova, Puig once again found herself in the middle of a dramatic match played late in the day. THE final match of the day, in fact, completed after 9:30 pm. Late in the match, Goerges saved three MP and held with an ace for 5-5. Puig tossed her racket in frustration. With enough light to play just one final game, with Puig up 6-5, the Puerto Rican held two more MP in game #12. Finally, she got the break to put away the 3:00 match just in the nick of time.
18. Australian Open Final - Angelique Kerber def. Serena Williams
With Williams' game -- especially her serve and wonky footwork -- waxing both on and off (she had 46 errors -- 23 in the 1st, 5 in the 2nd, then 18 in the 3rd -- and 6 DF to go with 7 aces), Kerber's unrelenting combination of defense and offensive aggression (including on her own serve) proved to be the difference as she grabbed her maiden slam title and became the first German to win a major title in seventeen years. In the key game of the match, Kerber broke Serena for 4-2 after saving two Williams game points with drop shots before finally converting on her fifth BP of the game. Williams' first career loss in a three-set slam final (8-1) delayed her efforts to Steffi Graf, Kerber's idol and sometimes-mentor, with a record 22nd slam singles title in the Open era, though she'd eventually get it as at Wimbledon when she defeated Kerber in yet another major final match-up between the two.


19. U.S. Open Final - Angelique Kerber def. Karolina Pliskova
The Open final contested between Kerber, playing in her third major final of the season, and maiden slam finalist Pliskova, while not the "battle for #1" clash between the German and Serena Williams that many had been anticipating, was a very desirable match-up of players with opposing temperaments as well as clashing game styles.

In the 6-3 1st set, Kerber had committed just three unforced errors to Pliskova's seventeen, while the Czech's second serve win percentage was hovering around 30% as she was broken to start, as well as end, the set, while failing to put away BP in two of the German's service games. In the 2nd, the Czech needed to improve her play. And she did. Her first serve percentage went up, and she continued to move forward and attempt to pressure Kerber. Finally, in game #7, Pliskova got her first break of the match on her fifth BP chance. Serving to force a 3rd, Pliskova held firm just as she did in potentially stressful situations vs. both Williams Sisters. Firing her first ace of the set, she reached set point and held to take the 2nd at 6-4 without having had to face a BP since dropping serve to end the 1st.

It was just the third time in the last TWENTY-ONE years that the U.S. Open final went the distance.

All tournament long, Pliskova had risen in the moment of truth. In the 3rd set, she held at love to level things at 1-1. In game #3, errors were coming off Kerber's racket, while the Czech was simultaneously calm and aggressive. Up 2-1 and serving next, Pliskova clenched her fist as she returned to the changeover area, while Kerber slammed her racket. It seemed as if the Czech's summer rise would continue, at Kerber's expense. But the German came into the day as the soon-to-be-#1 for good reason. The German's belief in herself had played out of the course of this season, as well as last. And it was her greatest preparation for the battle -- her fitness -- that would prove to be the key one down the stretch.

Pliskova fired an ace to hold for 3-1, but Kerber then held at love. Kerber took a 15/30 lead in game #6, and Pliskova missed on a backhand down the line on BP to lose her small but precious advantage in the set. The Czech seemed prepared to take it back, though, hitting out on her shots while Kerber seemed tentative. She led love/30 on Kerber's serve in game #7, but back-to-back errors got things back to 30/30. As fatigue began to set in with Pliskova, Kerber's muscle memory of a career season kicked in, re-lighting her inner fire as all the work she's done over the past two years to get there, once again, came to bear. The German blasted a forehand winner into the deep corner to reach game point, pumping her fists and raising her leg to reproduce a pose seen so often in Melbourne eight months ago. A Pliskova forehand error finished off a Kerber hold for 4-3.

Pliskova held for 4-4, but she tired down the final stretch, bending over at the waist numerous times in the closing games before weary errors took over her game as she served to stay alive down 4-5, finally seneding a wild forehand out to give Kerber her second major title of 2016.


20. Roland Garros Final - Garbine Muguruza def. Serena Williams
The match was of high quality, with the young Spaniard, while not playing the perfect game, made up for any slips with huge big point productivity and, quite simply, out-played Williams, who wasn't having "one of those days." Muguruza powered her way through with aggression and big groundstrokes, but ultimately secured the match with a perfectly placed lob over Williams' head on her fifth MP that left even Serena unable to avoid smiling and applauding the audacity of it all. These two have already combined for two memorable matches in Paris, and a decent final at Wimbledon. Earlier this year, Muguruza and Vika Azarenka faced off in a fabulous two-set match, as well. And the new RG champ has been a truly dominant figure the last two years as Spain has climbed the Fed Cup ladder. If you have a young player who rises to great heights on big stages while playing fearlessness tennis vs. big-time players, well, you might just have SOMETHING really great on your hands. Muguruza now has one slam title in her pocket. What comes next is only speculation, but the promise or more is surely there without having to look very hard for it... though the Spaniard STILL sometimes seems to lose sight of her grand forest for a few rotting trees on her worst days.
21. Wimbledon Final - Serena Williams def. Angelique Kerber
In a high-quality final in which both sets were determined by just a few moments in the final games, Williams grabbed career slam win #22 by lifting her level of play at the moment of truth while AO champ Kerber blinked ever so slightly, getting the only breaks of the match in game #12 in the 1st and #9 in the 2nd. Williams and Kerber's second slam final meeting this year marks the first time two players have faced off for major titles in the same season since 2006 (Mauresmo/Henin).


"I think I united a nation. And I just love where I come from."
- Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig

22. Rio Olympics Final - Monica Puig def. Angelique Kerber
Rather than feel the pressure, Puig got stronger as the match progressed. After a slow start in the 2nd, she saved BP to avoid falling down a double-break at 3-0, then calmed her game and soon afterward broke the German to even things at 4-4. Kerber broke back for 5-4 and served out the set, but the less experienced big match player seemed the more stable and consistent force in the 3rd. Kerber, while her defense remained nothing short of stellar, had a few brain lapses in key moments, including breaking herself with a bad drop shot for 4-0 after having been up 40/15. Love/40 up on Puig's serve in game #7, the German missed on an easy overhead to even the game at deuce, allowing Puig's fight to ultimately stave off six BP before winning on MP #4 when Kerber pushed a forehand wide.

23. Australian Open 4th Rd. - Maria Sharapova def. Belinda Bencic
Like a lost relic from an earlier, Supernovic age, Sharapova dispatched the teenager behind the force of a power game that littered the scorecard with winners, errors and a career-high ace total. There was a time when the heart and quality of Sharapova's game radiated from her serve outward. When it shined its brightest, providing the tide that lifted all the boats of her tennis existence, she was a powerful figure on the court who was nearly unstoppable in full flight. But all that changed after the 2008 shoulder surgery that could have, but didn't, end or greatly diminish her career. The Russian survived, and likely even improved because of, the injury. But it changed the legacy of the Sharapova serve and what it meant to her success. After surgery, it was no longer a reliably consistent weapon, and on occasion was even nearly a liability. Rather than prop up the rest of her game, providing its fuel, it was often something that had to be overcome. To her credit, she did just that. Improving her court movement, quickness and variety in the "second phase" of her career, Sharapova transformed herself from an awkward clay courter into one of the best in the world on the surface, and took home a pair of Roland Garros titles because of it. A round after firing sixteen aces against Lauren Davis, Sharapova's serving confidence carried over vs. Bencic. While her errors (46) were high, they were the byproduct of an aggressive game that was kept afloat by a hunger for winners (58 to Bencic's 10) and a serve that produced a career-high twenty-one aces that helped to cover Sharapova's imperfections. Though Bencic wasn't able to match Sharapova's power, and struggled to develop the same sort of aggressive gameplan (she faced BP in all six of her 1st set serve games) that helped her to her biggest career title in Toronto last summer, much credit goes to the Swiss for managing to be opportunistic and staying close enough with Sharapova on the scoreboard (she saved nine of the first eleven BP in the 1st, and converted two of her own) that the result remained in question throughout the tight two-set victory by the Russian. Sharapova had set the tone for her day early, firing four aces in her first two service games, then displayed her characteristic fight through the middle portion by twice countering Bencic breaks of serve by immediately breaking back one game later. In the 2nd, Sharapova faced and saved break points in games #1, #3 and #5, ending the latter with an ace up the "T." Needing her power and serve to overcome her rising error total, Sharapova finally pulled away from Bencic down the stretch, but it was never a runaway. In game #12, Sharapova's 57th winner gave her a match point, but error #46 prevented her from converting it. On MP #2, winner #58 -- a backhand shot that landed near the baseline but was called out -- was awarded via a replay challenge that showed the Sharapova ball clipping the line. Sharapova lost in the QF to Serena Williams, didn't see the court on Fed Cup weekend and then pulled out of an event with a lingering forearm injury. After the revelation of a positive drug test in Melbourne, this will be the Russian's last win until her return from suspension in the spring of '17.
24. U.S. Open QF - Serena Williams def. Simona Halep
On a night when she came up against an opponent who understood that in order to defeat her she'd have to effectively walk a thin tightrope stretched across the surface of Arthur Ashe Stadium court, Williams reminded everyone -- one final time in 2016, as she'd play her last match of the season one round later -- why she's a 22-time major champion.

Fierce, focused and one step closer to Grand Slam 23. #Serena #usopen

A photo posted by @usopen on

Halep did nearly everything possible to take this match, but it still wasn't enough. Still, even with her every mistake -- the few that there were -- magnified exponentially, the Romanian found her way into a match that easily could have gotten away from her very quickly. For a moment, it even appeared as if a ceiling-shattering victory might be within her grasp as she pushed Serena to three sets, with momentum seemingly on her side after emerging on top in a titanic 2nd set struggle.

And then -- poof! -- it was gone.

After taking a 3-0 lead, it was legitimate to wonder whether Halep might be overwhelmed by the tsunami-like tide of the Williams game blasting at full power and volume. But then the Romanian got a minor foothold with a hold for 3-1. And when Williams opened game #5 with a double-fault, Halep sensed a slight opening. Williams had faced just one break point through the first four rounds of the Open, but when she fired a forehand wide on Halep's second BP she'd dropped serve for the first time.

But game #6 proved to be key to the opening set. Serving at 2-3, with her second game point after saving two BP, Halep failed to put away a routine passing shot, hurrying as Serena approached the net and firing it just under the tape. Her mistake would prove costly. Rather than knotting the set at 3-3, Halep was BP down two points later, and her double-fault handed the break back to Serena, who led 4-2. Two games later, Williams, moving forward into the court yet again, punched a volley winner to take the set 6-2.

While the ultimate conclusion of the 1st was determined by one mid-set game, the 2nd came down to a pair of games that bookended the stanza. Again, both of them were Halep service games. Only this time the Romanian managed to hold on both occasions.

Down 0-1, Halep quickly fell behind love/40 in the very next game. Dropping serve felt as if it might prove fatal to her chances. Ten minutes later, after saving seven break points, the Romanian held on her second game point. Her survival proved to give her an injection of confidence. Suddenly, her shots were coming off her racket with more power. After being driven to the very back of the court by Williams' shots in the 1st, it was Halep who was keeping Serena at bay behind the baseline with the depth of her own groundstrokes. With Serena failing to move into the net as she had earlier, the hard-hitting rallies began to last longer, more often than not going in Halep's favor.
One game after escaping with a hold for 1-1, Halep went up love/30 on Williams' serve. Serena saved a BP, firing back-to-back-to-back aces, but ultimately double-faulted twice, the second time on the Romanian's fourth BP of the game, as Halep took a 2-1 lead. Halep's double-pumping-fists celebration provided still further evidence of her newly-starring role in the battle.

While Williams was utilizing her most lethal weapon, hitting big serves in order to hold serve without having to engage in the rallies that were now going Halep's way, Halep herself was hiding her own attackable second serve by getting in nearly all her first serves. She held for 4-2 and was playing as well as she possibly could, though it was apparent that she was operating with a razor thin margin of error in her attempts to keep one step ahead of Williams. In game #10, serving up 5-4, after saving seven BP in a ten-minute hold eight games earlier, Halep went thirteen more minutes to get another hold, saving five more BP chances before finally converting on her own fifth set point.

The remarkable battle had taken 1:05 to complete, with twenty-three minutes of the set taken up by just two key Halep service games in which Williams went 0-for-12 on BP chances, while it took Halep seven total GP attempts to secure the holds. Halep's attempt at a "perfect game" in the 2nd, even with Serena nipping at her heels with sharp teeth all the way, proved successful, as she committed just four unforced errors in the set and seemed to now have the momentum in the match. With Williams' #1 ranking at stake, the magnitude of what Halep had just done began to sink in. Firing power groundstroke-for-groundstroke with Williams, she'd kept her at bay with the match on the line, giving herself a chance to prevail in a match that seemed all along to be one game from totally tipping in Serena's favor in what would have been a straight sets affair.

And then the 3rd set began... and Williams proved why she's STILL the best at age 34, mere weeks from 35, and seventeen years after she won her very first major title on the same Ashe Stadium court. After saving a BP in the opening game, Williams held with a volley winner, a sign that the forward aggression that largely went away in the 2nd set would surely be back in the deciding 3rd. After going up 40/15, then hitting back-to-back DF, Halep held for 1-1. But the DF's may have been the "canary in the coal mine" moment of this match, as they proved to be unimportant in what ultimately was a hold of serve but were a possible hint that Halep's laser-sharp concentration and give-away-nothing stance in the 2nd set might have cracked ever so slightly. Two games later, Halep suddenly played her most "loose" game of the entire match, falling behind 15/40. After missing on a 1st serve, the Romanian was forced to hit one of the second serves that she'd kept away from Williams during most of the 2nd set. Serena blasted a big return to get the break and go up 3-1. Williams held at love to go up 5-2, then routinely served things out two games later.

Halep didn't get the big win she desired, but as long as she holds onto the memory of the 2nd set, that big win might soon be within her grasp.

25. Charleston F - Sloane Stephens def. Daria Kasatkina
In a true NextGen showcase played in windy conditions, Stephens holds on and takes down the teenager, who'd dominated her opponents in the early rounds in South Carolina. After dropping the 1st set, Kasatkina leveled the match as Stephens went 0-for-7 on BP in the 2nd. The Russian actually held a match point at 5-4, but it was promptly extinguished by Stephens' inside out forehand winner. With an uncharactistically tentative Kasatkina not playing with her normal killer instinct down the stretch, Stephens grabbed the final eleven points of the match and finally ended it after 2:24. Ultimately, she became the third player this season to save MP and go on to take the title.
26. Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Kiki Bertens def. Daria Kasatkina
In a singles match-up that never occurred during the Netherlands' Fed Cup upset of Russia in February, we got a glimpse of what we may have missed. On Court 16 in Paris, Bertens continued her magical spring run vs. #29-seeded NextGen Hordette Kasatkina. Playing with a leg injury, the Russian had a hard time moving to her backhand, but she still battled down to her last breath. In fact, after falling behind 5-2 in the 3rd set and saving five MP in a single game as Bertens served for the match, the 19-year old probably should have won. After breaking for 4-5, she twice served for the match herself at 7-6 and 8-7, only to see the Dutch player break back both times. Serving down 8-9, Kasatkina reached game point to extend the match, but Bertens turned the tables once more and soon had her sixth MP. The Hordette saved it, too, but Bertens finally converted on her seventh try as Dutch tennis dealt yet another blow to Russia in 2016. Bertens eventually advanced to her first career slam semifinal the following week.
27. Miami 4th Rd. - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Serena Williams
Sveta ends an error-prone Serena's 20-match Miami win streak, counting up eight aces and taking the match away from the world #1 despite dropping a 1st set which she probably should have won. Up a double-break at 3-0 in the 3rd, Kuznetsova saw Williams get one break back, but then quickly fall behind 15/40 while trying to back it up a game later. Serena got to game point, but ultimately broke herself with her ninth double-fault of the day. There was little doubt after that. In the end, the Hordette had just thirteen unforced errors to Serena's fifty (including three in the final game).
28. Auckland 1st Rd. - Tamira Paszek def. Francesca Schiavone 7-6(3)/4-6/6-3
Australian Open Q2 - Virginie Razzano def. Francesca Schiavone 6-1/4-6/6-1
the matches that prevented Schiavone from tying Ai Sugiyama with a tour-record 62nd consecutive slam main draw appearance. Needing a big result in Week 1 to raise her ranking high enough for automatic entry into the AO, Schiavone lost a 3:00 battle to Paszek in her opening '16 match in Auckland. In a set that featured Schiavone's late fight, multiple arguments and a forward-facing tweener shot at the net in the closing moments the Italian battled back from 4-1 down in the 3rd and got back on serve down 4-3, only to give the break back a game later, then fail to convert BP at 5-3 as Paszek served out the win. Forced into AO qualifying, Schiavone lost to another veteran, as Razzano pulled away in the final set to win and end what could have been a great Melbourne story (a round later, she nearly ended what WOULD become a great Melbourne story before it began -- serving for the match, but losing, against eventual AO quarterfinalist Zhang Shuai in the final Q-round).
29. Miami QF - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Ekaterina Makarova
Kuznetsova nearly gave this one away. Multiple times. She led 5-2, 40/love in the 1st but was broken, then dropped serve at 5-4 and 6-5, too, and Makarova breezed through a 7-3 TB to steal the set. Kuznetsova served for the set at 5-3 in the 2nd, but fell behind love/40 and dropped serve again. But she broke Makarova to force a 3rd. There, at 4-2, Sveta was broken again, but finally served things out after breaking her fellow Hordette in game #9. All in a (Sveta) day's work.

30. Roland Garros Q3: Lucie Hradecka def. Grace Min
In a crazy duel to join the main draw, Min saved a dozen BP in the 3rd set and held four MP. Hradecka, who failed to serve out the match at 8-7, saved four BP at 10-9. Min stopped play during the match's final point, calling for the umpire to check a mark of a ball that she felt had gone long. But when the umpire ruled the ball in, the veteran Maiden had "converted" MP and survived to play another day in Paris.
31. Wuhan 3rd Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Angelique Kerber
In something akin to her '15 pattern rather than '16, Kerber takes part in another glorious match, but ultimately comes up short in 3:20 just a few weeks after she ousted Kvitova in the Round of 16 en route to the U.S. Open title. In the 90-minute 1st set, Kerber saved four SP before taking a 12-10 TB; while Kvitova later saved seven BP to hold for 5-3 in the 3rd. Kerber responded by saving three MP from love/40 down (after which Petra started cramping), six overall, and five in the final game before the Czech finally closed out the third-longest WTA match (but not Fed Cup) in '16 -- behind the 3:38 Begu/Vandeweghe and 3:24 Sh.Zhang/Wozniacki contests, and tied with Wuhan's other 3:20 marathon between Siegemund & Kovinic.

32. Fed Cup World Group Playoffs Match #2 - Simona Halep/ROU def. Andrea Petkovic/GER
After a near miss vs. the Czechs in the 1st Round, the Swarmettes were looking to hold onto their position in the '17 World Group, while the Germans were trying to do the same after consecutive disappointments after reaching the semifinals last year. Halep's February come-from-ahead loss to Karolina Pliskova ultimately was the key moment in a 3-2 loss that went to deciding doubles, and she avoided a repeat on Day 1 vs. Andrea Petkovic this time out. After leading 6-4/3-1, Halep served for the match in the 2nd set and fired back-to-back DF and was broken. She battled back to lead 5-3 in the 3rd, as well, but squandered a 30/15 lead and was broken again. But her immediate break back saved the day, as she won in 2:49 to knot the tie
33. Fed Cup World Group II Match #1 - Anna Karolina Schmiedlova/SVK def. Arina Rodionova/AUS
The drama started early as Rodionova cramped up in the 1st set, while the off-her-game Schmiedlova's miss-hits and DF handed the Aussie an opportunity, which she finally took advantage of by serving out the set on her second try. AKS fell behind 7-5/4-1, only to finally find her form. A limping Rodionova saved three SP at 5-4, then Schmiedlova bloodied her knee trying to reach a shot before holding for 6-5 and then breaking serve to take the 2nd set. In the 3rd, Rodionova ran out of gas, going out in 32 minutes to end the 3:02 match. "It had blood, tears, cramping...there was everything out there," said the Aussie. Unfortunately for Slovakia, Schmiedlova's win proved to be not enough in a 3-2 loss to Australia.
34. Australian Open 4th Round - Johanna Konta def. Ekaterina Makarova
Facing off with '15 AO semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova in Melbourne, the Sydney-born Konta outlasted the Hordette in a 3rd set that opened with eight straight holds of serve. Konta finally broke Makarova in game #9 and served for the match at 5-4. But the moment proved to be too much for her, and it was soon back to the grind at 5-5. Three games later, she got the break advantage back at 7-6, and went about her "do-over" moment. This time, Konta held true, easily holding to put away a victory that made her the first British woman to reach the QF and, ultimately, a slam Final 4 since Jo Durie at Wimbledon in 1984.
35. Indian Wells SF - Victoria Azarenka def. Karolina Pliskova
In a match of swinging momentum, Pliskova out-hit Azarenka early and held two SP on Vika's serve at 5-3. After failing there, the Czech still had the chance to serve for the set. But after losing just three points on serve prior to game #9, Pliskova quickly fell down 15/40 and was broken. Azarenka then held at love and raced to a 5-0 lead in the tie-break, winning 7-1 to officially rip the set from her Czech opponent's grasp. Pliskova rebounded in the 2nd, saving four BP in the opening game then breaking for 2-0 before coasting to the set win. But it wasn't enough to hold off Azarenka down the stretch in the decider.
36. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Kristyna Pliskova def. Samantha Stosur
While an early Stosur exit in Australia isn't big news, she usually wins at least ONE match. This was just her second 1st Round loss since 2005, and it came on the big stage under the lights on Rod Laver (really, they should have known not to schedule her there, right?). Qualifier Pliskova nearly flubbed her chance, showing all her Czech-iness by throwing in a pair of DF while trying to serve out the match at 6-4/5-4. Eventually, Stosur held two SP before Pliskova pushed things to a TB. There, on her 3rd MP, Pliskova fired a lefty ace to put Stosur away. So, again, she flashed all her "Czech glory"... only this time it was the good stuff. A round later, Pliskova hit 31 aces and held five match points, but still lost. Yep, she's a Maiden, through-and-through.
37. Indian Wells QF - Aga Radwanska def. Petra Kvitova
Radwanska backs up her '15 WTA Finals win over the Czech, while Petra once again finds a way to squander a big lead as she limped across the finish line in her third straight three-setter in Indian Wells. Aga saved four BP to hold for 3-1 in the 1st, then Kvitova's DF on BP handed her an insurmountable double-break lead one game later. In the 2nd, the Czech finally got a service hold and broke for 3-1. Radwanska broke back for 3-2, but Kvitova went up 5-2 and served for the set two games later. A Radwanska drop shot and lob combo broke Petra for 5-4, then the Czech's errors carried her the rest of the way. In the tie-break, Kvitova opened with a DF, saw Radwanska take a 4-0 lead, then after reaching a drop shot the Czech pushed a too-fine-an-angle forehand crosscourt volley off the net cord and out to give Aga a 5-2 advantage. One point later, Radwanska reached MP when -- naturally -- HER shot hit the net cord and dribbled over onto Kvitova's side of the court. On her second MP, Radwanska advanced and solidified her return to the Top 3 in the rankings.

38. Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Maria Sharapova def. Lauren Davis
The Russian put together a well-played, dominant performance against Davis. Well, that is, if you overlook the messy, un-Sharapovian 2nd set that sprung up from the depths of Laver Arena in between the 1st and 3rd sets and, for a bit, swallowed up the gummy candy maven. Playing for her 600th career win, Sharapova took the 1st set at 6-1, and then the 3rd at love. But in the 2nd an uncharacteristic spate of errors (33... in the SET!) plagued her game throughout. Still, she very nearly won it to finish up in straight sets. Davis served up 4-2 in the 2nd, and later led 4-2 and 5-4 in the tie-break, yet all along one fully expected Sharapova to do what she always does under such circumstances: get back even and then pull away. She did the former to force the TB, but the latter would take an additional set. Davis reached set point when Sharapova missed on a seemingly easy short ball eleven points into the breaker, slicing a ball that landed just outside the line to give Davis a set point at 6-5. A forehand error then forced Sharapova to go the distance. The 3rd set was elementary, as Sharapova took out her 2nd set frustrations on the diminutive Bannerette to notch yet another career milestone.

39. Fed Cup 1st Rd. Match #1 - Karolina Pliskova/CZE def. Simona Halep/ROU
Halep led 7-6/4-4 before being broken for 5-4 in the 2nd. Tossing her racket in disgust, she then lost seven of the next nine games and put Romania behind the 8-ball after a 2:30 loss. At least her over Match #3 win over Petra Kvitova (who went 0-2 for the first time in her FC career) smoothed over some of the hurt of what turned out to be "lost" weekend for the Swarmettes, who squandered a golden opportunity to knock off the two-time defending champion Czechs, who prevailed 3-2 after winning the deciding doubles and went on to win their third straight FC crown.
40. Charleston 2nd Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Madison Keys
Any hope for a rematch of last year's epic Kerber/Keys final in Charleston were dashed early on when Keys dropped a 2:48 match to Siegemund, though it took the German five MP (after #4 was overruled by the umpire) to finally put her away. Siegemund's QF run fed the confidence that soon produced an appearance in the Stuttgart final, while Keys made her own unexpected run to a clay court final in Rome.
41. Wimbledon Q3 - Tamira Paszek def. Andrea Hlavackova
...6-3/5-7/10-9 ret.
Seeking her third consecutive successful SW19 Q-run, Paszek held MP at 5-4 in the 2nd set, but turned her ankle in the game and failed to put away the win. Hlavackova forced a 3rd set, where Paszek again took the lead at 5-3 before the Czech took the match even deeper before she started to cramp. She took a medical timeout at 8-8, and both players were treated simultaneously during the 9-8 changeover. Ultimately, Hlavackova couldn't go on and collapsed flat on her back after being forced to retire down 10-9.


42. Rome 2nd Rd. - Timea Babos def. Venus Williams
While deep runs in big red clay events might be a bit much to ask of Venus at this point, she'd never allow that likely reality to lead her to not try, or fight for nearly three hours in an ultimately losing effort that proves once again just how much the 35-year really does love to play tennis. That's what happened here.
43. Rome 2nd Rd. - Genie Bouchard def. Angelique Kerber
Bouchard led 6-1/3-0, but Kerber forced a 3rd set and lost a close 3rd. It was a prelude to a poor end to her clay court season, as Kerber joined the short list of reigning Australian Open champions to lose in the 1st Round at Roland Garros.
44. Acapulco Final - Sloane Stephens def. Dominika Cibulkova
In 3:06, Current Sloane showed her mettle and moved to 3-0 in career singles finals (she'd reach 4-0 soon afterward). Of course, a certain Swarmette, circa 2013-14 or so, might choose to note how Stephens has become quite proficient in the "smaller" tournaments, but is still looking to hook a "bigger fish" in the Future.
45. Doha 2nd Rd. - Monica Niculescu def. Jelena Jankovic
After 2:46, twenty breaks of serve and Niculescu nearly blowing a 5-2 lead in the 3rd set, JJ was left with a few extra days before celebrating her 31st birthday. Hmmm, maybe THAT explains why the cats were going crazy in Qatar.

46. Miami 2nd Rd. - Serena Williams def. Christina McHale
Once again, McHale had a strong 1Q showing. Williams led 6-3/5-3, serving for the match at 5-4 and holding a MP. But McHale got the break for 5-5, saved three BP to hold a game later and then broke the world #1 again (!!) to force a 3rd set. McHale staved off break points to hold in game #1 of the 3rd, but Williams claimed control of the match from that point forward.
47. Fed Cup World Group Playoffs Match #3 - Victoria Azarenka/BLR def. Daria Kasatkina/RUS
After pulling out a tight 2nd set, Azarenka's experience won out as she quickly grabbed a 3-0 lead in the 3rd, taking out the Russian in 2:14 in their first-ever meeting. So, when do we get Azarenka/Kasatkina II?
48. Strasbourg 2nd Rd. - Kristina Mladenovic def. Alison Riske
Mladenovic led 5-1 in the 3rd set, only to see it nearly all slip away. Riske saved four MP and knotted the set at 5-5. With heavy crowd support, Kiki continued to push, but Riske saved a 5th and 6th MP in the deciding tie-break. Finally, Mladenovic coralled her serve and finished off the Bannerette with a match-ending ace.

49. Stuttgart QF - Aga Radwanska def. Karolina Pliskova
Aga won in two, winning her eleventh and twelfth consecutive sets vs. the Czech. But game #11 of the 2nd set, and the eventual tie-break, made this match something more than a "routine" victory. Serving at 5-5, Radwanska survived a 15-minute, twelve-deuce game in which she saved seven break points (Pliskova missed on second serve returns more than once) before finally holding on her own seventh game point on, naturally, a net cord dribbler. In the TB, Pliskova's fight was admirable, if too late. On Radwanska's first MP at 6-5, the Czech shot a forehand winner up the line, then she fired a saving ace on MP #2. After Radwanska's return winner on a Pliskova second serve gave the Pole MP #3 at 8-7. Pliskova blasted a backhand winner. Aga's volley winner brought MP #4 at 9-8, and Pliskova finally brought things to a close with a forehand into the net.
50. Charleston 2nd Rd. - Mirjana Lucic-Baroni def. Kristina Mladenovic
In the deciding tie-break, both players held MPs as they traded multiple DFs (Lucic had 15 for the match) before the Croat finally won the 28-point tussle. Lucic edged Mladenovic 118-115 in total points on the day.
51. Indian Wells SF - Serena Williams def. Aga Radwanska
Try as she might, Radwanska couldn't quite take full advantage of Serena's early struggles. Still, the Pole's eschewing of the use of her trusty bag of trick shots for a bit more forward aggression (though she was still sometimes tentative) allowed her to stay close and nearly take her second career set off Williams. Radwanska had three BP in game #5, then another in game #7, but failed to take a double-break lead. Seizing her own chance, Williams began to tee off on Radwanska's second serve in game #8, earning the break to knot things at 4-4. Williams simply out-hit her opponent while taking the final four games of the set. Serena led 3-0 in the 3rd after winning the first eleven points of the set, only to see Aga run off three straight games of her own, saving two BP in game #6 to hold for 3-3. Williams' wide backhand volley handed Radwanska a 6-5 lead with a break, but Serena's crosscourt forehand got the break back and things went to a TB that was dominated by Williams. After dropping the first point, Serena won the final seven points of the match with big returns and serves to secure her tenth win in ten meetings with the Pole and advance to her first I.W. final in fifteen years.

52. Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Serena Williams def. Kristina Mladenovic
Serena was forced to dig deep into her champion's heart to finally put down Mladenovic on a stormy, rainy day in a match that went on a little longer than it likely had to. Partly because of long weather delay, but also party because of Williams herself. The world #1 wasn't in her very best form, and it caused her to nearly be dragged to a 3rd set before ultimately grinding out a victory. But her inability to convert a bushel of BP chances in the 2nd set did cost her a couple of hours of annoyance en route to the final as the two women were forced to wait out a violent storm that hit Paris just as they were about to start a 2nd set tie-break. Mladenovic gave a good accounting of herself on the day, even if the result didn't ultimately go as well as she might have dreamed. Employing a series of drops shots and lobs (probably TOO often, actually, though they were generally quite effective), staged comebacks from several deep break point holes and forced Williams to raise the level of her game on more than one occasion to prevent things from getting "sticky."

Afterwards in the lockerroom, both players showed appreciation for the competition.

53. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Annika Beck def. Heather Watson
A year ago, Watson left Wimbledon in the 3rd Round. Disappointed, for sure, but also heartened by the incredible fight she'd shown vs. Serena Williams, leading the eventual champion 3-0 in the 3rd set, serving for the match and ultimately coming within two points of the upset (and being dubbed a Legendary British Tennis Superstardom for All Time, for sure). Even without the win, she left with her head held high. She characterized this loss like this:

That'll happen when, after two days of work, you lose a nearly three-hour long (more like 24-hours, really) match in a 12-10 3rd set despite having held triple match point, up love/40 on Annika Beck's serve in game #20 of the final set.

A day earlier, Beck had dropped the 1st set to Watson, then won seven straight games to take the 2nd at love and hold a 1-0 lead in the 3rd, falling and hurting her ankle in the process, when play was suspended for the day. A day later, she stretched her lead to 4-2, but saw Watson battle back to 4-4 when the German double-faulted to break her own serve in game #8. In game #13, Watson saved three BP, had a DF on game point, then saw Beck break her when the Brit failed on a drop shot attempt to take a 7-6 lead. But, in a game of back-and-forth, Beck dropped serve a game later. Four of the next five games were holds at love, as Watson led 10-9 then took a love/40 lead on Beck's serve, holding triple MP. Beck saved all three points, the last two with winners -- a backhand down the line, then a forehand that hit a line. The German reached game point, and Watson fired a shot long to knot the score at 10-10. With that, the Brit's tentative grasp on her comeback loosened. A game later, she fired her ninth ace, but followed it up with her seventh DF a point later to face a BP. A netted backhand from Watson handed a break lead to Beck, who went up 40/15 a game later. Watson, both taking and giving once again, saved one with a big backhand, but then ended the match on MP #2 with a backhand error. Beck completed the victory in nearly three hours of match play over two days, trailing Watson by a wide margin in winners (43-19) but making far fewer unforced errors (64-27), as well.

In real time, Watson only lasted one more day at last year's Wimbledon, falling to Williams on Day 5. But, my, what a difference a year can make.

On the bright side, though, Watson stuck around (even w/ back-to-back walkovers) and became the first British woman to win the Wimbledon Mixed Doubles since 1987.
54. Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Ekaterina Makarova def. Petra Kvitova
A three-player dance on Court 2 at the AELTC. THREE players, you ask? Why, yes. Ekaterina. Good Petra. And Bad Petra. Kvitova's career has evolved into a wonderful, horrible mash-up of frustrating, head-banging torture sessions that run the gamut of emotion from elation to pain to a feeling of relief when it's all finally over.

It was hard to tell which version of Kvitova was on the court every other minute in this one. Nothing unusual, even after Good Petra hogged the spotlight in the Czech's 1st Round. At any rate, Makarova broke Kvitova right out of the gate for 1-0, and led 4-2. A few minutes later, after the Russian failed to secure two GP in game #8, the Czech broke to get back on serve at 4-4. As the BBC commentator coverage said, "Good Petra has arrived. (But) bad Petra can appear at any given time." And she soon would. Serving to stay in the set down 4-5, Makarova held serve then broke Kvitova on the Czech's truly horrendous volley attempt. The Russian reached SP, but suddenly Kvitova surged and held a BP, then another. She converted neither. Makarova got the chance at a second SP, and Kvitova fired a ball (quite literally) a hair's-length beyond the line to give Makarova a solid/squandered/recovered 1st set victory.

Rain stopped play early in the 2nd set, and the match became another twisted day in the life of the Czech, as her long and winding 2016 Wimbledon road (she was finally looking to finish this SECOND Round match mid-way through Day 6) came to an end at the hands of the Russian. Well, and herself. Kvitova often played quite well, but only on a few brief occasions did her game rise to the brilliant level it had throughout her 1st Round win. But while Bad Petra's presence wasn't quite as evident as is often the case in a loss by the Czech, when it counted the very most, she pulled off her mask to reveal herself far too often.

Much like the 1st set, the 2nd was characterized by rain, and Kvitova failing to take advantage of her numerous opportunities while Makarova jumped on nearly all of her own. Down the stretch when Good Petra was sorely needed, it was Bad Petra who chose that inopportune time to remind everyone that she's never too far away. With the Czech leading 5-4, Makarova found herself in the same position as in the opening set, serving in game #10 to stay in it. Kvitova took a 15/30 lead, and soon held a set point. But she fired a forehand long, and donated a few more errors in the remainder points of the game as the Russian again held for 5-5. Makarova took a love/40 lead in game #11, but Good Petra arrived to save the game. She saved two BP with big serves, then a third with an ace. She then used a powerful forehand to force a Makarova error and held for 6-5. They'd go to a tie-break, where Bad Petra would have the final say.

A forehand error from the Czech put her down a mini-break at 1-0. Two more errors made it 3-0. Makarova deliverd a slow second serve which Kvitova mistimed to frame her return to fall behind 4-2, and another forehand error made it 5-2. Makarova just missed on a passing shot that would have given her MP a point later. Then the Czech closed to 5-4 and tied things at 5-5 with a Makarova DF. But the Russian reached MP a point later, and Kvitova's netted forehand finally put an end to things.
55. Miami 3rd Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Caroline Wozniacki
In a momentum-shifting match that lasted until nealry 1 a.m. Easter Sunday, the hot-and-cold level of Svitolina's play directed the action, with her forehand and aggressive tactics coming and going, then finally settling in long enough in the closing moments to secure the win. Svitolina served for the 1st set, but ultimately lost it. In the 2nd, she lost just two points on serve. Down 4-5, love/30 to the Dane in the 3rd, the Ukrainian reeled off eleven of the last twelve points to finally put away the steadily-sinking-in-the-rankikngs Wozniacki.
56. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Ana Ivanovic def. Camila Giorgi
Was that AnaIvo saving two match points and advancing late on a Saturday night? Yes. Of course, it helped that Giorgi threw in 47 UE's (w/ 10 DF) with her 40 winners. Naturally, Ivanovic couldn't help but lose for winning, as she fell in the very next round, playing with a sore knee and posting just two games against Karolina Pliskova.
57. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Danka Kovinic 6-3/4-6/7-6(5)
Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Johanna Larrson 6-3/4-6/7-5
they weren't pretty, but they were wins. And those haven't been easy to come by for Petra in '16. In 2:26, after failing to serve out the match vs. Kovinic, Kvitova fell behind 6-5, 30/love in the 3rd. Winning the total points battle by a score 107-106, the Czech was just good enough to take out the Montenegrin. A round later, she had to dig out of a 5-3 3rd set hole vs. Larsson, with the Swede serving for the match. Kvitova won sixteen of the final twenty points on that day.
58. Dubai 1st Rd. - Jelena Jankovic def. Belinda Bencic
When good things happen to good people, and bad things happen to equally good people. Bencic led JJ 6-4/4-3 before the Serb finally took the 3rd set by converting on her sixth set point. The Swiss teen, playing for a seventh straight week, finally wore down in the 3rd in the 2:30+ match.

59. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Garbine Muguruza def. Camila Giorgi
RG champ and '15 SW19 finalist Muguruza returned to action in a high-quality match in a Centre Court meeting with Giorgi. After the Spaniard took the 1st 6-2, the hard-hitting match grew seriously tight in the 2nd set, with Giorgi holding a set point at 5-4 (Muguruza saved it by winning a baseline groundstroke battle) before converting on her second chance two games later to take the set 7-5. Muguruza began to slowly pull away in the 3rd, serving for the match at 5-4. She held at love, with a frustrated Giorgi committing four straight errors. But that didn't characterize the entire match, as it included both woman battling shoulder-to-shoulder in the winner column on the stat sheet. Garbi ultimately won 30-29, evening out her error total (30, to Giorgi's 42). Muguruza had 7 aces to six DF, while the Italian's 1-to-8 ratio was more problematic.
60. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Karolina Pliskova def. Yanina Wickmayer
Keeping up with the recent family tradition, Karolina engaged in a late-in-the-day match on Day 1 that turned out to be the final women's match to finish. Things started off well, with her winning the 1st set 6-2. But then as Wickmayer turned up the emotion and aggression in the 2nd, Pliskova (tiring, mentally and physically, after a busy long grass season) just went away for a while. Wickmayer took the 2nd at love. Pliskova righted herself in the 3rd, but failed to convert a BP at 2-2 when she netted what seemed to be a fairly routine backhand crosscourt return. But Wickmayer, almost desperately, suddenly began to go for too much in her game. It worked in the Czech's favor, as she got a break for 4-3, seized what appeared to be complete momentum, took a 5-3 lead and served for the match at 5-4. But right when she needed to bear down, Pliskova appeared to "double-clutch" and was once again tentative. Wickmayer put away a BP with a forehand winner to tie things at 5-5 and ultimately won a third straight game to take a 6-5 lead. In game #13 of the 3rd, Pliskova reached double BP on the Waffle's serve, but failed to convert either chance. The feeling was that if she failed to get the break the match was probably going to be over one game later. Wickmayer ultimately held three game points, but Pliskova's big forehand return winner gave her a third BP chance. The Belgian aced her up the middle. BP #4 was there for the taking, though, and when Wickmayer netted a half-volley Pliskova, having been given a reprieve from living yet another chapter in her nightmarish grand slam history, was once again serving for the match at 7-6.

Finally, she played a steady game, pounding balls deep in the court. She even let out a rare shout of celebration and a clenched fist -- not as rare as a strong mental game from AnaIvo, but hardly a common occurrence, so you knew she was in it -- as a Wickmayer shot went wide to give the Czech a 30/15 lead. On MP, Wickmayer failed to dig out a forehand off the baseline and Pliskova won as the clock read nearly 9 p.m.. The three-set match lasted only 1:39, but :54 of that came in the 3rd set alone.
61. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Duan Yingying def. Kristyna Pliskova
After Day 1 concluded with a Pliskova twin "breaking ranks" from family history and actually surviving a tight slam match, Day 2 opened with a "return to form" as another Pliskova twin squandered a 3rd set lead and was once again sent out in the early rounds of a major. Less than a day after #17-seeded Karolina overcame a love 2nd set to gut out an 8-6 3rd set win over Yanina Wickmayer, her sister Kristyna, one year after she reached her only career slam 3rd Round at SW19, overcame a slow start against Chinese lucky loser Duan Yingying and seemed in good position to make Wimbledon -- where she was the junior champion in 2010 -- the first slam at which she's ever won MD matches in back-to-back years. But, you know, Kristyna is still a Pliskova, and a Czech. She led by a break at 3-1 in the 3rd set before Duan broke back for 3-3. Highlighting just how much Pliskova needed to ride her big serve on the grass, and how every BP opportunity was worth its weight in gold, it's worth noting that through the first eleven games of the set, none had yet gone to even deuce. In fact, only four games of the thirty played on the day did, and all of them had come back in the 1st set. So any small opening needed to be ripped wide, since they were few and far between as the match progressed.

So, guess what Pliskova did. Serving down 5-6, Pliskova opened game #12 of the 3rd set with a DF (her sixth on the day) and quickly found herself down love/40. What Pliskova so often failed to do in the match, the 26-year old Chinese did right then and there. Duan fired a backhand winner to get the match-winning break, recording her second straight 1st Round Wimbledon upset coming one year after she qualified and defeated Genie Bouchard at SW19 in the MD last summer. While Pliskova had ten aces on the day, much as was the case in her loss to Monica Puig in Melbourne (31 aces, 5 MP...but still a defeat), she failed to employ her biggest weapon when she needed it most. She had just a single ace in the 3rd set (coming in a rather innocuous moment in game #8 to take a 40/love lead before holding for 4-4). She hit at just a 57% clip on her 1st serves (after 75% in the 2nd set) and won only ten of the seventeen first serves she got in (she won 15 of 18 in the 2nd), along with just 7 of 13 of her 2nd serves (5/6 in the 2nd). Meanwhile, Duan doubled Pliskova's winner total in the 3rd (16-8, after having been behind 24-19 in the first two sets). Duan converted on both her BP chances in the set, making her three-for-five in the match vs. Pliskova's two-for-ten. She was clearly the big point player on the day.

62. Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Elena Vesnina def. Ekaterina Makarova
In a match-up of doubles partners, Vesnina outlasted Makarova to reach her first career slam singles QF (and later SF). After taking a break lead in the 1st for 2-0, and led 3-0 and 4-1, Vesnina saw Makarova get back on serve and knot the score at 4-4. Vesnina got within two points of the set in game #10, but Marakova held serve then served for the set at 6-5. In a three-deuce game, she did. Vesnina again took an early break lead in the 2nd, going up 2-0 with a Makarova DF and coasting to a 6-1 win. In the 3rd, Vesnina served for the match at 5-4, only to be broken after falling down 15/40. Makarova saved two BP in game #13 and held for 7-6, but it was Vesnina who surged in the closing moments, winning the final ten points of the match, ending the 2:47 contest with an ace.


#blessed #passion @wtafinalssg @wta p.s:the next thought ?? was how to get up ??

A photo posted by ???????? ?????????/Kuznetsova (@svetlanak27) on

63. WTA Finals Round Robin - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Karolina Pliskova
Two days after saving MP in loss to Aga Radwanska, Sveta wasn't ready to give up, or give in. Still, despite match-long service issues that saw her 1st serve percentage come in at 44%, Pliskova very nearly survived again, two days after she'd saved her own MP vs. Garbine Muguruza. Against a grinding Kuznetsova, Pliskova trailed 4-1 in the final set, but get a break back with the Russian serving at 5-3, 30/30. The Czech reeled off nine straight points and served up 6-5, 40/love, two points from the win. But a few loose errors led to a break of serve and a deciding TB. Winning her sixth straight point, Kuznetsova led 2-0 with a Pliskova DF, then 4-1 and 6-3. Down triple MP, the Czech saved all three to even things at 6-6, only to drop the final two points as Kuznetsova took the 2:17 match. After firing thirteen aces in her first round robin match in Singapore, Pliskova had just three here, but managed to get within two points of victory twice in the final set. Even with her opponent riding a golden emotional and high-quality wave of great play, it was a lost opportunity for the U.S. Open finalist. Afterward, asked from where her career was getting its current second wind, Kuznetsova didn't even need to pause to think of the proper response. She immediately chimed in, "From my heart." And that's why she's Sveta.

64. Wimbledon 4th Rd. - Simona Halep def. Madison Keys
After a mostly-breezy trip through the first three rounds in which she was little more than a curious siteseer/adrenaline junkie who peeked over the edge of The Cliffs on occasion, just to show that she wasn't a slave to their charms, Halep once again found herself in wide open space with nowhere to hide. With Keys on the other side of the net, she was facing down a player who very well could be the current player wearing the newly-dry cleaned "next maiden slam-winner" outfit (the same one formerly rented by the Romanian two seasons ago) turned in to the proper authorities in Paris by none other than (now) actual slam-winner Garbine Muguruza. It was put up or shut up time for Simona. Again.

And, by the end of the day, Halep had put up quite lot. Oh, but the process wasn't without another game of chicken with those very same Cliffs of Simona, of course.

The two made it to 4-4 in the 1st before either faced their first BP. But Keys' back-to-back forehand errors gave Halep opportunity #1, and she responded with a forehand lob to break for 5-4. Serving for the match was to be her first real test of the day. It didn't go well. After taking a 40/15 lead, Halep hit a DF on her first set point. On SP #2, she mishit a forehand. Keys snuffed out SP #3 with a backhand return winner. Upon reaching SP #4, Halep hit another DF, then a forehand error gave Keys a BP. Moving forward for a short ball, Halep didn't take it out of the air for a volley and instead let the ball bounce and fired a shot to the corner, where a slightly off-balance Keys wristed a shot that floated over the Romanian's head down the line and landed inside the court for a winner to get the break for 5-5. But rather than sulk, Halep bounced back, getting a break in the following game by forcing two errors off Keys' racket in a love game. But, serving again for the set at 6-5, Halep fell behind love/30 and Keys forced a TB and won it 7-5.

Keys got an early break and led 2-0 in the 2nd. But rather than run away from the moment, this time Halep dug in. She held at love in game #3, then broke serve on her fourth BP chance of game #4. A game later, the Romanian saved one BP, then four more (from love/40 down) two games later to hold for 4-3. An ace gave her a hold for 5-4, and then it was Keys who blinked in game #10, letting slip a 30/15 lead with three consecutive unforced errors to hand Halep a 6-4 set and force a 3rd.

Halep opened the 3rd with a love hold, then immediately put pressure on Keys' service game. She reached BP with a backhand winner. The Bannerette held, but as the set went on, the Romanian remained steady while Keys, battling what appeared to be a leg injury that hindered her movement (she later said she began to cramp, likely partially as a reaction to physical strain, but also admittedly the stress of the moment), began to slip behind. Halep held at love for 3-2, then went up a break with a Keys DF a game later. Keys managed to extend the match with a hold for 5-3, but Halep then closed it out without too much drama in the following game.
65. Montreal SF - Simona Halep def. Angelique Kerber
All the colors of the Halep rainbow, for good and bad. In the end, the good won out.

After bursting out of the gates by completing a love 1st set in a near-perfect performance, as Kerber's game improved in the 2nd all the perfectionist blood within the Romanian began to boil white hot. After dropping a game to fall behind 4-3 in the 2nd, Halep beat the Montreal court with her racket over and over, called for a talk with coach Darren Cahill, then hurried through a service game that resulted in a break, as the lure of The Cliffs of Simona looked to simply be too strong for Halep to resist. Kerber served out the set and completed her own six-game run as she took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd. But then Halep's better Swarmette angels prevailed, as she turned the momentum back in her favor down the stretch and ended the match just as she began it -- with a six-game winning streak. Converting on her fourth MP attempt, Halep advanced to her second straight Rogers Cup final, where she defeated Madison Keys.
66. Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Zhang Shuai def. Timea Bacsinszky
Timea's Olympic experience had been a bit incomplete so far. She missed the opening ceremonies because she had an early match scheduled the next day, then once that began she struggled mightily with Australian Open superhero Zhang, falling behind 4-2 in the 3rd but fighting back to hold -- and fail to convert -- three MP opportunities, the last up 6-5 in the deciding TB. Zheng ultimately won 9-7 on her own second MP when the Swiss flared a backhand wide to become the first (but hardy the only) seed ousted on Day 1.

Timea's time in Rio had a happy ending, though, as she and Martina Hingis combined to win the Bronze in doubles.
67. Miami 2nd Rd. - Carolina Garcia def. Andrea Petkovic
Petko's North American hard court swing left her grasping at straws. After losing a 7-5 3rd set vs. Barbora Strycova in Indian Wells, she dropped a 3rd set tie-break to Garcia in a nearly three-hour match in which the German actually recorded ten more points (121-111).

68. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Marina Erakovic def. Irina Falconi 4-6/6-3/10-8
Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Marina Erakovic def. Jelena Jankovic 4-6/7-6(11)/8-6
The New Zealand qualifier had an adventure in the main draw at the AELTC. She nearly squandered a 4-2 3rd set lead in the 1st Round, as Falconi won three straight games to lead 5-4. She held a MP in game #10, but failed to convert. Erakovic got the break of serve to go up 9-8, then served out the match. It was the 28-year old's first slam MD win since the 2014 U.S. Open, and her first in London since 2013. A round later, Erakovic outlasted JJ despite blowing a 5-3 3rd set lead and failing to serve out the match at 5-4.
69. Doha 1st Rd. - Caroline Wozniacki def. Ana Konjuh
Right after having fallen out of the Top 20, Wozniacki struggled to get by Konjuh in 2:35 after being up a double break in the 3rd, serving at 5-2 and 5-4 (40/love) before finally putting away her ninth match point.
70. Birmingham 1st Rd. - Carla Suarez-Navarro def. Elina Svitolina 7-5/4-6/7-5
Birmingham 2nd Rd. - Carla Suarez-Navarro def. Andrea Petkovic 4-6/7-6(5)/7-6(5)
Birmingham QF - Carla Suarez-Navarro def. Angelique Kerber 6-4/1-6/7-5
Birmingham SF - Madison Keys def. Carla Suarez-Navarro 3-6/6-3/7-6(3)
volume, volume, volumen. Just your typical four-match, 12-set, 130-game, four three-setter, four extended third set week for CSN. After coming back from 5-3 in the 3rd (two points from defeat) vs. Svitolina, she nearly blew a 5-2 3rd set lead of her own vs. Petkovic. And she still had sixty more games to play after that.
71. Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Venus Williams def. Maria Sakkari
Venus was made to work by the exciting young Greek qualifier, who took the 2nd set to force a decider. Williams got a break for 4-2 en route to the victory. But the lingering memory of this one might be the overly officious chair umpire who once refused Sakkari a replay look because it took her too long to ask for it (because she'd thought she'd hit a winner), and twice dinging Williams for time violations (the second time at 4-2 in the 3rd when Venus hadn't hit a wayward toss, then bounced the ball as the stopwatch at the umpire's chair hit :00). Williams had a little talk with her about that one... so you KNOW she didn't like it, since she rarely ever questions ANYTHING.
72. U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Kateryna Bondarenko def. Zheng Saisai
Welcome to "the crazy women's tennis tour." In the 3:01 match, Zheng led 5-0 in the 1st set, lost five straight games, then closed out a 7-5 win. The Chinese woman led 5-3 in the 2nd, as well, served for the match at 5-4, as served two up 5-3 in the TB before losing four straight points as Bondarenko sent things to the 3rd. There, the Ukrainian led 3-0, then double-faulted on her second MP (on an underhanded second serve) before winning on MP #3. And if that wasn't enough, after it was all over, a breach (harmless, thankfully) occurred when a Zheng fan climb onto the court and reach the players before being hustled away by "security" personnel.

73. WTA Finals Round Robin - Karolina Pliskova def. Garbine Muguruza
Garbi in a nutshell. Despite a dominate start from the Czech that saw her take a 6-2/3-1 lead, Muguruza managed to get back into the match after (shockingly?) taking Sam Sumyk's advice to dial down the power and make Pliskova hit more shots. Soon after, the Spaniard was serving for the 2nd set at 5-3. Pliskova broke back, and took a 3-0 lead in the eventual TB, as Muguruza looked ready to go down to defeat. But the Czech allowed a few errors to creep into her game, sparking anew her opponent's hopes. Mugurza took the TB 7-4, then went up 4-0 in the 3rd set. She served at 4-1, 40/30, only to lose a 15-minute, 8-deuce game that ended with a Pliskova break of serve as the clock moved past 1 a.m.. The Czech gave the break back at love, but it didn't matter. Muguruza was already (mostly) off the rails. Muguruza failed to serve things out at 5-2, holding a MP before having her serve broken again. This time, Sumyk was unable to get through to a cranky Garbi, who wouldn't win another game, failing again to serve things out at 5-4, then being broken at love to end the match as, once again, it was proven that one should never give up when Muguruza is on the other side of the net... because she may beat her opponent to it.
74. Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. Annika Beck
The highlight here was a multi-generational German tie-break to decide the 1st set. Australian Open champ Kerber defeated countrywoman Witthoeft, a 21-year old who before Wimbledon hadn't won back-to-back tour-level MD matches since last summer in Toronto. The 1st set was a tight affair, despite Kerber committing half as many (14-30) unforced errors. She got a break for a 6-5 lead, but was broken at love when she attempted to serve out the set. In the tie-break, Kerber went up 6-2, but Witthoeft saved four consecutive SP and suddenly had a SP of her own at 7-6. The younger German would ultimately hold three more SP in the TB before Kerber finally put it away on SP #6 for a 13-11 win. In a rain-interrupted 2nd set, the 28-year old took control.
75. Stanford Final - Johanna Konta def. Venus Williams
Getting over the finish line wasn't easy, but the Brit proved solid down the stretch. It'd taken Konta two attempts to finally serve out the 1st, but then she squandered a 4-1, two-break lead in the 2nd, failing to put away MP and seeing Williams push things to a deciding 3rd. Konta went up 4-2 in the final set, but on a few occasions Venus threatened to make a game of things yet again before the first-time finalist finally wrestled the last stretch away from the 80-time finalist, denying Venus her 50th career title.

76. Rio Olympics 2nd Rd. - Madison Keys def. Kristina Mladenovic
At least Kiki had a better time of things in singles than she did in doubles (losing in the 1st Round in both WD and MX, with the former coming equipped with a wardrobe snafu and rant against the French tennis federation). But, still, this one goes down as something of a lost opportunity. Mladenovic served for the 1st, only to see Keys steal it in the closing games. She served for the 2nd set, too, but ultimately went to a TB and had to come back from 4-1 down, winning the last six points to force a 3rd. The second-longest Olympic women's match at 3:14, it ended with Mladenovic failing to secure the 3rd set TB after leading 5-3.
77. Fed Cup Asia/Oceania I Pool B Round Robin - Chang Kai-Chen/TPE def. Yaroslava Shvedova/KAZ
The Kazakh has a history of losing long, drawn-out Fed Cup matches that you'd think someone of her experience would find a way through, only to go down in flames yet again. This one is just the latest, as Kazakhstan once again underperformed at FC time.
78. Washington DC 2nd Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Usue Arconada
As is often the case, with Putintseva comes a touch of over-emotive drama, this time after the Kazakh let go of her anger at a specific cheering section after finishing off the game teenager.

79. U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Johanna Konta def. Tsvetana Pironkova
In the middle of the afternoon, with the heat and humidity (perhaps deceptively) at its worst, near-Top 10 Brit (AO semifinalist and Stanford champ) Konta suddenly (but "gracefully," as she would wryly note) went down in a heap while serving to stay in the 2nd set (down BP, at 5-6, in fact, after missing on a first serve). Dropping her racket and going to a knee, Konta was audibly wheezing and gasping for breath, and was soon on her back, wrapped in ice packs and wet towels while she waited for medical attention and the chair umpire kept a watchful eye on her as she ran around to get things organized and the correct personnel to the court as quickly as possible. Once the trainers got there, Konta was treated and, eventually, made it back to her chair.

In suprisingly quick fashion, she actually returned to the baseline, but only to serve her second serve (well long), securing the break for Pironkova and knotting the match at one set each. After a break between sets, Konta came back seemingly none the worse for wear. She got an early break lead over Pironkova, led 2-0, and never looked back, putting away a victory that was anything but routine.
80. Rome 1st Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko def. Kristina Mladenovic
Payback is sweet, apparently. Before she was taking jabs at a certain Russian while her back was turned, Mladenovic was doing it with Ostapenko in Week 1 after the Latvian's on-court near-throwdown with Naomi Broady.

The teenager finally had her say in Rome, and ended things with emphasis.

Meanwhile, we wait for the first Sharapova vs. Mladenovic match of 2017.
81. Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Johanna Konta def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Kuznetsova's quest to finally earn an Olympic medal soon ended with a QF loss in WD, but she "left her mark" in this one vs. the Brit in a defeat in which she won the 1st set, and led in the 2nd and 3rd sets before losing both. Sveta was up a break at 3-2 in the final set, but then lost three straight games as Konta served for the match at 5-3, She failed to secure the hold, but came back from love/40 down in game #11 to hold for 6-5, winning five straight points, the final two with aces. In game #12, Kuznetsova denied two MP at 6-5 and held a GP to force a deciding TB, only to see Konta win on MP #3. Oh, Sveta.
82. Linz 1st Rd. - Oceane Dodin def. Kristyna Pliskova
Pliskova had extended her winning streak to eight matches after qualifying to reach the MD. Against Dodin in a battle of recent maiden tour champions, the Czech fired 23 aces to the Pastry's 13. But, serving for the match in the 2nd set, Pliskova was broken for the first time in the match and never recovered her momentum.


A photo posted by Kristyna Pliskova (@kristynapliskova) on

Luxembourg 1st Rd. - Kristyna Pliskova def. Oceane Dodin
They meet again, for the second week in a row. Pliskova lost to the Pastry while firing 23 aces, but won with "just" 19. Pliskovian logic?

83. Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Ekaterina Makarova def. Cagla Buyukakcay
Buykakcay's ride has been a wild and rewarding one in 2016. It ALMOST added yet another successful chapter in Rio, as she nearly took out Makarova, failing to convert a MP up 6-5 in the TB. The Russian rebounded to take the final three points to get the win.
84. U.S. Open 1st Rd. - Madison Keys def. Alison Riske
Riske was one shot away from holding a match point for a straight sets victory, only to fail to convert and eventually lose a three-setter that didn't end until 1:48 a.m., the latest-ending women's match in the tournament's history.
85. Beijing SF - Madison Keys def. Petra Kvitova
Keys ends Kvitova's eight-match winning streak, saving three BP to hold for 4-3 in the 3rd, then saving four more while coming back from love/40 two games later to hold for 5-4. Of course, this came after Keys had lost a 6-3/4-2 lead and saw Kvitova force that 3rd set. With this result, Keys improves to 17-5 in three-setters in '16, after having been 19-25 prior to this season.
86. $10K Bol Final - Magdalena Pantuckova def. Gabriela Pantuckova
The Czech sisters meet up in a final for the very first time. 17-year old Magdalena took out 21-year old Gabriela to win her maiden pro singles title. A week later, Gabriela won a $10K title in another Bol challenger, defeating Kathinka von Deichmann, who'd defeated Magdalena in the semis, in the final.
87. Florianopolis Q2 - Nadiia Kichenok def. Lyudmyla Kichenok
No harm, no foul. While Nadiia advanced cleanly into the MD, Lyudyla did the same as a lucky loser. Nadiia lost in the 1st Round, while Lyudmyla reached the QF. Together, they won the doubles title. And they lived happily ever after...
88. Wimbledon Q2 - Ekaterina Alexandrova def. Stephanie Vogt
Vogt had a MP at 12-11, but failed to win another point after being unable to convert. Alexandrova played a 13-11 3rd set in her next match vs. Harriet Dart to reach her first career slam MD, then upset #23 Ana Ivanovic in the 1st Round.
89. Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Anna-Lena Friedsam def. Ekaterina Alexandrova
Alexandrova, who'd played four straight three-setters to reach her first slam 2nd Round, upsetting Ana Ivanovic for her first career slam MD victory, finally found an obstacle she couldn't get past in Friedsam. But she didn't make it easy for the German. Friedsam led 6-4/5-2 and served for the match at 5-3. But Alexandrova got the break, then saved three MP in game #10 and two more in game #12 before holding for 6-6 to force a TB. Friedsam jumped out early, winning 7-1 to take the match 6-3/7-6(1).
90. Tokyo 2nd Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Barbora Strycova
Aga improved her head-to-head vs. Strycova to 6-0. But not only did the Czech win a set off her for the second straight meeting, she also was up a break three different times in the 3rd set and served for the match.
91. Quebec City 1st Rd. - Sachia Vickery def. Patricia- Maria Tig
Considering her previous Fed Cup history there, Canada does just not agree with Tig. In this wild one, Tig served for the 1st set at 6-5, but lost it. Vickery twice served for the 2nd, but lost it. Tig saved MP in the 3rd set TB, and had her own MP, before eventually going out at the hands of the Bannerette. Her thirteen DF didn't help, either, I'm thinkin'.
92. Bucharest Final - Simona Halep def. Anastasija Sevastova
We'll choose to look past the likely fact that this scoreline -- the first double-bagel final on tour in three and a half years -- will provide easy fodder for the WTA haters to harp on the quality and depth of talent on tour, and instead focus on Halep's 46-minute mastery of the moment. She just breezed past The Cliffs of Simona at "Back to the Future" DeLorean speed in this one. Also, I'll note that scorelines and quality don't necessarily always inform one another. Example: You know that other double-bagel final I mentioned? Well, that took place in Sydney in 2013, with Aga Radwanska defeating Dominika Cibulkova. Ummm, I think we've seen -- quite a few times, in fact -- the sort of quality matches those two are capable of producing (see Wimbledon, just for starters).

Oh, and BOTH Halep Sevastova ended up reaching the U.S. Open quarterfinals. So there.
93. Sydney 1st Rd. - Samantha Stosur def. Roberta Vinci
In 2:32, Stosur came back from a set and a break down, then had to hold off Vinci after leading 5-2 in the 3rd. Stosur only had three wins in Sydney since reaching the '05 final, but she notched two this year alone.
94. Kuala Lumpur 1st Rd. - Kurumi Nara def. Daniela Hantuchova
In a 3:10 match suspended in midstream due to the heat, Hantuchova failed to hold onto a 5-3 3rd set advantage, as she was broken while serving up 5-4 and couldn't convert on three MP in the deciding tie-break.
95. San Antonio WTA 125 Series 2nd Rd. - Daria Gavrilova def. Maria Sakkari
Finally, after a nearly two-month absence, a bit of Gavrilova's Melbourne spark showed up again, as the Aussie staged a comeback from 6-4/4-2 down vs. the Greek teen, surging back from 5-3 down in the 2nd set tie-break with four consecutive points to set the stage for a victorious 3rd.
96. Bogota 1st Rd. - Alexandra Panova def. Elina Svitolina
This 2:40 match was actually stretched out over two days, with stoppages for both rain and darkness on Day 1, lessening a bit of the impact of the #1-seeded Ukrainian being knocked off by the an-upset-is-always-possible Russian. Still, after returning for Day 2 leading Svitolina 7-5/1-5, Panova saw her battle back to hold two MP at 6-5, 40/15 on the Hordette's serve, then three more up 6-3 in the deciding tie-break. But Panova swept the final five points to take the match, putting an end to Svitolina's comeback and making the victory a comeback of her own.
97. Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Elena Vesnina d. Julia Boserup
In a tight match that included eight games that went to deuce (w/ twenty total 40/40 points), Vesnina had to scrap for everything she got against the Bannerette qualifier/Penn State student. In the 1st set, the Russian had to save a BP en route to a hold for 5-4, then saved three more in game #11. Up 15/40 a game later, Vesnina saw Boserup save three SP before the Hordette took the set with a forehand return winner. In the 2nd, Vesnina went up 3-1, fired an ace for a 4-1 lead, and led 4-2, 40/love in game #7. But, still, Boserup reached BP. The Russian hit an ace up the "T" to save it, then did the same thing on a second BP a few moments later before firing a forehand long on BP #3 that broke her serve and ended a 10-minute game. An ace got the hold for 6-5 four games later, then Vesnina reached MP when a shot off the Russian's racket dribbled over the net cord and plopped onto Boserup's side of the court. Boserup's wide crosscourt forehand ended the proceedings, sending Vesnina to her first Wimbledon Round of 16 since 2009. She ultimately reached her first career slam semifinal.
98. WTA Finals SF - Dominika Cibulkova def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
Keeping in "eleventh hour" form, Cibulkova quickly fell behind Kuznetsova after dropping a 33-minute 1st set. The final two sets would see them both trade breaks of serve on multiple occasions. Cibulkova twice failed to serve out the 2nd, but ran off with a 7-2 TB to take things to a 3rd. Saving two BP at 4-4, the Slovak kept the Russian from serving for the match, then held a MP one game later. A shot off the net cord elicited a Kuznetsova error, and Cibulkova was in her first WTA Finals championship match.

99. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Genie Bouchard def. Sloane Stephens
Bouchard knots her head-to-head with Stephens at 2-2 as the Bannerette continues her feast-or-famine season (if she doesn't win the title, Sloane often just "rips off the Band-Aid" loses her first match). Thing is, Stephens had every opportunity to at least push this to three sets, as she served up 5-4, 40/love and held five SP in the 2nd, including one sitter forehand that she wildly sailed. Bouchard got the break in that game, then held at love. She won eleven of the final twelve points to claim the match.
100. Americas II Promotional Playoff Match #3 - Koch-Benvenuto/Seguel (CHI) def. Puig/Cordero (PUR)
In the 2:10 match, the host Puerto Ricans led 5-3 in the 3rd and held MP before it all came crashing down. Ouch. I guess Puig now knows how Kristyna Pliskova felt in Melbourne... well, sort of.
--...Puig was living the good life in Bayamon all week, going 4-0 in singles (winning 48 of 50 games) and 3-0 in doubles while carrying Puerto Rico into the PP vs. Chile. She won her singles match over Daniela Seguel to force the deciding doubles, then held MP along with Ana Sofia Cordero in the 3rd set vs. Seguel & Koch-Benvenuto. But it wasn't enough, as all her work went for nothing as the Chileans battled back to win and be promoted to Americas I zone play.


"When I play her, I know automatically I have to step up my game. I think that makes me play better." - Serena Williams, on Maria Sharapova

[Serena vs. Maria XXI... or, "The Loss Before the Storm"]
Australian Open 4th Rd. - Serena Williams def. Maria Sharapova
While the matches never live up to the anticipation, Serena/Maria meetings have always been -- in a "perfect" tennis world -- an occasion to marvel at the historic careers and personas each carved out over the past decade-plus as two very contrasting personalities who have managed to co-exist on the big stage of the same sport -- as the two most successful, non-sibling players of their generation -- without ever having either's career defined by the (more, or less) success of the other, no matter if numbers or dollar signs are easily assigned to both women.

Their most recent match-up was the last before Sharapova's drug test controversy/suspension, a situation which will place down another layer of intrigue the next time they face off with one another, as Serena wasn't amongst the several players who embarrassed themselves in the aftermath of the test announcement and took the Russian's predicament as an opportunity to accuse her of being a "cheater" and/or express how "impolite" she may have been over the years while not fostering "buddy-buddy" friendships with her tour competitors.

Taken as a match, Serena/Maria XXXI wasn't a great one. Sharapova opened strong with a break of serve, as Williams got off to a somewhat slow start. So, in the early going, the prevailing notion was that the immediate conditions that Sharapova had to be hoping for were to her liking. She came in serving well (16 and a career-best 21 aces in her last two matches) and playing with confident and powerful aggression, showing a bit of her old, my-serve-informs-my-game-rather-than-hamstrings-it style. Sharapova held for 2-0 with an ace, then reached deuce on Williams' serve in game #3. But Williams has a long memory, and it's been twelve years since she's allowed the Russian to see anything much less than her best for long. The same would be the case again here. Serena held for 2-1. From there, things would never quite be the same for Maria.

In the next game, the serve that carried Sharapova into another deep run in Melbourne began to let her down. Still, the Russian managed to stay even at 4-4 despite six 1st set DF. A Williams DF in game #9 gave Sharapova a break point and a chance to have the set on her racket. Naturally, Serena hit an ace, then saved a second BP with a big serve up the "T" and a forehand winner. Her eighth ace gave her game point. She didn't convert it, but did GP #2 with, you guessed it, an ace up the middle (#9) for a 5-4 lead. After one final valiant stand, Sharapova was broken on Williams' third SP. Then, it happened again.

It's one of the odd facts about this series, as Sharapova -- whose confidence never flags vs. any other opponent -- often finds herself, when playing Serena, face-to-face in the mirror with her own, "anti-Maria" tennis doppelganger. And for going on twelve years now, Maria has always blinked. Sometimes early, sometimes late. But always. Serena would run off seven straight games before Sharapova finally got on the board for 5-1, then collected herself to regain her will to make the match's final game a study in her time-honored competitiveness.

Nothing changed as a result of this match, and both Williams and Sharapova continue to survive. Together, as well as apart. While both have weathered different personal storms over the years, with Sharapova now taking her turn in the ring of fire, when they join as "one" the tennis world has never able to avoid taking pause, if just for a moment, in the hope that something great may happen between them once again. Another shot of that greatness may be forever elusive, but the interest will likely never dissipate. No matter what happens, for either woman.

[Classic Aga]
Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Katerina Siniakova
In the final women's match of the day on a rare Middle Sunday of play at SW19, Radwanska returned after having saved three MP and needing a net cord as well as Ana Konjuh stepping on a ball and rolling her ankle to advance out of the 2nd Round. She had no such trouble here, but that wasn't because of young Czech Siniakova. The 20-year old Maiden tried with all her might, will and considerable talent to dent the Radwanska exterior, but it was all of no use. She'll be having nightmares with Aga's face appearing on every horrible beast her subconscious can dream up all summer long.

Aga was, as she often is, simply naturally brilliant while seemingly barely breaking a sweat throughout the day. At one point she ran off twelve straight points to take a 5-2 lead in the 1st, pulling off a series of amazing shots made to look casually achieved with deft angles, soft wrists and expert anticipation working to create one of those "perfect Radwanska storms" that she's known for. Once again, it was a joy to watch.

["The Match of the Century, Pt.II & III" give or take 90 years]
$25K Pelham Q1 - Gail Falkenberg def. Rosalyn Small 6-0/6-1
$25K Pelham Q2 - Taylor Townsend def. Gail Falkenberg 6-0/6-0
69-year old Falkenberg, known on the ITF circuit as "The Legend," defeats 22-year old Small, ending her own 32-match losing streak at the expense of a player who'd already lost twenty-two straight, setting up a match with 19-year old old Townsend that lasted just thirty-six minutes as Falkenberg won twelve points.

A walk-on player at UCLA in the 1960's, Falkenberg, a college coach at Central Florida in the 1990's who turned pro at age 38, last won a match in 1998. She won a qualifying match at the Australian Open in 1988, and once lost to a 13-year old Jennifer Capriati. "And my game gives the kids more trouble than the older players, believe it or not," she said. Retirement isn't on the immediate horizon, either. "I'd love to be playing -- and win -- at 70," she told the Wall Street Journal. "I'm six months away from that."

[A Family That Plays Together...]
$10K Bethany Beach QF - Ingrid Neel def. Lindsay Lee-Waters 7-5/6-3
$10K Bethany Beach Q1 - Gabriela Arias def. Sevyn Waters 6-4/6-2
a whole new entry in the "generational" aspects of today's tennis tour, as 38-year old LLW and her 15-year old daughter both competed in Bethany Beach qualifying. Lindsay made it through and ultimately lost in the QF to 17-year old eventual champ Neel, while Sevyn lost in straight sets in debut pro match. It was LLW's best singles result since 2010. If Sevyn had won, they'd have played EACH OTHER in the second round of qualifying. As it was, mother got some revenge for daughter, handing Arias a double bagel Q2 loss.

[Cornet. Drama. Controversy. 'Nuff Said.]
Roland Garros 2nd Rd. - Alize Cornet def. Tatjana Maria
Naturally, with Cornet there comes drama, controversy, over-celebration and charges of "bending" or breaking the rules. In this case, it all revolved around cramping, questions about said cramping, medical timeouts, questions about said medical timeouts, and the scene of the Pastry not looking like she was cramping during points but then complaining of severe pain between them. Needless to say, Maria wasn't pleased, and their respective teams of both players apparently nearly rumbled in the lockerroom.

Afterwards, playing the role of poor loser to a "T" (for "Tatjana?"), Maria wouldn't move on, even after everyone else had, and openly threatened lawsuits and everything else that goes along with not giving up any particular ghost. Meanwhile, since the WTA tour IS The Most Interesting Tour in the World, Cornet and Maria met again in doubles a day later. Maria (w/ Madison Brengle) defeated Cornet (w/ Linette) in three sets, for what it's worth. Which, frankly, isn't very much.

[A NextGen Preview]
Eastbourne 1st Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko def. Daria Kasatkina
The 2014 Wimbledon junior champ defeats the 2014 Roland Garros junior champ. You get the feeling these two will be meeting much later in much bigger events in the future, producing far more widely-viewed racket entertainment masterpieces. By this time next year, both should have their first tour singles title. This one even had much background noise.

[Craziest Final Game]
Wimbledon Girls Final - Anastasia Potapova def. Dayana Yastremska
In the junior final, #4-seeded Potapova squared off with #7-seeded Ukrainian Yastremska. The 15-year old Russian was looking to become the eleventh different slam-winning girl representing Russia since 1998. A win by Yastremska, 16, would add her name as the third on a list (w/ Kateryna Bondarenko and Elina Svitolina) of junior slam winners from Ukraine.

With Potapova serving for the match at 5-3, things got wild in maybe the craziest game of the tournament.

At 30/30, Potapova hit a DF. Yastremska failed to convert the BP, then had to save a MP. She put away a shot at the net and got her second BP chance. She didn't get that one, either. MP #2 came and went, and so did MP #3 when Yastremska blasted a forehand winner dead into the corner. On MP #4, Yastremska's long return seemed to end the match. Potra sat down on the court in tears. But wait. Yastremska had challenged the serve, and the replay showed Potapova's serve was out.

POTAPOVA, after "converting" the first MP

Now serving a second serve, Potapova returned to the baseline. She fired a shot out on the point and Yastremska had life. On MP #5, another Yastremska wide return precipitated another celebration from the Russian as she emphatically slammed down the ball with her racket. But wait, again. The Ukrainian challenged that serve, too, and it was ALSO out. Potapova threw up her hands, quickly got over it and demanded another ball to serve with, and then went back to play some more. She hit a long forehand to end a rally and Yastremka was STILL alive. On MP #6, Potapova double-faulted. Finally, on MP #7, Yastremska netted a forehand to end a rally and it was all over. No, really.

Potapova won 6-4/6-3, despite having just 4 winners to Yastremska's 21. The Ukrainian had 42 errors to the Hordette's 31. Potapova is the fourth Russian to win the Wimbledon girls title, and the second in a row after Sofya Zhuk's crowning a year ago. The two shared a hug at the net.

Here are all 7 MP and the 2 challenges:

[Another "Day of the Williamses"]
=Wimbledon, Day 5=
3rd Rd. - Venus Williams def. Daria Kasatkina 7-5/4-6/10-8
2nd Rd. - Serena Williams def. Christina McHale 6-7(7)/6-2/6-4

...with both Venus and Serena Williams still ranked in the Top 10 while playing at age 36 and 34, respectively, Day 5 was one which would stand out as a remarkable one were it to involve a pair of tennis siblings NOT named Williams. With both facing off with opponents, in Serena's case, nearly a dozen years her junior, and for Venus, nearly HALF her age, they both battled to pull out three-set victories to advance. In the end, both were also fortunate to still be playing at all after this day.

The 2016 season began for both Venus and Russian Daria Kasatina in Auckland in Week 1, with the Hordette coming back from a 3-1 3rd set deficit to upset the future Hall of Famer in the 1st Round. Here, as the oldest (36) player in the draw and the only teenager (19) remaining, they faced off again in a match that was ultimately interrupted four times due to the plague of rain that came down on the AELTC in the first week of Wimbledon. But when the five-time SW19 champ did actually get to play the grass court neophyte (this was only her fourth match on the surface), it was experience that won out early on. Williams led 5-1 through just twenty-one minutes of action when the skies opened and everyone hit "pause." When they returned, Kasatkina burst out of the gates like a drag racer while Venus was stuck in neutral and trying to catch up. She broke Williams and held serve for 5-3, winning ten of the first eleven points over a nine-minute stretch, including a DF from Venus that got things back on serve in game #9 as the match clock hit :30. The Russian's dominant run ended when she fired a forehand long in game #10, but Kasatkina still held for 5-5. Down 5-6, she appeared to have hit an ace to take a 30/15 lead, only to see the call overturned via Williams' replay challenge, and then Venus ultimately win the point. A Kasatkina DF put her down BP at 30/40, then a wild forehand error gave Williams the set at 7-5. Venus took a 3-1 lead in the 2nd, only to see Kasatkina stage a comeback with back-to-back service breaks. The Russian saved two BP from 15/40 down and held for 5-3, then saved another BP to serve out the set at 6-4.

In the 3rd, Kasatkina took a break lead at 4-3, but failed to convert a GP a game later and then had a DF that gave back her break advantage as things were knotted at 4-4. Williams held a MP at 5-4, but the teenager saved it with a forehand winner to get things to 5-5. Serving down 6-7, Kasastkina faced another MP at 30/40, but was given a reprieve from her seeming fate when heavy rain caused the tournament grounds crew to raid the court and drag out the tarp to a stunned Williams' utter disbelief.

Was this a Radwanskian masterpiece in progress?

An hour and thirteen minutes later, they returned. A Williams error on the first point brushed aside the MP and Kasatkina held for 7-7. As the score reached 8-8, Williams was assured of playing her longest-ever 3rd set in her nineteen Wimbledon appearances. Finally, in game #17, Venus utilized all her experience and longtime skill in one game, using anticipation to gain control of a rally, pulling out an overhead smash like those from the prime of her career and a big serve to hold for 9-8. Serving once again to stay in the match, Kasatkina fell behind love/30. Two points later, Kasatkina moved forward to get to a Williams shot off the net cord, then got back two Venus passing shots (with a forehand, then a backhand volley). Williams, who'd moved toward the net between her passing attempts, used her quick hands as the two were face-to-face to put away a volley shot behind the young Russian to reach double MP. On her third MP of the day, Williams saw Kasatkina net a forehand off a high-bouncing ball at the baseline and the veteran had won 7-5/4-6/10-8 in 2:41 to reach her fourteenth SW19 Round of 16. She eventually reach the semifinals, her best Wimbledon result since 2009.

On Centre Court, Serena had to fight on Day 5, as well. Starting play while Venus was still in action next door (Oracene had to go back and forth all afternoon), the #1 seed seemed to be well on her way to a fairly routine 1st set win over 24-year old New Jersey native Christina McHale. McHale opened the match with a break, and held her advantage while fighting off break points for a 4-2 lead. Finally, Williams broke to get back even at 4-4 and, up 5-4 and at set point, saw a McHale shot called out. Both seemed to accept the call, but a token replay look actually overturned the call as the ball hit the very definition of a "smidge" of the line. McHale managed to hold for 5-5, and then pushed things to a tie-break. There, Williams led 4-2 and 5-3, but she had two DF in the game. The second gave McHale a 7-6 lead. Down 7-8, Williams' error on a mid-court ball suddenly gave McHale a 9-7 win and a one set lead.

As she reached the changeover area, Serena cracked her racket and angrily tossed it aside (it managed to smoothly slide into a cameraman's lap, but would be returned later, under happier circumstances), perturbed at having lost a set she thought she'd won a few mintutes earlier and lamenting her inability to make things easier on herself (she was just 1-of-9 on BP chances) throughout.

Williams got an early break for 2-1 in the 2nd, and coasted to a 6-2 win to force a 3rd set. But McHale wouldn't go away quietly. She broke Serena for 2-0, firing shots at her as she camped out at the net as if it was target practice. She went up 40/15 in game #3, but went for too much on a second serve and had a DF. Down BP in the game, McHale did it again and had the same result, handing Serena back the break. But Williams was unable to break her two games later despite taking a love/40 lead, falling to 4-for-16 in BP chances on the day. McHale held for 3-2 and kept her hopes alive. In game #7, Williams reached BP on McHale's serve, but failed to convert it due to a bad forehand return error. Another Williams error gave McHale her second GP, and she took advantage, hitting an ace to hold for 4-3 despite having just two winners in the entire set. Two games later, at 4-4, McHale won a 25-shot rally in which she dragged Serena from side to side to get to 30/30. A Williams return error gave McHale a GP. Serena had almost had enough. She hit two lines in the next point to save it. After McHale hit a DF on another GP, she saved another BP (Serena was 4-for-18) with a put-away of a Serena drop shot. Williams got another BP chance with a return winner, then finally converted on BP #19 of the day when McHale hit a wide forehand.
No almost about it... now Serena had had enough.

In game #10, it was time for THAT Serena Williams to arrive. The 21-time slam champ looking to "add on," come hell or high water. She won the first point then, with a look of determination on her face (you've seen it), stepped to the line and fired an ace. Then another. Then another. Just like that, it was over. Williams won 6-7(7)/6-2/6-4 in 2:29 to reach at least the 3rd Round at all seventeen Wimbledons in which she's participated. She eventually won title #7 at the All-England Club, tying Steffi Graf with twenty-two Open era slam singles crowns.

So, all in all, history will record that no Williams Sister lost on Day 5. Because of that, it may slip through the sieve of our collective memory in short order, as their performances at this year's Wimbledon will be remembered for their ultimate final results in the tournament, as well as combining to win doubles slam #14. We've come to take their career-long drama -- often double-fisted as it was here -- for granted. But what can you expect? They've given us so much. Almost too much to process sometimes.

But this WAS a remarkable day. Another one. After all these years. And it's not likely the last these two will produce before it's over, either. Not by a long shot.

[And Proof that...]
Rio Olympics SF - Bacsinszky/Hingis def. Hlavackova/Hradecka
Doubles -- especially in the medal rounds -- is serious business. See? No, really... can you still see, Andrea? win is wonderful, but to stage a comeback in divine. As for "choking," well, you sort of know it when you see it.

1. Australian Open 4th Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Anna-Lena Friedsam
Radwanska trailed 4-1 in the 1st, but won four straight games and held a set point. Friedsam pushed things to a TB and won it 8-6. In the 3rd, once again, Friedsam grabbed the lead, coming back from 0-2 down to lead 5-2 and serve for the match at 5-3. But severe cramping did her in down the stretch, as A-Rad took advantage of her compromised opponent by mercilessly moving her around the court. Friedsam often served through tears as her pain increased. Trying to stretch out her hamstring, Friedsam was given a time violation before serving the first point in game #11 then, unable to push off without pain, she tried to serve underhanded. It didn't work (not everyone can be Michael Chang). Dragging her legs, she was called for a foot fault, and was soon down a break point after chasing down a short ball but being unable to get it back. She doubled over and nearly went down in pain in front of the changeover area as she grabbed the back of her UNwrapped leg. Delaying and slowly walking back to the baseline, she was given another time violation, which resulted in a lost point that handed Radwanska the break for a 6-5 lead.

Ten minutes after dangling over the edge of an Australian Open cliff, Radwanska was suddenly serving for the match. Securing the hold, she served out the match and eventually reached her second AO semifinal in three years.

2. U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Madison Keys def. Naomi Osaka
Keys faced off in a 3rd Round match at Ashe Stadium with 18-year Osaka, whose big shots and large game, at their best, can hit with the likes of the hard-slugging Bannerette. Her future holds great promise if she can just harness her power into a more finely-tuned threat. Sort of how Keys was viewed two or three years ago. But that Osaka wasn't threatening Keys in this match for the first set and a half. Keys was dominating. Leading 7-5/4-4, she found herself with a triple game point. But a few loose errors led to her game very nearly unraveling like it used to when SHE was the one trying to harness her skills into a more consistent force. With Keys suddenly sending shots all over the court, Osaka took the 2nd set 6-4, then proceeded to simply out-hit her opponent in the 3rd.

While Keys' game went off the tracks in a hail of overzealous errors, Osaka grabbed an early break of serve and took off. Keys' double-faulted on BP to go down a double-break at 4-1, and Osaka had an easy hold to take a 5-1 lead. It seemed to be all over except for the post-match deconstruction of the Keys collapse. When the Bannerette held for 5-2, the burden shifted to Osaka. And that was when the teenager began to feel the moment, just as Keys got the scent of victory and refused to let it get away.

Twice the Japanese teen served for the match. Twice she failed to do so. Meanwhile, the flailing errors disappeared from the game of Keys, replaced by confidence and a string of winners. It was time for Osaka's game to go off the rails, which it did while she fought back tears as she watched it all slip away. Serving for the match for the second time at 5-4, Osaka was broken again. Osaka managed to hold to force a deciding tie-break, but it would only be Keys' proving ground, not her own. Keys' wide second serve was unreturnable as she escaped what would have been an early TB hole, holding for 2-2, the she coasted to a 7-3 win.

2. Roland Garros 4th Round - Tsvetana Pironkova def. Aga Radwanska

Meanwhile, When we'd last seen Radwanska and Pironkova over the weekend, Aga had held serve to take a 6-2/3-0 lead. If the rain had held off for another fifteen minutes you got the impression that Radwanska would have breezed through to her second career QF in Paris. Even after missing the next day's scheduled re-start, the Pole's 11-2 head-to-head mark against the Bulgarian seemed to signal a quick wrap-up. Another 15-20 minutes was probably going to suffice. But, well, then the conditions changed the entire ball game.

With the wet, super-slow and heavy conditions, Pironkova came out on fire, while Radwanska was out of sorts and way off her game. Radwanska had a break point in the opening game, but the Bulgarian held and, ummm, then it just got ugly. She broke the Pole on her third BP attempt of game #5, getting back on serve with a Radwanska error. The roll continued: a break in game #7 as Pironkova won her fourth straight game, a love hold for 5-3, and then a comeback from 15/40 down to break Radwanska again and win her sixth straight game to claim the set at 6-3.

