Serena, Azarenka put on good shows

December, 12, 2013
12/12/13
6:00
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Editor's note: On Dec. 9, we began our 10-part year-end awards series. Stay tuned each weekday for our latest entry.

Dec. 9: Men's POY | Dec. 10: Women's POY | Dec. 11: Best men's matches | Dec. 12: Best women's matches

The top two players on the WTA took most of the year's big titles and played many of the biggest matches. Seven of these 10 selections feature Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka or both.

1. Victoria Azarenka def. Serena Williams
Cincinnati final, 2-6, 6-2, 7-6 (6)


All their hard-court meetings this year were battles, but this one had the closest and most dramatic ending. Williams served for the match at 5-4, hesitated, then did the same thing with a 5-4 lead in the tiebreaker. Then Azarenka took command and dominated the last two points to grab the match. It's something few have shown the ability to do in tight matches against Williams.

2. Serena Williams def. Victoria Azarenka
US Open final, 7-5, 6-7 (6), 6-1


This time it was Williams' turn for a strong finish. The defending champion looked in command during the second set but could not close out a valiantly battling Azarenka. Williams quickly regained control, however, and didn't flinch in a third set.

3. Sabine Lisicki def. Agnieszka Radwanska
Wimbledon semifinals, 6-4, 2-6, 9-7


The contest between the big-serving Lisicki and the crafty Radwanska made for pleasing tennis on Wimbledon's Centre Court, and the personal tension between them just added to the interest. Lisicki went up 3-0 in the third set only for Radwanska to come back, but it was the Polish-born German who eventually triumphed over the partly-German-raised Pole. Radwanska, who had beaten Lisicki in all 10 of their previous matches, could barely bring herself to shake her opponent's hand after missing her best opportunity to finally win a Grand Slam.

4. Sabine Lisicki def. Serena Williams
Wimbledon quarterfinals, 6-2, 1-6, 6-4


In this match, it was Lisicki who found herself down 3-0, but a collapse from Williams allowed her to pull off the most inexplicable women's upset of the year. Williams had been expected to be challenged by the grass-court-loving Lisicki, but not let the match slip away after putting herself in a winning position.

5. Serena Williams def. Svetlana Kuznetsova
French Open quarterfinals, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3


Only those who can play with spin and can grind out points managed to give Williams significant trouble on clay this year, and former French Open champ Kuznetsova was a prime example of a player who can do just that. The Russian came on strong to take the second set and go up 2-0 in the third, but Williams somehow served out the next game and ran off five in a row to regain control of the match.

6. Victoria Azarenka def. Li Na
Australian Open final, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3


Most of the women's Grand Slam finals were competitive this year, and Azarenka and Li kicked things off with this topsy-turvy three-setter. Azarenka had to deal with the hostility of the crowd after a controversial medical timeout in the semifinals, and Li had to deal with stumbling twice on the court, once hitting her head hard on the concrete. The second set was close, but Azarenka closed out a dazed Li in the third.

7. Petra Kvitova def. Venus Williams
Tokyo semifinals, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5)


The older Williams wasn't visible on the tour very often this year, but this was one of the weeks when she definitely was. After defeating an ill Azarenka early on, Venus reached the semifinals, giving eventual champ Kvitova all she could handle before the Czech took command in the tiebreaker.

8. Serena Williams def. Jelena Jankovic
Istanbul semifinals, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4


These two usually make for an entertaining matchup, and this was no exception. After a busy season in which she played more than 80 matches, Williams said she was exhausted coming into this semifinal and looked weary during the match. Jankovic later complained about Williams' dramatics when the world No. 1 was falling behind -- and her frustration could only have grown when Williams somehow pulled it out in the third set.

9. Victoria Azarenka def. Jamie Hampton
Australian Open third round, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2


Azarenka was not expected to be challenged severely, but Hampton was more than a match for the then-No. 1 through the first two sets. Even when nerves triggered Hampton's back injury and required a second-set timeout, she played well enough to make Azarenka sarcastically ask, "Can I have a back problem?" in her postmatch news conference. Hampton also dominated parts of the third set, hitting 41 winners, but an even greater number of mistakes helped the defending champion through.

10. Jie Zheng def. Samantha Stosur
Australian Open second round, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5


Stosur's biggest opponent in this match may have been expectations rather than Zheng. Playing in front of the home crowds has always been a challenge for the Australian, and she served for the match twice in the third set, at 5-2 and 5-4, and ended with a double fault. Zheng had her own struggles with nerves but never stopped fighting and was eventually rewarded with an improbable victory. Stosur would experience a similar defeat against Victoria Duval at the US Open, but she finished her season with back-to-back titles.

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