More rain seemed to possibly offer Radwanska a chance to regroup, but it just wasn't happening. Having recently injured her wrist, Radwanska argued later that she was risking injury being forced to play in conditions with such heavy balls. Pironkova grabbed a break lead early in the 3rd, and led 3-0 as the Pole was treated by a trainer for her wrist. The Bulgarian ran her streak to ten games (at 4-0) before Aga finally staged a brief rally. But it was too little, too late. She broke Pironkova in game #5, held for 4-2 and twice got to within getting back on serve in the 3rd set in game #7. But Pironkova held, then served out the match two games later for an improbable 2-6/6-3/6-3 victory, winning twelve of fifteen games after the resumption of play to reach her first final eight in Paris.

Of course, while the circumstances are different this time, #102 Pironkova has been here, done this before. She's pretty much a grand slam serial killer when it comes to taking out big seeds on major stages, even if she's only reached the QF stage three times (and not since 2011, and then at her favorite stomping grounds in London). #2 Radwanska was just another victim for her memory box.

3. Rio QF - Francesca Schiavone def. Cindy Burger
Burger led 6-3/5-3, served for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 and held a MP in the TB. Schiavone went on to win the title (def. Shelby Rogers in three sets), becoming the second of four '16 singles champs who saved MP en route to the winner's circle.
4. Wimbledon Q2 - Rebecca Peterson def. Katie Boulter
Boulter failed to secure a 6-4/5-0 lead -- and a MP -- against the Swede. This one should probably be in the "Choke" category, or even higher on this list... but I'll go easy on the teenage Crumpet. But if this one had happened a few weeks later, after she'd turned 20...

5. Miami 4th Rd. - Angelique Kerber def. Timea Babos
Kerber escaped the Doi Trap in Melbourne and went on to win the Australian Open, and after she managed to avoid an upset at the hands of Babos it appeared that history may repeat itself in Miami. Vika took care of that, though. Still, the German finding a way to win after being down 3-1 in the 3rd set -- with BPs for 4-1 -- and erasing the Hungarian's own GP for a 4-2 lead and turning it into a break to level things at 3-3 (Kerber ultimately won five of the final six games to advance) en route to an ultimate semifinal run is surely a good way to end what was a "career quarter," and burst forth into the remainder of a "career year."
6. Miami 2nd Rd. - Garbine Muguruza def. Dominika Cibulkova
After an oft-disheartening 1Q of poor results and an even worse on-court attitude, Muguruza showed the sort of player she CAN be, even when the odds are against her. She battled back from a 3-0 deficit in the 3rd to steal this victory from Cibulkova, who got as close as two points from the win before Muguruza got the key break for 6-5 and served out the match.
7. Kuala Lumpur Final - Elina Svitolina def. Genie Bouchard 6-7(5)/6-4/7-5
Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Annika Beck 4-6/7-6(0)/6-1
In comebacks fitting of a certain new Hall of Fame Belgian who had the Ukrainian's ear this season, Svitolina charged back in both these matches which highlighted the renewed urgency in her game (and the resulting success) that accompanied Justine Henin's addition to her coaching/consulting team. Showing that the art of bouncing back is indeed in her genes, Svitolina rebounded from failing to serve out the 1st set at 5-3, falling behind 7-6/4-2 and seeing Bouchard serve for the match at 5-4 in the 3rd, breaking the Canadian at love and saving a BP on her own serve one game later en route to sweeping the final games of the rain delay-marred match to secure career title #4 and drop Bouchard to 1-5 in championship matches.

In Indian Wells, Svitolina completed a comeback from a set and 5-2 down, including seeing Beck serve for the match at 5-3. She then crushed the German in the 2nd set TB (7-0) and handled her in a 6-1 3rd set to move on in the desert.

8. Fed Cup World Group II Playoff Match #3 - Yanina Wickmayer/BEL def. Aleksandra Krunic/SRB
The good luck powers of the Serbian Good Luck Charm were already going to be tested vs. the deep Belgian team, and that was before an injured Jelena Jankovic joined the "Fed Cup retired" (rolling eyes and shaking head, in case you can't tell) Ana Ivanovic on the sidelines. Still, Krunic's dogged ability to give her all on the court still gave the Serbs a decent chance vs. the Waffles. And, boy, did The Bracelet give it a go. It looked like she was going to singlehandedly carry the Serbian squad (at least) into the deciding doubles. But then it all went horribly wrong. In the opening match of the tie, Krunic defeated Kirsten Flipkens in straight sets, coming back from 4-1 down in the 2nd and saving two SP before winning 6-4/7-6(6) to run her FC singles winning streak to six matches, and her overall FC mark in singles and doubles to 8-1 in her last nine outings. After Jovana Jaksic fell to Wickmayer in straights, Krunic returned in fine form. She jumped out to a 6-1/3-0, two-break lead on Wickmayer. She led 5-3 and served for the match at 5-4, with the chance to give Serbia a 2-1 lead and force Flipkens, with a horrible career FC mark, to win to keep Belgium alive. But then it all came tumbling down. Wickmayer changed her tactics and forced Krunic out of her game by forcing her to hit high-bouncing balls, and the comeback began. Krunic got to BP at 5-5 in the 3rd, but failed to get the break. Ultimately, the Waffle wore her down and claimed the 2:32 match. "I played very well for a long time in this match but when Yanina upped the tempo, I started to struggle,” said Krunic. “Obviously, I have to be more consistent. There is no use firing on all cylinders for a set and a half and then running on empty when it’s time to wrap up the match. It will be a very useful experience as I have rarely played several matches in a row at this level. At 6-1/3-0 down, she started playing as if she had nothing to lose, and she didn’t. She was stronger and braver at crunch points and won the match deservedly.”
9. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Aga Radwanska def. Dominika Cibulkova
Cibulkova's power seemed to be getting the best of Radwanska, as the Slovak led 5-2 in the 3rd and held a match point. But Aga got a key hold in game #6 to avoid falling down a double-break, then used some well-timed aggression to seize control down the stretch. But this wouldn't even come close to being the most dramatic meeting between the two in 2016.

Madrid 1st Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Aga Radwanska
Aga stormed back from 6-4/5-3 to force a 3rd set, where she took a break lead before Cibulkova wrestled back control of the match and eventually advance to the final. But THIS wouldn't even come close to being the most dramatic meeting between the two in 2016, either.

Eastbourne QF - Dominika Cibulkova def. Aga Radwanska
Talk about a sense a deja vu. In Paris, Aga led Pironkova by a set and 3-0 when the rain suspended play. She returned two days later and lost to the Bulgarian. In Eastbourne, she led Cibulkova by a set and 2-0. After a brief interruption, Cibulkova got on the board, but Radwanska was still up a break at 3-2 when the match was suspended. The next day, the Slovak broke to get back on serve, Aga failed to convert a BP to go back up a break at 5-4 and lost the 2nd set. In the 3rd, she had points for a 3-1 lead, but failed to take that opportunity, as well, and saw Cibulkova sweep the remaining four games to get the victory (and go on to take the title). But this one ALSO wouldn't even come close to being the most dramatic meeting between the two this season.
10. Cincinnati 2nd Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Johanna Larsson
Larsson was cut no slack on her 28th birthday. After defeating Irina-Camelia Begu earlier in the day, the Swede was sent out again in the evening as the tournament tried to catch up after a series of rain delays. Up until midnight, Larsson was leading the Slovak, having come back from 4-0 down to take the 1st set and taking a 3-1 lead in the 2nd. But once Larsson's birthday was officially over at 12:01 a.m., it was Cibulkova's time to shine. She reeled off five of six games to take the 2nd, then saved two MP in the 3rd en route to the win.
11. Stuttgart 2nd Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Monica Niculescu
Niculescu, who upset Kvitova in Fed Cup play in February, very nearly took down the Czech once again. The Romanian held three total MP at 5-2 and 6-5 in the 2nd set before Petra's rollercoaster finally swung back around and left Niculescu stranded at the top while Kvitova hopped off at ground level and beat a path to what would be her first SF result of '16,
12. Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Petra Kvitova def. Danka Kovniic
Like the weather, the Czech was good in the early going. She jumped on Montenegrin Kovinic from the start on Chatrier Court, winning the 1st set with ease and going up an early break in the 2nd. She led 6-2/3-0 and seemed on her way to becoming the first woman to post a main draw match victory at this year's RG. But this is Petra. So, ummm, no. Resembling a passing dark cloud, Kvitova once more brought doom and gloom to the court for all the Petra Pals. Kovinic secured a break to take a 5-4 lead in the 2nd, only to see Kvitova take a love/40 lead on her opponent's serve a game later. But the three break points were squandered as four straight Kvitova errors brought Kovinic to set point. A forehand lob winner grabbed a 6-4 set and forced a 3rd.

In game #9, at 4-4, the Czech double-faulted three times and helped Kovinic gain the break and have the opportunity to serve out the match vs. the #10 seed, a two-time slam winner, former RG semifinalist, all-around good egg... and the most frustrating player on the Most Interesting Tour in the World. But Kovinic is still feeling her way through big moments like these, and after fighting off a BP and getting to within two points of victory, the 21-year old found herself with a short ball at the net at deuce. But rather than put away what should have been a clean angled winner, she pushed a weak shot down the middle of the court right into Kvitova's strike zone. The Czech fired a winner to get another BP chance, which she converted to get back on serve at 5-5. Just as the weather cleared up late in the day, so did Kvitova's funk. After holding at love, Kvitova shifted the pressure to survive back to her less experienced foe. After being two points from the 2nd Round, Kovinic had to hold serve to avoid having her '16 Roland Garros ended before the first Monday. Kvitova's running forehand winner down the line gave her a match point, and Kovinic's errors handed her the victory escape rite of Petra grand slam passage.

Her reprieve didn't last long, as Kvitova went out in the 3rd Round.
13. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Lucie Safarova def. Bethanie Mattek-Sands
In a truly unfortunate 1st Round match, doubles partners/besties #28-seed Safarova (still coming back from illness and an inevitable loss of form and stamina>) and BMS (returning from a broken thumb) faced off in singles. It turned out to be a seesaw affair in which neither really wanted to show TOO MUCH how much they wanted to win. In the 1st, Safarova led 3-1, then 5-4 in the tie-break, only to see BMS steal it by a 9-7 score. In the 2nd, Mattek-Sands raced off to a 5-2 lead, served at 5-3 and held a MP at 5-4. But the Czech, defending a Round of 16 result from last year's Wimbledon, survived and won the 2nd in a 7-3 TB. The Bannerette again took the lead in the 3rd. BMS held a second MP at 5-3, then another on serve at 5-4. But they went by the wayside, too, as Safarova knotted things at 5-5. Up 6-5 on return, Safarova finally reached her first (and only) MP in the 2:48 match, closing out a by-the-skin-of-her-teeth victory with a forehand winner. No hard feelings, though. After all, these two still had to work to do together (though they ended up losing in the WD 1st Round to The Dashas).

14. Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Lucie Safarova def. Jana Cepelova
Safarova had already saved three MP in her 1st Round match vs. doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and here she added another Houdini trick to her performace record against qualifier Cepelova. Garbine Muguruza conqueror Cepelova served at 5-3 in the 3rd set, and held a MP at 9-8 on Safarova's serve, but netted a backhand off a spinning second serve from the Czech. Safarova held for 9-9, then after constantly having to play from behind in the set got a break for 11-10 to get the chance to serve for the match. During the changeover, the injury-plagued Slovak had her left knee examined by a trainer. Safarova, in Serena-esque fashion, opened game #22 with an ace. She went up 40/15, then put away the match with a volley.

15. Wimbledon 3rd Rd. - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Sloane Stephens
In the 3rd set, Kuznetsova had a heated discussion with chair umpire Marijana Veljovic after she'd issued an off-court coaching violation to Sveta. The incident seemed to put off the Russian's game for a while. Possibly not coincidentally, Stephens soon after raced to a 5-2 lead and served for the match at 5-3. She quickly fell behind 15/40 and Kuznetsova broke her with a forehand winner. The Russian then staged a comeback from love/30 to hold for 5-5. Stephens seemed to possibly tire (or maybe it was just frustration) in the later stages of the set, twice slumping to the grass after losing a point in which she really didn't outright slip and fall, once at the baseline and then again at the net after Kuznetsova had passed her. Up love/40 on Stephens' serve in game #13, the Hordette saw the Bannerette's forehand error give her a break lead at 7-6. Kuznetsova's backhand passing shot put her up 30/15 a game later, but Stephens battled back, getting to a drop shot and then putting away a volley to reach BP. But she followed up by firing a backhand long, then a forehand wide to give Kuznetsova her first (and only) MP. Another unforced backhand error from Stpehens ended it after 2:29. At the net, Stephens opened her arms wide and engulfed Kuznetsova in an embrace.


16. U.S. Open 3rd Rd. - Simona Halep def. Timea Babos
Whew-mo-na! Halep survives, but it isn't easy.

After racing to a 3-0 lead and taking the 1st set 6-1 over the big-hitting Babos, Halep soon found herself down a break in the 2nd. Cue Halep talking to herself, the "arguments" with coach Darren Cahill in the stands and the shedding of the lack-of-composure traits she talked about after her 2nd Round win two days earlier. As Babos lifted her game while Halep's sunk of her own accord, the entire momentum of the match shifted in the Hungarian's favor. Almost TOO far. Babos took the 2nd set 6-2, then grabbed an early break in the 3rd. She led 3-1. Then the match turned into a battle between the games and wills of the two women, but also to see which one would give away enough -- because of what was happening on the INSIDE -- that it ultimately might cause them to lose the match.

Babos took a 30/love lead on serve in game #8, but Halep's successful (and perfect) drop shot from the baseline preceded a Babos double-fault. Then she flew a forehand on a short ball to give Halep a BP for a chance to serve out the match. Babos saved it, as well as two more BP in the game as she held in a nine-minute game to tie the score at 4-4

But Halep wasn't finished walking on the the edge of the Cliffs of Simona.

She fell behind 15/40 in game #9. With her serve looking shaky, the Romanian was saved by Babos' game hitting a bad patch. Three consecutive errors (including one off a 65-mph Halep second serve) gave the #5 seed a game point, then another forehand fired into the net by the #31-seed closed out a hold that gave Halep a 5-4 lead in the set. With the Round of 16 within reach, though, Halep found herself down 40/15 on Babos' serve a game later. She threw her racket into the court, cracking it and earning a code violation (as well as avoiding getting knocked out cold by it on the rebound).

But as was the case in the 2nd Round when she abused another poor racket, it seemed to work like a charm. Halep never lost a point with her new "lucky" weapon of choice. Four straight points went her way, including a Babos error that gave her a MP. Then Babos double-faulted to end the match.
17. Hobart 1st Rd. - Naomi Osaka def. Jarmila Wolfe
The week before the start of the AO, Osaka qualified in Hobart and saved two MP in the 2nd set TB -- at 6-5 and 8-7 -- to get the win over Aussie Wolfe (formerly Gajdosova). She did so well in the event that had she not "conveniently" lost her next match she'd have missed out on the qualifying rounds in Melbourne. As it was, Osaka made it there on time, won three matches to qualify, then reached the 3rd Round after notching an upset win over #18-seed Elina Svitolina.

18. Doha 1st Rd. - Genie Bouchard def. Anastasija Sevastova
While it didn't single return to her former form, it was a '16 Bouchard highlight to see the Canadian win a rollercoaster battle with Sevastova. The Latvian led 4-1 in the 1st, then fell behind 5-4 before winning three straight games to take the set. In the 3rd, Bouchard trailed 4-0 and 5-2 and saved two MP before staging a comeback that ended with a deciding TB win.
19. Kaohsiung 1st Rd. - Donna Vekic def. Alison Riske
This was Vekic's first MD win of the season, and it took 2:40, nine aces and her coming back from Riske serving for the match at 6-5 in the 2nd set (but being broken at love) to finally do it. The Bannerette's twelve DF's helped, too.


Kaohsiung 2nd Rd. - Anastasija Sevastova def. Donna Vekic
But after escaping in her opening match, Vekic then gave this one away after leading 4-0 in the 3rd.
20. Auckland 2nd Rd. - Nao Hibino def. Daria Kasatkina 7-5/2-6/7-5
Doha 2nd Rd. - Roberta Vinci def. Daria Kasatkina 2-6/6-4/7-6(3)
Proof that the young Russian is human, after all. Hibino saved 11 of 16 break points in the match, coming back to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after Kasatkina had come within two points of the win at both 5-3 and 5-4 in the 3rd set. Vinci saved three match points against the Hordette.
21. Indian Wells 3rd Rd. - Daria Kasatkina def. Monica Puig
Of course, Kasatkina is still Kasatina, too. Puig saved five MP vs. Kristyne Pliskova in Melbourne, but she was on the other side of things here by losing after holding one of her own vs. the Russian.

22. Hobart 2nd Rd. - Heather Watson def. Monica Niculescu
In a 3:14 match played out over two days, defending champ Watson squandered a 4-1 3rd set lead and had to save three MP before finally vanquishing the oft-frustrating game of Niculescu. She had to play her QF, which she lost to Johanna Larsson, the same day, ending her twelve-month reign as the Queen of Hobart.

23. Dubai 2nd Rd. - Caroline Garcia def. Carla Suarez-Navarro
After Garcia had battled back from a 6-4/4-2 hole, the rains came when Garcia was serving for the match up 5-3, 15/15. Three hours later, she returned to win three of the final four points and close out the match. The side effect: Roberta Vinci became the oldest debut Top 10er ever. The most interesting tour in the world.

24. Katowice 1st Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Carina Witthoeft
Witthoeft led 7-6/2-0 but failed to convert on two BP attempts in game #4 of the 2nd to take a two-break lead. Cibulkova sent things to a 3rd set, where the German again jumped out to a 3-0, 40/love lead before Cibulkova held to keep things from getting out of hand. Witthoeft got to 4-1 before the Slovak battled back to force a deciding tie-break in which she jumped out to a 5-1 lead and didn't look back. Witthoeft converted just six of nineteen break points attempts, as Cibulkova advanced and didn't lose another set en route to the title.
25. Fed Cup World Group Playoffs Match #4 - Andrea Petkovic/GER def. Monica Niculescu/ROU
Like the tide, Petko sometimes recedes, but she soon returns to shore, often more powerful than ever.

Petkovic needed to avoid going 0-2 for the weekend in her attempt to clinch the tie vs. Niculescu. Heading into Sunday having lost four of her last five FC matches in singles/doubles, things didn't look good for Petko. The tricky Niculescu was on fire early, taking the 1st at love, then held two MP at 6-5 in the 2nd set. But the German pushed things to a tie-break, won it 7-1 and took an early break lead in the 3rd en route to a win that erased at least a few lingering bad FC memories.
26. Wimbledon Q1 - Mandy Minella def. Ana Bogdan
The 30-year old's late-blooming spring/summer continues, as she survives the Swarmette twice serving for the match.

Wimbledon Q2 - Mandy Minella def. Misa Eguchi
Minella's good luck continues, as she overcomes a 5-1 3rd set deficit vs. Eguchi one day after her escape vs. the Swarmette. The 30-year old from Luxembourg had a more "routine" three-set Q3 win over Barbora Stefkova to reach her firt slam MD since 2014.

Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Sloane Stephens def. Mandy Minella
Of course, Minella's survival ultimately only led to more heatbreak, as Stephens gave her another dose of slam devastation in a two-day 2nd Rounder at SW19. Minella failed to put away Stephens in the 1st Round of the U.S. Open three years ago despite leading 4-2 in the 3rd set, and 3-1 in the deciding TB. Here, the qualifier served for the match up 5-4 in the 2nd set vs. the #18 seed, and held a MP at 6-5 in the TB before Stephens won it and forced a 3rd. They were tied 3-3 when play resumed a day later. Stephens opened with a break of serve, but Minella broke back a game later. Serving down 5-4, Stephens went up 40/0 on serve in game #10, only to see Minella twice get within two points of victory at deuce. She sprayed a return forehand on the first, then, saw a backhand trip the net cord and fall on her side of the court on the second. Stephens broke for7-6, then reached triple MP at 40/love in game #14. Minella saved all three MP, but handed Stephens a fourth try when she netted a forehand return. On MP #4, Minella's backhand slice from the baseline failed to make it over the net. As Stephens claimed the victory, Minella threw her racket across the backcourt, the victim of a 2nd Round defeat in a match in which she actually won more points (123-116) than her opponent.

27. Tokyo 1st Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Madison Keys 6-3/3-6/7-6(7)
Tokyo 2nd Rd. - Magda Linette def. Yulia Putintseva 4-6/6-3/7-5
Keys was up a break in the 3rd set, and held five MP in her loss to Putintseva, who'd go on to fail to convert two MP of her own vs. Linette a round later.
28. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Roberta Vinci def. Margarita Gasparyan
The Italian saved two MP here vs. the Russian, winning her third of four victorious 3rd set tie-breaks (4-0 in all in '16) this season.

29. Junior Masters Final - Anna Blinkova def. Katie Swan
In the second annual Junior Masters event in Chengdo, China, an eight-player event featuring an elite group of the world's best girls and boys, 17-year old Blinkova knocked off Swan despite the Brit serving for the match at 6-5. Afterward, she got to meet Li Na. Winner times 2.

30. Nanchang Final - Duan Yingying def. Vania King
King led 6-1/2-0, but Duan broke back in game #3, saved six BP in her next three serve games and carried over the momentum all the way to the finish, preventing King from winning her first tour singles final since 2006.

31. Roland Garros Girls QF - Olesya Pervushina def. Marketa Vondrousova
The RG #1 seed, vs. the former girls #1, takes a 7-5 3rd set in a contest in which she saved MP to extend her winning streak to twenty matches in a row. The Russian would lose her next match to eventual champ Rebeka Masarova.
32. Prague QF - Samantha Stosur def. Barbora Strycova
In a 2:58 match, Stosur exorcised a few of her still-fresh Fed Cup demons by winning after saving two MP -- with an ace and serve/volley winner -- to take out Strycova on the Czech's home soil.
33. Montreal 1st Rd. - Monica Niculescu def. Jelena Ostapenko
Ostapenko led 6-3/5-4 and served for the match, only to lose eight straight games. Niculescu won nine of the final ten games to take the match. Clear a path, everyone... Jelena's comin', and she's not happy.
34. Beijing 1st Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Jelena Ostapenko
Ostapenko blows a 5-3 3rd set lead. Maybe she should have tried clocking Putintseva in the head. Oh, that would have been a show with everlasting repercussions, huh? I mean, just the handshake was EPIC.

Oh, if looks could kill, Jelena would be a serial killer by now. I think she's about to take up a special place in a Backspinner's heart before it's all said and done.
35. U.S. Open 1st Rd. - Timea Babos def. Barbara Haas
The Hungarian notches her first career Open MD win, coming back from 4-0 down in the 3rd to win in 2:41.
36. U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Caroline Garcia def. Katerina Siniakova
From 1-4 down in the 3rd, Garcia wins five consecutive games to put up her career-best Open result in her career-best season, lifting her singles ranking to a new career-high.
37. Doha 1st Rd. - Elena Vesnina def. Simona Halep
The #118-ranked Russian trailed 7-6/4-1 before winning eleven of the final twelve games to once again send Halep packing in the opening stages of an event. Halep, perhaps dealing with a calf injury (when isn't there an issue below the knees or above the neck with the Swarmette?) double-faulted to close out the 2nd.

38. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Caroline Wozniacki
Despite handily winning the 1st set over Putintseva, Wozniacki could never quite get rid of the just-turned-21 year old Kazakh. She battled back to take the 2nd in a tie-break, fought off an attack of cramps and sometimes had her way with the far-too-passive Dane in the 3rd set. She opened with a break, gave it back, then regained the advantage to take a 5-4 lead as the set was characterized by Putintseva dragging Wozniacki from one side of the court to the other, bringing her into the net and often firing a winner past her once she got there. On her second MP in the tenth game of the set, Putintseva engaged Wozniacki in a long rally. The sort of rallies that Wozniacki often wins. But not this time. With Putintseva finding a way to get everything back herself, it was the Dane's eventual forehand error into the net that ended the proceedings.

39. Guangzhou 1st Rd. - Sara Errani def. Han Xinyun
A little of the old Italian fight here, as Errani overcome a 6-2 deficit in the 3rd set TB and won after saving five MP. A round later, she saved 8 SP vs. Viktorija Golubic in the 1st set before going on to lose.
40. U.S. Open Q2 - Donna Vekic def. Alize Lim
. Though she lost in the final Q-round, Vekic briefly carried over her Cincinnati confidence (Q-run + upset of AnaIvo) to Flushing Meadows, where she won this one after staging a comeback from 6-3/3-0 down vs. the Pastry.
41. Cincinnati Q2 - Varvara Flink def. Misaki Doi
Wild card Russian Flink made the comeback from 6-0/5-2 to take out #1 Q-seed Doi, but Flink was ousted in the 1st Round while Doi entered the MD as a lucky loser in Serena Williams' #1 seed slot, complete with 1st Round bye. Doi then won her match to reach the 3rd Round. Ah, tennis.
42. U.S. Open Girls 3rd Rd. - Bianca Andreescu def. Usue Arconada
#9-seed Arconada, one of ten U.S. girls in the Round of 16, falls to the #7-seeded Canadian Andreescu, who'd trailed 7-5/5-2 before rallying for victory. Four other Bannerettes still advanced to the QF, with Andreescu losing in the semis to eventual champ Kayla Day.
43. Tianjin QF - Svetlana Kuznetsova def. Naomi Osaka
Sveta won just three points on serve in the 1st, but managed to battle back to win, saving two MP along the way, only to lose a three-set semi vs. Alison Riske.
44. Luxembourg 2nd Rd. - Monica Niculescu def. Francesca Schiavone
From a set and 2-5 down, Niculescu wins eleven of fifteen games and goes on to take the title.
45. Wimbledon Q1 - Risa Ozaki def. Freya Christie
Eight British Crumpets advanced to the second round of qualifying on Day 1, but Christie saw her match continued to a second day tied 5-5 in the 2nd. The teen led 5-3 in the 3rd set and held match points, but failed to close things out. Ozaki ultimately won in three and a half hours, eliminating a teary Christie who'd been so thrilled to get a WC into the Q-rounds a week earlier.
HM- Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Daria Kasatkina def. Ons Jabeur
When the Russian teenager was down 6-3/3-1, thinks looked bleak for Kasatkina. But then she broke the Tunisian and led 4-3, only to give the break back and see Jabeur serve for the match at 5-4. But she got the break, and it was time to live again. She went up 6-0 in the 2nd set TB, winning it 7-4, then pulled away quickly in the 3rd. After reaching the 3rd Round in each of her four slam debuts in 2015-16, Kasatkina reached the QF in her first Olympic appearance, the best singles result of any of the Russians.

There obviously weren't any hard feelings between the two, either, as they've been training -- and doing Mannequin Challenges -- together this offseason:


[A Robson Renaissance?]
Laura Robson's tough journey through the tennis wilderness seems to have found a path back to civilization. Results have been slow to come in the (still only) 22-year old Brit's comeback from 2014 wrist surgery, but this summer has produced tangible evidence of good health AND improvement. A tight three-set loss to countrywoman Tara Moore in the Sacramento $50K in July was viewed from here as either a sign that Moore had officially "surpassed" Robson on the Crumpet Tennis Pyramid, or a hint that maybe Robson was getting "close" to something good. Apparently, it was the latter. Another three-set loss vs. Chanel Simmonds soon followed in a $25K on Forth Worth, but then it happened.

In a $25K challenger in Landisville, Pennsylvania, the then-#285 ranked Robson swept both the singles and doubles titles. She came back from a set down to defeat Ksenia Lyskina in the 1st Round, survived a rematch with Moore (dropping the 1st set, but seeing Moore retire in the 2nd due to heat illness), then didn't lose another set the rest of the tournament, including a double-bagel win in the final over Julia Elbaba. The win was a perfect complement to a no-sets-loss doubles title run with 18-year old Brit Freya Christie. They were Robson's first titles since wrist surgery. Actually, her last pro singles title came in 2008 (in a $10K challenger four months after she was crowned the Wimbledon girls champ), but this was her first appearance in a singles final of any sort since September 2012, the year before the Brit reached her career-high of #27 prior to her wrist injury in her first match of the 2014 season. After missing a year and a half, Robson returned to action during the summer of '15.

But Robson wasn't finished. She took off on holiday from North American to Europe, thinking she had no chance for a wild card berth into U.S. Open qualifying. But once she received word of her WC, within seven hours she was back on plane to the States. She stretched her winning streak to eight matches, going 3-0 in qualifying without losing a set, to reach the Open MD three years after she won her last slam MD match there in 2013. Robson lost in three sets in the 1st Round to countrywoman Naomi Broady, but it appeared as if a significant corner had been turned.

Or not, as Robson went just 3-6 the remainder of the season, closing out 2016 on a five-match losing streak.

[Hey, Aren't You?]
$10K Tarvisio 1st Rd. - Alona Bondarenko def. Erika Vogelsang
Oh, Vogelsang. (Just kidding.) Kateryna's sister, who never "officially" retired, finally returned to the court and notched her first victory in five years. Alona ranked as high as #19 in 2008, but hadn't played since the 2011 Kremlin Cup.

[A Sevastova Story sequel?]
$10K Bucha, UKR - Mariya Koryttseva def. Alexandra Perper
...4-0 ret.
You may vaguely recognize the name of Koryttseva, a former Top 50 player back in 2008, who reached a pair of WTA singles finals (losing to Kirilenko and Errani) over a ten-month stretch back around that time, and picked up six WTA singles titles in her career. Now 31, the Ukrainian hadn't played singles since 2012, and only five doubles matches in two Bucha challengers last September, over a four and a half year span before she showed up in the singles Q-draw in this Week 36 tournament. As it turned out, she reeled off eight match victories and won her first singles title since taking a $25K back in 2007. Sounds a little like last year's "Sevastova Story." Koryttseva ultimately won ten of eleven matches in three events in the final months of the season.

[An Original Hordette Comes Out of Hiding]
After back-to-back challenger appearances in Moscow (she'd only previously played one doubles match since 2012), 33-year old Original Russian Revolution Hordette Bovina was in action in Quebec City, fourteen years after she won her second of three career tour singles titles at the same tournament back in 2002. A WC entry into both draws, Bovina lost 6-4/7-6(3) to Amandine Hesse in qualifying, but reached the WD QF along with Francoise Abanda, pushing eventual champs Hlavackova/Hradecka to a 10-5 3rd set TB. Bovina lives part-time in the city, so this trip was a logical one for her in her late '16 "tryout" to see if her body -- battered by shoulder, hip and back injuries in the past -- will allow her to stick around. "If it were up to me, of course I want to get back on the circuit," she said, "but the answer is for my body. There is a year and a half, I did not even think to play, so I'm optimistic and I'll try to do a few tournaments before the conclusion of the season."

Bovina played a total of five events in 2016, going 7-5 in singles and 4-4 in doubles.

[In Dutch We (Still) Trust]
Before Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, there was Rus. A good young player who suddenly experienced a sudden and steep fall for a variety of reasons. In her case, from the pressure of playing after early success, to a losing streak and resulting loss of confidence, and even a diagnosis of glandular fever, for good measure. In 2011-12, it was Rus, not Kiki Bertens, who was the Dutch player stepping into the spotlight. From 2011-12, she reached a slam Round of 16 (RG '12) and two 3rd Rounds ("11 RG/'12 WI), becoming the first player from her nation in nineteen years to reach the 4th Round in Paris. Over those two seasons, she put up wins over the likes of Kim Clijsters, Sam Stosur, Elena Vesnina, Barbora Strycova, Julia Goerges, Misaki Doi and a young Carolina Garcia and Elina Svitolina. She finished 2011 at #84 and 2012 at #68, ranking as high as #61. But since that good stretch, Rus hadn't won a MD match at a slam in four years. Her season-ending ranking fell from #68 to #160 to #230 and #289 in recent campaigns.

In 2016, though, Rus labored hard to slowly climb back up the tennis ladder. Having reunited with coach Ralph Cook, who'd been with her during her previous career highs, the now-25 year old, ranked in the #200's, went to the $xx challenger in Hua Hin, Thailand and claimed her first singles title of any kind since October '13, defeating Nicha Lertpitaksinchai in back-to-back tie-breaks after falling behind 6-3/5-2 in the final.

It was the next logical step in a season in which the Dutch woman made gradual progress since the year's opening weeks, as she reached a $25K final in February and followed up with a $50K semi (June) and a pair of $25K semis (July/August) before making her way through qualifying in the WTA-level event in Seoul (her first MD appearance in a tour event since July '15). She won another $25K in Eqeuerdreville-Hainnevile, France, in October, notching wins over the #1 (Ivana Jorovic), #2 (Maryna Zanevska) and #4 seeds (Lesley Kerkhove) en route to the twelfth ITF title of her career.

The 25-year old Dutch ended the season in the Top 175, the best finish since 2013 for the former world #61.

1. Olympic Mixed 1st Rd. - V.Williams/Ram def. Bertens/Rojer
...6-7(4)/7-6(3) [10-8].
Venus' road to Rio redemption began in the 1st Round of Mixed Doubles, when she and Ram saved two MP in the 2nd set, then jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the 3rd set TB, holding on to prevent Williams from going winless at these Olympics. They'd go on to take Silver, allowing Rio to give Venus the sort of Olympic send-off the four-time Gold winner deserves. Well, at least it seemed that way...

Venus has since stated that her goal IS to play another Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.
2. Hopman Cup RR Mixed - Australia Green (Gavrilova/Kyrgios) def. France (Garcia/de Schepper)
...6-4/2-6 [11-9].
The Aussies needed a win to advance to the final (otherwise, the British team of Watson/Murray would move on their place) in the final RR match, and faced down a MP at 9-8 in the deciding tie-break. After Garcia had managed to get back Kyrgios' big serve, Gavrilova followed up her slugging volley up the middle with a deft crosscourt drop volley just barely over the net and inside the service box to save the day. The Aussies didn't lose another point, as Kyrgios soon handled every shot on Australia's MP, pushing the duo into the final, where they shut out Elina Svitolina and Alexandr Dolgopolov and swept the Ukrainians to take the title.

3. Sydney Final - Hingis/Mirza def. Garcia/Mladenovic
...1-6/7-5 [10-5].
The Dream Team's held-over infallible reputation from 2015 nearly suffered a dent the week before the start of play at the Australian Open, but it instead was only bolstered by another clutch performance as Hingis/Mirza recovered from a 6-1/5-2 deficit against the all-Pastry duo to win their seventh straight title and 30th consecutive match. In Melbourne, the numbers would be increased to eight and 36 before the streak finally ended at 41. By the end of the season, though, Hingis/Mirza was no more, while Garcia/Mladenovic were slam champions and the highest-ranked active duo on tour.
4. Cincinnati Final - Mirza/Strycova def. Hingis/Vandeweghe
It just HAD to work out this way, didn't it? Almost immediately after announcing the dissolution of their 16-month doubles partnership, Hingis and Mirza found themselves on opposite sides of the net. With Mirza & Strycova dominating the field to reach the final, while Hingis/Vandeweghe floated along above the draw while playing just one match due to opponent withdrawals. Even a 5-1 1st set lead, and three SP, weren't enough to hold back Mirza & Strycova, two players with definite minds of their own who could form one of the most intriguing, interesting and entertaining duos (on and off court) if this pairing takes hold beyond their summer try-out phase.

U.S. Open Mixed 2nd Rd. - Vandeweghe/Ram def. Hingis/Paes
...7-6(1)/3-6 [13-11].
From down 8-4 in the deciding tie-break, Vandeweghe/Ram win 13-11 to take the match, as CoCo eliminates new doubles partner Hingis here, before later losing with her in the WD semifinals. Vandeweghe/Ram lost in the MX final to Siegemund/Pavic.
5. WTA Finals QF - Mattek-Sands/Safarova def. Babos/Shvedova
...5-7/7-6(6) [10-2].
Babos/Shvedova recoved from a 4-1 hole in the 1st to finally put away the set on their eighth SP, but then couldn't convert on two MP late in the 2nd set before BMS/Safarova forced a TB. They held a third MP there, only to see things go to a deciding breaker. Finally, Team Bucie's big match experience shined brightest, as they went up 4-0, then 7-1, before winning by a comfortable 10-2 margin to notch their 17th straight match win.

HM- Dubai SF - Chuang/Jurak def. Errani/Suarez-Navarro
...5-7/7-6(5) [10-7].
Chuang Chia-Jung & Darija Jurak battled back from 4-0 and 5-2 down in the 2nd set, saving five MP. They went on to win the title.

1. Miami 2nd Rd. - Irina-Camelia Begu def. Sabine Lisicki
An early nominee for "Choke of the Year," and still the strongest nominee on the board all these months later. Lisicki won eleven straight games from 1-0 down in the 2nd to take a 5-0 lead in the 3rd set. Despite holding a MP, the German saw it all slip away as she lost six straight games. But then she broke Begu to force a deciding tie-break, only to quickly fall behind there and... wait for it... DF on match point. Oh, Sabine.
2. Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - United States def. Australia 4-0
for once, Captain Mary Joe Fernandez hadn't sabotaged the U.S. roster before the tie had even started, so the Bannerettes were in a good position to put up a fight. But the 4-0 sweep fell mostly on the performance -- umm, it wasn't good -- of Aussie team leader Samantha Stosur, the "anti-MVP" of the Brisbane tie.

Match #2 featured MJF's first hunch, going with Christina McHale (playing well, under-the-radar, since January, she'd been left off several rosters by Fernandez in the past and didn't have a Fed Cup win since since '12) vs. Stosur, rather than the higher-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe. In her first match vs. Christina McHale (0-4 vs. the Aussie), Stosur was in command in the 1st set, and was in position late in the 3rd to knot the tie. But McHale remained steady, while the Aussie collapsed in a hail of errors. At 3-3 in the 3rd, Stosur held in an eight-deuce game in which she saved six BP (McHale was 0-for-8 in the set at that point), only to eventually give away the break that she'd avoided a few games later with a slew of errors that put the Bannerette up 6-5. McHale herself has often had a difficult time closing out big matches, but she easily held her nerve and served things out in a 3-6/6-1/7-5 win. On Sunday, Stosur faced off with CoCo Vandeweghe, 0-3 in FC singles in her career. Again, Stosur looked to be in control, only to gradually cede it to her opponent, leading 6-2/2-0, then 5-4 in the 2nd. At 5-5, she went from game point to being broken and her second collapse in a 24-hour period was a "go." Vandeweghe began to fight back (even while missing 1st serves, which Stosur didn't make her pay for), mostly just by keeping balls in the court and allowing Stosur to self-destruct yet again. She more than obliged. Vandeweghe's 2-6/7-5/6-4 win clinched the tie without the Aussies putting a single point on the board, then she and Bethanie Mattek-Sands (I.W. champs) combined to finish off the sweep.

3. Australian Open 4th Rd. - Carla Suarez-Navarro def. Dasha Gavrilova
Playing in her first match at Rod Laver Arena, Gavrilova seemed to have everything going for her in the 1st set. And the 2nd. And the 3rd. The energized Aussie took the 1st at love from CSN, with the Spanish veteran winning just one point on her first serve in the set. In both the 2nd and 3rd sets, Gavrilova led 2-0 and was a point away from a 3-0 lead. After failing to get the game in the 2nd, she became frustrated and lost four straight games then, ultimately, the set. But Gavrilova was still seemingly in the driver's seat in the deciding set. Up 2-0, she again was a point away from a 3-0 lead. Again, she failed to get it. Again, she got frustrated. Again, she couldn't pull herself together enough to turn the tide back in her favor, as she mutated into a Russo-Aussie version of Jelena Jankovic. Clanging her racket against whatever was handy, wild gesticulating at herself and her players box. Screaming at her coach, then angrily gesturing in the direction of her team when they didn't stand up and cheer when she won a point. The move made coach Nicole Pratt simply shake her head and chuckle... oh, Dasha.

While she put together a few points down the stretch, the storyline turned into a case of Gavrilova never being able to focus long enough to put herself back into the mindset necessary to win the match. Suarez-Navarro ran off the last six games, winning 0-6/6-3/6-2 as Gavrilova failed to become just the second Aussie woman to reach the AO quarterfinals in the past decade. Afterward, Gavrilova admitted to and apologized for acting like a "spoiled brat."

4. Doha QF - Andrea Petkovic def. Garbine Muguruza
"Tell me something I don't know," a frustrated and angry Muguruza shot back at Sam Sumyk during their coaching session. While the look on his face was priceless, his, perfectly-timed "you know everything" reply was perhaps as close as we'll get to seeing just how close coaching a temperamental athlete must be to raising a temperamental teenager.

5. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Ana Konjuh def. Ula Radwanska
U-Rad led 6-0/3-0, and had a break point at 4-4 in the 2nd that, if converted, would have given her the chance to serve for the match and just her second MD slam win since 2013. Konjuh would lose in her next match, while Ula's sister Aga would win five times in Meblourne to reach the semifinals.
6. Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Spain def. Italy 4-0
the end of an era. And this time the Tennis Gods mean it. Maybe. What might have been optimistically viewed as a case of Italy getting the old gang back together for one final celebratory weekend eventually turned into a case of "you can't go home again." Camila Giorgi's hot war with the Italian tennis federation left her out of this tie (and likely many, many more for quite a while), but the offshoot was that the roster's Quartet number was three strong, with Roberta Vinci, Sara Errani and Francesca Schiavone appearing together for the first time since the 2012 semifinals. But then Errani was pulled from Day 1 with a leg injury. Schiavone replaced her and took Garbine Muguruza to a 1st set tie-break, but was then stung in the face by an insect, dropped the TB and never won another game. Charged with righting the Italian course, Vinci was then crushed 1 & 1 in sixty-three minutes by Carla Suarez-Navarro, then opened Day 2 by losing 2 & 2 to Muguruza. Just like that, the party was over. Things didn't get any better in the "dead rubber" doubles, as that match (w/ Karin Knapp & Schiavone) ended via retirement after just two games. Italy thus drops to World Group II for the first time since 1998. It'd be easy to say that this truly IS the end of Italy's competitve FC era, with Vinci and Schiavone both near retirement, Errani within sight of 30, Giorgi's FC future unclear and seemingly little in the way of young up-and-comers in the pipeline.
7. Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Madison Keys def. Ana Ivanovic
Ivanovic came out firing following a :50 delay after coach Nigel Sears collapsed in the stands and was rushed to a hospital with the Serb leading 6-4/1-0. But Ivanovic, being who she is for the last seven-plus years, wasn't going to go quietly -- and victoriously -- into the Melbourne night. She led by an early break in the 2nd, gave it back, then regained it. Serving for a 6-4/5-2 lead, one would think that the former #1 and slam champion would have her opponent -- who hasn't really yet WON anything of great note in her career -- right where she'd want her, right? Come now, we're talking about AnaIvo. Keys had HER right where she wanted her. The Serb's service toss immediately began its slow devolution, and errors overtook her game. Keys eventually recovered from love/40 and saved six BP in game #10 to hold to take the 2nd set. Not content to have lost two potentially match-securing leads to Keys, Ivanovic was at it again in the 3rd. She blew a 3-0 3rd set advantage, Keys held from 15/40 for 3-3, then AnaIvo double-faulted to break herself a game later. Keys would win six of the final seven games to take the match, as Ivanovic failed to reach the 4th Round at seven of her last eight slams (and, as '16 end, ten of eleven).
8. Kuala Lumpur QF - Naomi Broady def. Sabine Lisicki
From 5-4 down in the 3rd, Broady reeled off eleven straight points and twelve of thirteen to close out the German. Quite simply, no one snatched defeat from the jaws as often or more spectacularly than Lisicki this early this season, setting the course for what was a truly disappointing campaign.

9. Australian Open Q1 - Zhu Lin def. Elena Vesnina
The Russian led 7-6 in the 3rd set, but Zhu won the last twelve points of the match, reportedly leaving upset newlywed Vesnina -- who came into a season ranked outside the Top 100 for the first time since 2005 -- to angrily fling her tennis bag against a tree in frustration after the match. 68 unforced errors in a match will do that to a Hordette, I guess. Don't worry, though, things ended well in Melbourne for Elena -- on the final day of the tournament, she claimed her first career slam Mixed Doubles titles with Bruno Soares. And, thankfully, her AO flame-out was hardly an indicator of her '16 season efforts, as she rebounded quite nicely, putting together a career year.
10. Bucharest 1st Rd. - Aliaksandra Sasnovich def. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
One of the lowlights of a devastating and frsutrating season for the Slovak, who'd come into '16 being viewed as one of the tour's "rising stars." AKS led 4-2 in the 1st set vs. the Belarusian, then 5-2 in the 3rd, holding a MP. Serving for the match up 5-3, she double-faulted on BP and never won another game.
11. Cincinnati 1st Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko def. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova
Oh, Schmiedy. Not to pile on AKS while she's trapped under a pile of 2016, umm, well, you know. Against Ostapenko, the Slovak had a 6-1, two-break lead, and held two MP at 5-4 in the 2nd. In the 3rd, AKS came back from 0-2, love/40 to lead 5-2 and serve for the match, only to drop serve twice in a row and lose the deciding TB to the Latvian.
12. Dubai 2nd Rd. - Madison Brengle def. Petra Kvitova
From 6-0/3-1 down (Kvitova won the 1st in :19), and 3-1 behind in the 3rd, Brengle notches her second victory over the Czech in less than a year. Kvitova was the last of the eight seeds to fall in Dubai, all without winning a single match.
13. Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - Magdalena Rybarikova def. Dasha Gavrilova
The Aussie Unicorn, who struggled to get much traction after her Melbourne run, led 4-2 in the 3rd and served for the match vs. Rybarikova, but lost the last four games (and the last six points).
14. St.Petersburg QF - Roberta Vinci def. Timea Babos
Babos lost both the 1st and 3rd sets in tie-breaks after seemingly having commanding early leads. Advantages of 5-2 in the 1st, then serving for the match up 5-4 in the 3rd before holding a 4-2 lead in the eventual deciding tie-break, weren't big enough for the Hungarian as Vinci reeled off the final five points of the match. This one also included an immediate nominee in the Worst Challenge Ever competition:

15. Australian Open 3rd Rd. - Barbora Strycova def. Garbine Muguruza
#3-seeded Muguruza joined the maddening crowd of ousted AO seeds with a muted, stagnant, disheartening performance that ended the Wimbledon finalist's chances for a third straight Round of 16 result in Melbourne.

16. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Dominika Cibulkova def. Caroline Garcia
Where were Kiki and Amelie when Caroline needed them here? The Pastry blew a 6-0/3-0 lead against eventual finalist Cibulkova, who'd come back from a break down in the 3rd in her previous match vs. Radwanska. Garcia double-faulted on MP.
17. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Lauren Davis def. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
#26 seed Pavlyuchenkova, rarely one to NOT go out in disappointing fashion at slam time, had a point for a 5-3 lead in the 3rd set. With this loss, the Russian, while regularly winning titles (5) over the same stretch, had gone seventeen consecutive slams without even a Round of 16 result to show for her "efforts." She finally ended her slam slide with a QF at Wimbledon.
18. Seoul 1st Rd. - Patricia-Maria Tig def. Marina Erakovic 2-6/7-5/6-4
Wuhan Q1 - Louisa Chirico def. Marina Erakovic 4-6/7-6(6)/6-3
It wasn't a good week for Erakovic. Romania's Tig charged back from 4-2 down in the 2nd, then 4-1 in the 3rd, winning the final five games of the match to get the victory despite firing twelve DF in the match. The Kiwi went on to also fail to put away Chirico a few days later after leading by a set and 4-0 in the 2nd set TB in Wuhan qualifying.
19. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Kirsten Flipkens def. Mirjana Lucic-Baroni
The Waffle emerges with the victory after being 5-3 down in the 3rd, as Lucic served for the match at 5-4, only to be broken at love, then drop serve again to lose the match two games later.
20. Miami Q1 - Pauline Parmentier def. Alison Riske
...riske 2-6/7-5/7-6(4).
Riske twice served for the match vs. the veteran Pastry at 6-2/5-4 and 6-5 in the 3rd, holding one MP.
HM- Rabat SF - Marina Erakovic def. Kiki Bertens
The Dutch woman wasn't PERFECT this clay court season. Bertens led 6-2/5-3 and held a MP in the 2nd set of this one, but Kiki ultimately fell to the Kiwi, who reached her first since 2013.

[The Final Choke Before the Comeback?]
Fed Cup World Group Playoffs - Belarus def. Russia 3-2
the end of an era, part II? Or the beginning of a new one? Russia lost its third straight FC tie and, less than a year after playing in the Fed Cup final, falls out of World Group I for the first time since 1997. But...

18-year old Daria Kasatkina took her maiden turn in the #1 singles spot for Team Russia, getting a win in her solo debut vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich, pushing Vika Azarenka to three sets in a loss, and then picking up a "dead rubber" doubles victory to close out the weekend. 2016 was a devastating FC year for the Hordette squad, starting with the "Moscow Miracle" loss to the Dutch, but Kasatkina masterfully staked her claim to the #1 singles spot for the next decade, perhaps ready to lead a bevy of even younger would-be Hordette stars gathering en masse right behind her. And that's a good foundation upon which to build the next generation of Russian tennis. In this season's two ties, Russia picked up a total of three points. Kasatkina had a hand in all of them.

[In a Category All Its Own]
WTA 125 Dalian Final - Kristyna Pliskova def. Misa Eguchi
...7-5/4-6/2-5 ret.
Pliskova picked up the (then) biggest title of her career less than twenty-four hours after her twin sister Karolina missed out on doing the same in the U.S. Open final. Of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that. After winning the opening set, the Czech seemed on her way to losing, dropping the 2nd and finding herself serving down 2-5, love/30 in the 3rd, only to see Eguchi suffer a bad fall. After getting some medical treatment, the Japanese woman tried to play but had to retire after a few points, and was carted off the court.

So was this a "comeback," or was it not? Hmmm. Well, it was definitely SOMETHING. Not sure what... but SOMETHING.

...who doesn't like a good upset? Well, I mean, besides the obvious.

1. Fed Cup 1st Round - Netherlands def. Russia 3-1
the "Miracle of Moscow." The Dutch reached the nation's third FC semi (the first since '97, with the other taking place forty-eight years ago) despite a roster without a single Top 100 player facing off against a Russian squad that was a who's who (and who soon will be) of the WTA tour with the likes of Kuznetsova, Makarova, Sharapova (who didn't play, and would soon be suspended) and Kasatkina in attendance. Kiki Bertens both kicked off and clinched the 3-0 lead that sent the Hordettes down the rabbit hole of Fed Cup upset history, while Richel Hogenkamp's FC record 4:00 upset of Team Russia legend Kuznetsova in match #2 proved to be the centerpiece moment of 2016's entire opening week of Fed Cup competition... and perfectly characterizes the sometimes-craziness of the just concluded campaign.
2. Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Shelby Rogers def. Petra Kvitova
Unseeded Bannerette Rogers (#108) continued her unexpected Paris run by delivering a "bagel sandwich" to Kvitova. The 1st set lasted just twenty-one minutes, with Kvitova's winner/unforced errors numbers (2/14) about as ugly as they can get. The Czech was down a break in the 2nd set, but managed to push things to a tie-break, which she won 7-3. But then it was right back on the hamster wheel. Kvitova fell apart even further, while Rogers soared. She got a break to start the set and never looked back. She notched an additional win over Irina-Camelia Begu to become the first non-Williams U.S. woman in the RG QF since 2005.

Of course, this sort of scoreline isn't exactly a unique thing for Rogers.


3. Fed Cup SF Match #2 - Viktoriya Golubic/SUI def. Karolina Pliskova/CZE 3-6/6-4/6-4
Match #4 - Viktoriya Golubic/SUI def. Barbora Strycova/CZE 3-6/7-6(6)/6-1
Golubic's glorious, if ultimately unsuccessful, Fed Cup weekend. What a way to make an entrance, as the world #129 went from "anonymous" to MVP-worthy, even in a losing effort. Pliskova's own unsteadiness -- 57 UE's, including a dumped overhead that handed the Swiss a MP -- helped in the comeback from 6-3/4-2 down in Golubic's first match. But the gutsy 8-6 tie-break win to prevent Strycova from clinching the tie stands on its own. Pity she couldn't have had a bit more to give in the doubles, where she and Martina Hingis lost to Pliskova & Lucie Hradecka as the Czech advanced to another FC final. But that loss doesn't dim the memory of her overall weekend performance one bit.
4. Gstaad 1st Rd. - Rebeka Masarova def. Jelena Jankovic
The world #797, this year's Roland Garros champ who was making her tour debut, takes out world #27 and former #1 Jankovic to ingnite a run that didn't end until she'd reached the semifinals after putting up additional wins over Anett Kontaveit and Annika Beck. The 16-year old was coming off a spring/early summer junior run that saw her go 32-5 (w/ 16 consecutive wins at one point), winning the Roland Garros girls title, as well as two other Grade 1 events.

5. U.S. Open SF - Karolina Pliskova def. Serena Williams
Having never before advanced beyond the 3rd Round in her previous seventeen slams, Pliskova's run to the Open final proved to be both a revelation (to some) and proving ground (for the Czech herself) as the Czech Fed Cup hero rarely showed a hint of nerves on Ashe Stadium for the first time, against the world #1, no less. Even with Williams admitting to playing with a knee injury, Pliskova starred on the night, out-hitting and out-serving Serena (who then pushed things over the edge herself with a DF on MP) and holding firm down the stretch as she become just the fourth to ever defeat BOTH Sisters in the same slam event. The result ended Williams' record-tying 186 consecutive week run at #1.

"I can't believe it," Pliskova initially remarked after the win. But then she immediately added, "No, actually, I CAN believe it." She noted she always believed that she could accomplish such results if she worked hard enough at it.
6. Brisbane Q1 - Samantha Crawford def. Tsvetana Pironkova 7-6(1)/6-4
Brisbane 2nd Rd. - Samantha Crawford def. Belinda Bencic 7-5/7-5
Brisbane QF - Samantha Crawford def. Andrea Petkovic 6-3/6-0
20-year old Crawford was the girls U.S. Open champ in 2012 and came into 2016 having won back-to-back USTA playoff races for wild card berths into last year's U.S. Open and this January's Australian Open. But none of that made what the world #142 did in Brisbane any less surprising, nor how easily she did it any less shocking. Armed with a big serve and flat, powerful groundstrokes that brought to mind Petra Kvitova at her best, the Bannerette came into Week 1 with just two main draw wins in her tour career. But after opening the WTA season by upsetting Brisbane's #1 Q-seed Tsvetana Pironkova on Day 1 of qualifying, then notching two more wins to reach the MD (the last, an 18-ace triumph over Oceane Dodin), Crawford put up three straight sets MD wins to reach her first career semifinal. The first win was against Aussie junior Priscilla Hon, but the last two came over Belinda Bencic and Andrea Petkovic, the latter a love & 3 lesson in domination that left the German searching for answers as the American officially registered a performance that will forever remind everyone of what she's capable of doing on her best day.


7. Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Kirsten Flipkens def. Venus Williams
Four years ago, Flipkens missed out on playing in the London Olympics after life-threatening blood clots were discovered in her calf during the spring. During her two months of inactivity, her ranking fell outside the Top 250 and she lost her funding from the Flemish Tennis Association. That was surely the Belgian's low point, but the former Wimbledon junior champ (2003), who couldn't help but play in the long shadow of the likes of Henin and Clijsters for most of her career, has been battling her way back for seemingly her entire existence on tour. Back and wrist injuries have plagued her over the years, but she's always found a way to flip the script back in her favor. So it should have come as no surprise that back in '12 she went from being essentially abandoned in the spring to winning the first title of her WTA career (Quebec City) by the end of the summer, finishing the season at #54. A year later, she reached the Wimbledon semifinals and climbed as high as #13 in the rankings. Last season, a cyst in her wrist caused her to miss still more time and dropped her outside the Top 100 again, once more threatening her Olympic dream, as she finished '15 at #93.

Flipkens opened '16 by qualifying in Auckland and reaching the QF. In February, she played in the Monterrey final, her first on tour in nearly three years. But the wrist was bothering her once again this spring, when she had just a single win during the clay season, and lost 1 & love to Alize Cornet in the 1st Round of Roland Garros. But this is Flipkens we're talking about... you know what comes next. An upset of RG champ Garbine Muguruza on the grass in Mallorca set her summer on a better course, as did her pushing of Madison Keys to three sets in the 2nd Round at Wimbledon. Then came her belated Olympic experience.

On Day 1 in Rio, the 30-year old Waffle finally made her Olympic debut on Centre Court vs. Williams, who was fighting an undisclosed virus that led to her spending quite a bit of time off court between the 2nd and 3rd sets. Characteristically, the Flipkens fight came with her. And, in 3:13, Flipkens pulled off the biggest win of her career, as she (naturally) staged a comeback from a set down, survived Venus serving for the match at 5-3 in the 3rd (getting within two points of victory), didn't collapse after being broken at love when serving for the match herself at 6-5, nor when she lost a 4-1 lead in the 3rd set TB and found Williams once again two points from the win at 5-5. Flipkens may have been given up on in the past, but she never gives up on herself.

8. Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova def. Petra Kvitova
The #6-seeded Czech was sent packing in the first three rounds in Melbourne for the fourth straight year by the newly-minted Aussie, who'd use the boost to put on a career-best slam Round of 16 run and become the newest, most energetic apple of the collective eye of fans Down Under. Kvitova twice held break leads in the 1st set only to immediately give back the advantage one game later. With Gavrilova serving for the match at 5-3, she tightened up after holding a MP and Kvitova was back in the match... only to drop serve to end the match a game later, as the Aussie converted her fifth of six BP chances in the match.


9. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Zhang Shuai def. Simona Halep
Days later, Halep -- in what felt like then, and sort of still does, an attempt to "make an excuse" or "desperately find a reason" for the loss -- spoke of various physical ailments and announced nasal surgery intended to deal with some of them (though that never actually happened). But none of that made up for yet another loss after which she admitted to being "lost" on the court as she dropped the final five games of the match after having led the veteran Chinese qualifier (and then world #133) 3-1 in the 2nd set. Of course, Zhang, who would take this result and use the momentum to put together a Top 25 season, deserves credit, too. She hit thirty-one winners, many of them zinging down the line shots, making then-#2 Halep the twelfth (and final) seed to fall in the 1st Round of the AO, and the Swarmette the first Top 2 to lose her opening match in the event since #1 Virginia Ruzici (Halep's current manager) in 1979. Zhang, who already held the tour record as the lowest-ranked player to defeat a world #1 (#226 vs. Dinara Safina in '09), had been 0-14 in slam MD matches in her career, and failed on thirteen other occasions to qualify for majors (and saw her opponent serve for the match in the final round in Melbourne this time around, as well). She was considering retirement going into this match, and had flown in her parents to be there for the occasion... which turned out to be "special" for a totally unexpected reason. She went on to reach the QF in Melbourne.

10. U.S. Open 2nd Rd. - Anastasija Sevastova def. Garbine Muguruza
Sevestova's back-from-retirement, Cinderella-like second act on tour reached new heights at Flushing Meadows, gaining its footing in the early going with the Latvian's upset of the occasionally "Walking Dead extra-looking" #3-seeded Roland Garros champion. The Spaniard actually led the match 5-4, 30/love before dropping back-to-back games and then double-faulting to give Sevastova a SP before badly missing on a short ball to drop the 1st. After falling behind 4-0 in the 2nd, Muguruza nearly turned things around vs. her tight opponent, holding at love for 5-3 and breaking serve a game later. But a string of errors put Muguruza down love/40 soon after, and Sevastova won on her fourth MP. She'd ultimately reach the QF, but turned an ankle vs. Caroline Wozniacki and was but a shell of her previous Open self, only narrowly avoiding a double-bagel loss.
11. Wimbledon 1st Rd. - Ekaterina Alexandrova def. Ana Ivanovic
One might be tempted to chalk this one up to "wedding eve-itis," but Dominika Cibulkova proved at this same Wimbledon that such a bug did not exist on the AELTC grounds in 2016. In the end, it was clear that #23-seeded former #1 Ivanovic simply didn't have the same desire to be there as the 21-year old, #223-ranked qualifier who'd already won 14-12 and 13-11 3rd sets in the Roehampton Q-rounds just to get to this match. In all, the Hordette played six and a half hours over three rounds to reach her first slam MD, and did so after arriving in London not even knowing if she'd have a spot in the Q-draw at all. Oh, and she'd never played a grass court match in her life, either. She was an alternate for the qualifying tournament, but it wasn't until Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor's late withdrawal that she officially secured her place in her first slam draw of any kind. When she reached her first major MD, both she and her father celebrated.

Clearly, she wanted this.

Here, Ivanovic seemed to have other things on her mind for most of the match. Which, of course, she did. Her upcoming wedding, as well as a wrist injury that she later said had been bothering for her two weeks. But would 100% health have made any difference, or would she have simply found another way to cut short her pre-honeymoon trip to London on Day 1, or maybe a few days later? Considering her history, it's an open question. And an unnecessary one, too, as nothing should be taken away from the lanky young Russian with the smooth groundstrokes and good (if sometimes inconsistent) serve. She handed it to the Serb, quite possiby demoralizing her at some point, or at least making her realize that if she was going to win her 1st Round match she was going to have to work much, much harder than she was prepared to on this day.


12. Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Serena Williams
Svitolina played within herself and didn't crack under the pressure of who her defending Gold medal winning opponent was (and still is). But, of course, all anyone will remember here is how Williams, after breaking to get back on serve at 3-3 in the 2nd set, double-faulted and fell behind love/30 in game #7. In the most un-Serena-like game imaginable, Williams would hit an ace to go up 40/30, then a DF, then an ace, than another DF. Another DF put her BP down, and another (her fifth in the game) gave the Ukrainian back the break advantage. Importantly, though, Svitolina then held at love, while Williams followed up by going down love/40 with still another DF. Svitolina won on her third MP.
13. Montreal 1st Rd. - Kristina Kucova def. Yanina Wickmayer 4-6/6-2/6-3
Montreal QF - Kristina Kucova def. Johanna Konta 6-4/6-3
Kucova simply lived off upsets in Montreal, including two of the three title winners from the previous week. Her upset of Konta (briefly) delayed her becoming the first Brit to reach the Top 10 in thirty-two years.

Montreal 2nd Rd. - Kristina Kucova def. Carla Suarez-Navarro
After having made it through qualifying, Kucova maintained her MD roll with the biggest win, ranking-wise, of her career, by taking out #9 CSN. Roll... get it? Yeah, I know... sorry.

Montreal 3rd Rd. - Kristina Kucova def. Genie Bouchard
It seems like Kucova's entire week could be told in a series of post-match reaction videos.

14. Fed Cup 1st Rd. - Monica Niculescu/ROU def. Petra Kvitova/CZE
Niculescu filled the role of "fiery Romanian" on the first FC weekend, pulling off the biggest upset of the CZE/ROU tie by frustrating and upending Kvitova in Match #2 -- to chants of "Mon-i-ca, Mon-i-ca" -- immediately after Simona Halep's loss to Karolina Pliskova had seemingly painted the Swarmettes into a corner. Said Niculescu, "I said I am going to play (forehand) slice because it is my game. In the end it was perfect -- I think the slice was bothering her." While Niculescu committed just 12 unforced errors, Kvitova had 46 in what turned out to be the first 0-2 weekend of her Fed Cup career... and it happened on an indoor hard court, where she'd previously inspired legit fear in opponents. Oh, Petra.

15. Rio Olympics 3rd Rd. - Monica Puig def. Garbine Muguruza 6-1/6-1
Rio Olympics SF - Monica Puig def. Petra Kvitova 6-4/1-6/6-3
Puig's victory over Muguruza at once seemed monumental in its brief moment in time. But things would only get better for Puig.
Kvitova opened the match the winning twelve of the first fifteen points and taking a 3-0 lead, but the unbowed Puig managed to take the set in what turned to be a very familar scenario for a three-set Kvitova loss.

Puig's win over Kerber in the final to become the first athlete to win Olympic Gold for Puerto Rico turned her into an "instant legend."
16. Australian Open 2nd Rd. - Naomi Osaka def. Elina Svitolina
18-year old, #127-ranked Osaka, a qualifier with Japanese, Haitian and American roots playing in just her fourth tour-level main draw, used a series of massive ground strokes and #18-seeded Svitolina's consistent unwillingness to aggressively move forward to take advantage of the opportunities she had -- including being up 3-1 in the 1st, and holding four BP as Osaka served for the match at 5-4 in the 2nd -- to mark herself as a true "rising star" months after she was the surprise winner of the tour's Rising Star competition in Singapore. The Ukrainian responded by adding former #1 Justine Henin to her coaching team, and her results immediately began to improve. Svitolina ended the season at a career-best #13, while Osaka improved by leaps and bounds, rising as high as #40.

17. Auckland 1st Rd. - Daria Kasatkina def. Venus Williams
Beware the Kasatkina. Down 3-1 in the 3rd, the Russian charged back to take out Williams in the opening match of the season for both players. The result, her first Top 10 victory, spoke to the potential breakout career for the Hordette, who was ranked inside the Top 30 by the end of the season, while it put an early-season damper on the excitement Williams' strong '15 finish had stirred up a few months earlier. Williams would go on to drop her opening round match in Melbourne, too, but rebound with a title in Kaohsiung, a Wimbledon semifinal and a fifth career Olympic medal (Mixed Doubles Silver) in Rio.
18. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Johanna Konta def. Venus Williams
What Kasatkina started in Auckland, Konta finished in Melbourne as #8 seed Williams, lethargic in her movement and playing with her leg wrapped, was assured of a winless January to open her 2016 campaign. For Konta, she made her AO debut a memorable one... and went on to become the first British woman to reach a slam semifinal in nearly forty years.

19. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Louisa Chirico def. Ana Ivanovic
#130 Chirico, who'd go from qualifier to semifinalist, gets the biggest win of her career as AnaIvo ends things with back-to-back DF. Doesn't that seem to happen ALL the time when Ivanovic shows up on this list?

20. Auckland 1st Rd. - Naomi Broady def. Ana Ivanovic
Firing fourteen aces, the Brit grabbed her first career Top 20 victory against the '14 Auckland champ. AnaIvo's back-to-back DF (didn't I just mention something about that?) to end the opening set were but another example of the Serb's serve (and toss) crumbling when the slightest bit of pressure was applied in a close match. She'd go on to suffer a similar fate in Melbourne.
21. Charleston 3rd Rd. - Yulia Putintseva def. Venus Williams
Earlier in the year, against Venus in the Kaohsiung SF (7-5) and Serena in the 3rd Round in Indian Wells (7-6), Putintseva put up a good fight in the opening set against a Sister but failed to lock it away in what turned out to be a straight sets loss. She turned the tables vs. Venus in Charleston, though, and her early lead ultimately provided the foundation for a three-set win.

22. Doha 2nd Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko def. Petra Kvitova
Petra, who'd recently split with longtime coach David Kotyza, talked during the 1Q about enjoying the freedom associated with playing without a coach. Well, that's fine, you know, if you're successful doing that. Early on, she wasn't.

Birmingham 2nd Rd. - Jelena Ostapenko d. Petra Kvitova
The 2014 Wimbledon junior champ defeats the 2014 Wimbledon Ladies champ, and Ostapenko lays down another signpost win in a career quickly picking up steam, albeit with an accompanying reputation for testiness. Not that that's a bad thing, especially in these parts. As for Petra... (shaking head).
23. Doha 1st Rd. - Cagla Buyukakcay def. Lucie Safarova
After three months away, Safarova finally returned from her illness-related absence in a short-lived attempt to defend her Doha title. Hey, so be it -- before she could take a second step, she had to take a first. And, anyway, it's hard to feel TOO bad when Buyukakcay got a chance to celebrate her first career Top 20 victory. Ranked outside the Top 160 at the time of this match, the 26-year old Turk seemingly spent all of 2016 knocking down a series of career (and Turk) records and "first-ever" feats.

24. Wimbledon 2nd Rd. - Jana Cepelova def. Garbine Muguruza
Muguruza's exit turned out to be the least dramatic crash-and-burn 2nd Round departure of a Roland Garros champion/Wimbledon finalist/#2 seed, well, probably ever. Once again, and not for the first time in '16, the 22-year old slam champ just never seemed to show up for her Court 1 match vs. #124-ranked (often star-crossed) qualifier Cepelova. Her lacking-the-will-to-right-her-course outing was more than a little disheartening, but it's far from something we haven't seen before from the tour's recent sudden stars, and gives no indication (yet... crossing fingers) that Muguruza is necessarily destined for a maddening, Kvitova-esque career.

Of course, this result had as much to do with 23-year old Cepelova's great play as it did Muguruza's poor effort. The injury and illness-plagued (she had pneumonia last year, and missed the Australian Open in January) career of the Slovak is one of the tour's most frustrating, even while it's been punctuated by wins over the likes of Serena Williams, Simona Halep (at last year's Wimbledon) and now Muguruza. Here, she never let the Spaniard up once she got her down, winning in 59 minutes and converting four-of-four break point chances while Muguruza failed to make her pay for a poor 42% 1st Serve percentage.
25. Stuttgart 2nd Rd. - Laura Siegemund def. Simona Halep
While this match signaled Siegemund's oncoming legitimacy (she reach the Stuttgart final) during the brightest week of her revelatory clay court spring run, it threw up red flags concerning Halep. The Swarmette ultimately won a big title on the fast clay in Madrid, but lost early in Rome then went down in a rain-delay disaster in the Round of 16 in Paris. Over the course of the summer, though, the Romanian finally began to get to confidence act together.

26. Rome 2nd Rd. - Dasha Gavrilova def. Simona Halep
In a match that saw a rain delay after Halep had knotted things by taking the 2nd set, Gavrilova got the best of the Romanian when play resumed. Days later, I still hadn't decided whether Halep's post-match comments were an example of good perspective, or a sign that she was far from ready to put up a fight in Paris.

But after she exited Paris excuse-making about rain and conditions -- while her opponent in the 4th Round, Sam Stosur, said it was fine to play -- makes it easy to fall on the latter side of that equation.
27. Stuttgart SF - Laura Siegemund def. Aga Radwanska
By the time Siegemund had locked away her third straight Top 10 win, and her seventh consecutive straight sets victory of the week, her run was hardly a surprise. Showing no hint of nerves, the German played as if she'd been in these sort of situations her entire tennis life. Of course, even while the continuation of her tennis career wasn't a sure thing not that long ago, such a reaction isn't super shocking from a player working on a psych degree and writing a Bachelor's thesis about "choking under pressure." Unlike Dinara Safina, who once noted, "The more you know, the less you sleep," Siegemund seems to fall on the, "The more the know, the less you fear" side of the psychological divide.


28. Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Zheng Saisai def. Aga Radwanska
After a nightmarish air travel journey to get from Montreal to Rio, things only got worse for the stressed-out and unprepared Pole once play began. The slow court bedeviled her, but Aga still had a shot to get back into the match. Zheng served for the win at 5-4 in the 2nd, but Radwanska broke to level things in game #10. But she gave the break back a game later, then saw Zheng win on her second MP with... wait for it... a drop shot. Oh, the irony.

29. Doha 1st Rd. - Zheng Saisai def. Angelique Kerber
Et tu, Angie? In her first tour-level match since she won the Australian Open, Kerber joined the early-season list of top players who'd been the victims of "shocking" upsets in 2016. While Zheng had just eight unforced errors, Kerber had "one of those days" while committing 38.
30. Bogota 1st Rd. - Catalina Pella def. Teliana Pereira
In her tour MD debut, #274-ranked qualifier Pella -- sister of ATP player Guido, a tour-level finalist this year -- knocks out the defending champ in 2:20. This is why Brazilian women's tennis just can't have nice things.
31. Strasbourg 1st Rd. - Jil Teichmann def. Kurumi Nara
The 18-year old Swiss, ranked #369 and making it into qualifying after having been an alternate, made her way through the Q-rounds notched her first career MD draw WTA win over former tour titlist (Rio '14) Nara.
32. Australian Open 1st Rd. - Margarita Gasparyan def. Sara Errani
The hail of seeds falling in the opening rounds in Melbourne began with #17 Errani, who has now been the First Seed Out in the AO twice in the last three years. The Italian led 5-0 in the 1st, and held a 6-1/4-3 advantage a set later before the Russian staged a comeback to notch her first career slam MD victory. She'd go on to reach the Round of 16, though knee surgery following Wimbledon would ultimately curtail a promising season for the 22-year old.
33. U.S. Open Q1: (WC) Amanda Anisimova def. Veronia Cepede-Royg
Many active players (Venus, Oudin, Bellis, Kasatkina, etc.) have flashed big-time in New York while still in their teens, and 14-year old wild card Anisimova added her name to the list in her first pro match (barely two months after playing the RG girls final), even if her moment in the sun lasted just one round before the start of MD play.

34. Madrid 2nd Rd. - Irina-Camelia Begu def. Garbine Muguruza
Muguruza recovered from 4-1 down in the 1st to win it, then nearly did the same in the 2nd. But once Begu forced the TB and won to force a 3rd set, the discouraged Spaniard went away far more quickly than someone of her standing should. For the Romanian, it was her first career Top 5 win. Muguruza rebounded with a semifinal run in Rome, then surged all the way to her maiden slam title at Roland Garros.
35. Beijing 3rd Rd. - Elina Svitolina def. Angelique Kerber
Svitolina's second win over a world #1 this season featured the Ukrainian erasing break disadvantages in both sets, and saving nine of eleven BP opportunities on her serve. With her additional victory over Serena in Rio earlier in the season, Svitolina is the first to put up wins over different #1's in the same season since 2010.

36. Madrid 1st Rd. - Barbora Strycova def. Angelique Kerber
The Czech was 0-5 with no sets won vs. Kerber before taking out the German to get her second Top 3 win of 2016. Of course, Kerber has never particularly cottoned to the Madrid event -- she's been ousted in the 1st Round three straight years... and then she lost in the 1st Round at Roland Garros, too.

37. Florianopolis 2nd Rd. - Ana Bogdan def. Jelena Jankovic
#127 Bogdan became the latest Swarmette putting her name in the headlines during the summer. The 23-year old wild card's biggest victory in Brazil came at the expense of the top-seeded Serb, as Bogdan eventually found her way into the first tour-level semifinal of her career, leading to a new career-high ranking. Meanwhile, JJ pulled out of the Olympic singles with a shoulder injury and, well, maybe the lingering effects of that outfit.

38. Moscow 1st Rd. - Anna Blinkova def. Anastasija Sevastova
How many players get to say that their first WTA MD victory included a comeback from 2-5 in the 3rd and five saved MP in a nearly 3-hour battle that ended in a 12-10 TB victory over the a U.S. Open quarterfinalist? Well, 18-year old Hordette Blinkova is one who can.
39. Tokyo 2nd Rd. - Aliaksandra Sasnovich def. Karolina Pliskova
#107 Sasnovich gets her first Top 10 win, while Pliskova loses her second '16 match to a player outside the Top 100 (after Shelby Rogers at RG).
40. Roland Garros 1st Rd. - Kiki Bertens def. Angelique Kerber
Kerber, dealing with a shoulder injury, became the first reigning AO champ in the Open era to lose in her opening match in Paris. The second in sixteen years, she's actually the second to fall in such a fashion in the last three years (Li '14). But that's the only way this was a "true upset," though. Bertens was in the middle of a wildly successful run (this was consecutive win #8) that included a Nurnberg title run just a few days earlier and ended with a berth in the RG semifinals a week and a half later.
41. Washington DC 1st Rd. - CiCi Bellis def. Jelena Ostapenko
More than a month before her U.S. Open 3rd Round run (and the late fall challenger-level run the lifted her well into the Top 100), 17-year old Bellis provided an early preview by coming back from 2-4 down in the 1st to win in straights over her fellow teen. Naturally, Ostapenko couldn't help buy try to make more new friends and influence still more people, saying afterward, "I mean, everything is so weird here, it's my first time here," noting, "The balls are Penn, which I never played anywhere. I think it's maybe on the American series, so it's not amazing conditions for me." Bless her Latvian heart.

42. Hong Kong QF - Dasha Gavrilova def. Angelique Kerber
Gavrilova was the lowest-ranked (#38) of the nine different players to record wins over top-ranked players on tour this year. The Aussie had been 0-6 vs. the German.
43. U.S. Open Girls 2nd Rd. - (WC) Carson Branstine def. Olesya Pervushina
Two days before her birthday, wild card Bannerettte Branstine gave herself an early gift when she saved two MP vs. the #2-seeded Russian to become one of ten U.S. juniors to reach the Girls Round of 16. She ultimately reached the QF, where she lost to eventual champ Kayla Day.
44. Hong Kong 2nd Rd. - Alize Cornet def. Venus Williams
3-4 vs. Serena, this win makes Cornet 1-6 against Venus. Before the Pastry's three-set loss to Williams at this year's Roland Garros, which featured a love 3rd set won by Venus, Cornet had never won more games in a set vs. her than the four she'd claimed in the opening set of their first match-up in the 1st Round of RG back in 2007.

45. Beijing 1st Rd. - Peng Shuai def. Venus Williams
In a career that stretches back to Oakland in 1994 (so, parts of 23 seasons), Venus has lost seven matches (not counting the loss to an unranked Kim Clijsters at the '09 U.S. Open) to players with triple-digit rankings. Seven. That's all. Venus entered the week having fallen out of the Top 10 for the first time in seventeen weeks, then she was upset by Peng, the Chinese vet (and '14 U.S. Open semifinalist) who made a nice 4Q comeback run this fall following back surgery. She'd come into Beijing ranked #223, and her win made her the first player with a ranking in the #200's to defeat Venus. Ever. Prior to this loss, Williams' "worst" defeat at the hands of a ranked player had been to a #143-ranked Petra Kvitova in Memphis in 2008. Although, it should be noted that Peng lost her next match in Beijing, then went 11-1 to finish out her season, taking titles in her first tour-level event, as well as at a $100K challenger, and was up to #84 in the final week of November.

HM- Quebec 1st Rd. - Barbora Stefkova def. Annika Beck
2016 in a nutshell: Beck was the defending champion and #2 seed, but she fell in the opening round to the lucky loser Czech despite having held a 6-2/5-2 lead. Stefkova had entered the MD after Bethanie Mattek-Sands withdrew with "exhaustion" after having won the U.S. Open WD with another Czech, Lucie Safarova.

[A Day on Court 17]
On Day 10 of Wimbledon, on the very same court, both of Roland Garros' girls single finalists were knocked out of in the 3rd Round of the SW19 draw. First, #3-seeded RG runner-up Amanda Anisimova (USA) fell to fellow Bannerette Claire Liu in a 13-11 3rd set in a 2:41 match in which the seeded girl had 13 DF (and 0 aces) while Liu put in 8 aces (w/ 5 DF). In the very next match on the schedule, #2-seeded RG champ Rebeka Masarova was knocked out by British wild card Gabriella Taylor 6-1/6-1. Having not played at Roehampton, this was Masarova's first grass court event of the year, as she continued to play clay events well after Paris because, one would suspect, she just wasn't losing on the surface and was closing in on the #1 ranking, which she just missed out on by losing in an event final a few weeks before Wimbledon. She won 16 straight clay matches in the spring, including a 20-2 closing run, and went 26-3 on the surface from March to June, winning three additional titles other than her RG girls crown.

1. Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Safarova/Strycova def. S.Williams/V.Williams
An upset, based on the Sisters' Olympic history, not the longtime prowess of their Czech opponents. It wasn't known just what Venus had left in her after her 1st Round loss and lingering illness, while Serena was throwing in a doubles match following a 1st Round singles win earlier in the day. Coming in with a 15-0 Olympic record and seeking a fourth Gold medal, they seemed an easy medal pick even with a challenging draw that kicked off with the Czechs, who channeled their Fed Cup powers (x 2) to get the win. Safarova/Strycova ultimately won Bronze, while Venus rebounded to win the Mixed Doubles Silver.

2. Rio Olympics 1st Rd. - Doi/Hozumi def. Garcia/Mladenovic
Considering their post-Roland Garros title form (and the less-intimate setting than the wrapped-in-the-French-tricolor-with-Amelie-a-few-feet-away feeling that goes on during Fed Cup), it was a toss-up which version of the Pastries we'd see at the games. But who could have foreseen (well, maybe the FFT might have) the calamity over the duos' outfits, the poor reaction Caro & Kiki would have to the stressful moment after the issue was "settled" and then their inability to close out the match in the 3rd after making up for having lost the opening set at love? Either way, it was an ugly situation from start to, literally, finish (and beyond, thanks to the she-only-burns-white-hot-when-she's-upset reaction by Mladenovic).

The #2-seeded Pastries were lucky to avoid disqualification when they arrived on court for their 1st Round match vs. the Japanese duo. Apparently, there was a clothing rule that prevented the pair from wearing different color outfits, something which the French tennis federation (FFT) failed to inform the players about. Luckily, the DQ was avoided since Mladenovic had an extra outfit to lend Garcia, whose outfit was the (truly, stupidly) "offending" issue, but Garcia had to wear it inside out over her regular dress to cover up a sponsor's logo, etc. Basically, it was all a mess. And the (easily?) distracted French duo then went out and dropped the 1st set at love, winning just seven total points. They rebounded to take the 2nd (at love... welcome to Li Na's "crazy" tour), but lost the 3rd. But that wasn't the end of the matter. Afterward, Mladenovic publicly blasted the FFT regarding the overcite, blaming the French organization's "incompetence" for the stress that caused the duo's loss. Garcia was upset, as well, but was a bit more diplomatic about the whole thing, at least.

Ultimately, the FFT handed down suspensions to both for their actions (ah, but who watches the watchers, hmmm?). The duo managed to end their summer with something of a "do-over," reaching their second slam final of the season at the U.S. Open.
3. Doha QF - Kasatkina/Vesnina def. Hingis/Mirza 2-6/6-4 [10-5]
Indian Wells 2nd Rd. - King/Kudryavtseva def. Hingis/Mirza 7-6(9)/6-4
Miami 2nd Rd. - Gasparyan/Niculescu def. Hingis/Mirza 6-4/6-2
after winning 41 straight matches dating back to last summer, Hingis & Mirza crashed hard late in the 1st Quarter. First, the all-Hordette duo handed them their first '16 loss in twenty matches. Then they hit the U.S. hard court circuit -- where they swept the Indian Wells and Miami titles to kick-off their partnership last spring -- and went 2-2, suffering their first straight sets loss since last summer in Toronto, then losing in the same fashion two weeks later. It was a collective early warning sign, as Hingis & Mirza announced the end of their partnership during the summer.
HM- Roland Garros 3rd Rd. - Krejcikova/Siniakova def. Hingis/Mirza
The quest for a fourth straight slam win -- and the only major title they've yet to claim in their brief partnership -- ended for world #1's earlier than anyone, includes themselves, likely ever expected. Red clay is the pair's worst surface, but they came into their 3rd Round match vs. the young Czech duo sporting a 12-2 clay record this spring, with a title in Rome and finals in Stuttgart and Madrid (they lost both to Garcia/Mladenovic). But the Maidens -- winners of three junior girls doubles slams in '13 -- dominated them and threw them out the back door and into the yard to be history's play toys via a scoreline similar to the 6-1/6-3 one they were on the other side of vs. the Dream Team in Stuttgart a few weeks earlier.

[A Day 11 Doubles Massacre]
It may not have been the work of The Rad, but it was surely a day that saw the women's doubles draw bloodied, as the #1 and #2 seeds (the AO and RG champions) both fell in the QF.

#1 seeds and defending champs Martina Hingis & Sania Mirza were taken down in straights by Timea Babos & Yaroslava Shvedova. The Hungarian/Kazakh duo got an early break in both sets, winning the 1st 6-2 and then having to battle a bit to put out the top-ranked team in the world a set later. Shvedova served for the QF match up 5-2, but failed to secure the hold. Two games later, the big-serving Babos did the honors, winning at love to advance 6-2/6-4.

#2-seeded Roland Garros champs Caroline Garcia & Kristina Mladenovic lost in straights, as well, but it was all more complicated vs. Julia Goerges and, wouldn't you know it, a Pliskova! Karolina, to be more specific, bucking the family trend (at the time, before her later U.S. Open singles final run) and still lurking around the grounds in the latter stages of week two at a slam. Goerges served down 5-6 in the 1st set, saving a SP and forcing a tie-break. There the French pair went up 3-1, only to see the German/Czech duo get back to 3-3 in short order. A Garcia backhand volley into the open court gave the team a second SP at 6-5, but on the very next point she crouched for a volley smash of a low ball and, despite just being a few feet from the net and with her racket appropriately out in front of her, somehow didn't get the shot over. A third and fourth SP went by the wayside, as well. Finally, Goerges/Pliskova did put away their own SP #2 for an 11-9 TB win. They then took a 5-1 lead in the 2nd, and held a MP at 5-2 on the Pastries' serve only to see the French duo get the hold. On MP #2, Pliskova acted as if she was playing Fed Cup deciding doubles and put away a volley winner up the middle off a service return to get the 7-6(9)/6-3 victory.

And then there was this...

$10K Shymkent QF - Daria Kruzhkova def. Alexandra Grinchishina 6-0/0-6/6-0

Yes, the women's tennis "Rosetta Stone" has been discovered. There's not much more to say after that, I'm afraid.

Well, except maybe for...

2005 AO SF - Serena Williams d. Maria Sharapova
2006 AO SF - Justine Henin-H. d. Maria Sharapova
2007 Los Angeles SF - Ana Ivanovic d. Jelena Jankovic
2008 U.S. Open Final - Serena Williams d. Venus Williams
2009 Wimbledon SF - Serena Williams d. Elena Dementieva
2010 Brisbane Final - Kim Clijsters d. Justine Henin
2011 AO 4th - Francesca Schiavone d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2012 Miami 4th - Victoria Azarenka d. Dominika Cibulkova
2013 Cincinnati Final - Victora Azarenka d. Serena Williams
2014 Indian Wells QF - Aga Radwanska d. Jelena Jankovic
2015 RG 2nd - Francesca Schiavone d. Svetlana Kuznetsova
2016 Wimbledon 4th - Dominika Cibulkova d. Aga Radwanska

The 2016 WTA Yearbook is coming soon!

All for now.


Blogger Diane said...

Agree on match of the year! (WTA picked it as 4th?)

Why are all photos of Kasatkina so wonderful? She isn't classically "photogenic," but she appears as a kind of droll force, like a kid playing at a superhero role--but with an attitude! And she talks kind of like Dinara, which is a huge bonus.

Fri Dec 09, 08:33:00 PM EST  
Blogger Todd.Spiker said...

Yeah, those tour-sponsored lists often leave you scratching your head. Even just some of the matches they were highlighting as the "upsets" of the year I didn't even think qualified as upsets (such as Cibulkova over Kerber in the WTAF, where Kerber was the favorite, but, still...).

I see what you mean with Kasatkina. There might even be a bit of that in her recent Instagram post where she's "showing off" her dress, but the look on her face has that same sort of expression. ;)

Sat Dec 10, 01:01:00 PM EST  

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