To mark the end of a record-setting 2019 season, we are counting down our picks for the best matches of the year. Check out our Top 5 Grand Slam Matches here.
Top 5 Best WTA Matches of 2019:
No.5: Simona Halep d. Bianca Andreescu, Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen
Coming in at No.5, Simona Halep saved match point against Bianca Andreescu in a three-set thriller at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen.
WHAT HAPPENED: In 2016, Simona Halep gave a young Canadian teenager some advice: ditch juniors and give professional tennis a try. Fast forward just a few years, and the pair crossed paths once again - this time, with Halep taking on the fast-rising Bianca Andreescu in her first match at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen.
It was instantly the most anticipated matchup of the WTA Finals round robin stage when the groups were drawn: the electric 19-year-old Andreescu, US Open champion, facing her tennis idol, the relentless Simona Halep, Wimbledon winner, for the first time.
The buzz was contagious even to the players, who both eagerly talked up the clash in their pre-match press.
“It's like you're playing the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam right away,” Andreescu said. “Me and Simona, I've always wanted to play her. I'm finally getting my chance. I'm really excited.”
“It's amazing what she has done,” Halep added. “To win a Grand Slam at 19, play few tournaments and win them, it's a great, great job… I'm excited also to face her.”
The Canadian started out the match on a tear, winning four straight games to pocket the opening set 6-3. Andreescu, who came into the match with a staggering 8-1 win-loss record against Top 10 opponents, twice came from a break down in the second set to put herself in pole position to win her debut match at the season-ending tournament, even holding a match point on Halep's serve in the 12th game of the second set.
But that’s when Halep started to dig her heels in. The Romanian saved that match point in style, holding for 6-6 and forcing a second-set tiebreaker. It was just as cagey a chess match there than in the rest of the set: Halep opened up a 3-0 lead, and Andreescu dialed up the aggression to make it 3-3, Halep fought her way to set point at 6-4, and Andreescu still came roaring back, 6-6.
Finally, Halep’s patient baseline coverage paid off, edging through 7-6(6) to level the score. Treated for a back injury late in the match, the 19-year-old earned, but could not convert, three different chances to extend her third-set lead to 3-1, and the Romanian quickly charged through that opening to win the next three games, flipping a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 advantage.
Halep’s relentless counterpunching proved to be the key to weathering Andreescu’s aggressive variety. Halep broke a final time at 5-3 with one of the longest rallies of the match to take a decisive lead, and closed out the victory after two hours and 34 minutes - over an hour since Andreescu held match point, 3-6, 7-6(6), 6-3.
WHAT THEY SAID: Competing in her first match since Beijing after a back injury stunted her end-of-season preparations, Halep was pleased by the level she showed against the 19 year old.
"It's been a great match both sides, in my opinion,” Halep told press in Shenzhen. “She did great this year. Winning so many tournaments gave her a lot of confidence. I expected a very tough match.
"I'm really proud actually that I could fight in this way because I have a month that I didn't really practice with my back, with the injury. But looks like I'm still there.
"Today, it was a challenge because she's 10 years younger than me. It was a good fight. I'm happy about my victory."
For Andreescu, facing her hero on one of the most prestigious stages in tennis was a bittersweet experience. She was able to keep her idol worship in check, but suffered a mid-match injury at a crucial point that seemed to sour the experience.
“I didn't feel intimidated at all stepping on the court," Andreescu said. "I know I looked up to her a lot, so being able to play her was really fun.”
She added, "[Halep] started putting more balls in the court [in the second set], first of all. Then in the third set, I really don't want to blame my back, but I felt like I didn't have the same power as I did in the first and second set.
“But I fought well with what I had in the third. I'm proud of that. Still pretty disappointed."
WHAT IT MEANT: The first edition of Simona Halep vs Bianca Andreescu certainly lived up to the hype, and was an amazing display on the first day of Purple Group action. The victory in three sets put Halep second in the group after Elina Svitolina, and assured the Romanian started her WTA Finals campaign with a signature win.
Despite her best effort, that would be Halep’s last win of 2019. In her next matches, she suffered a straight-sets loss to defending champion Svitolina and a bizarre three-set defeat to Karolina Pliskova with a 6-0, 2-6, 6-4 scoreline - which earned her a stern coaching time out from Darren Cahill - and meant the season was over in the round robin stage.
Read the match report: Halep holds off Andreescu in Shenzhen thriller: 'It was a challenge, a good fight'
It was a sour note to end on for Halep, who only lifted one trophy in 2019 - but considering that trophy was Wimbledon’s Venus Rosewater Dish, it’s unlikely the Romanian is too torn up about that fact.
But for Andreescu, the season would end even earlier: after her defeat to Halep, Andreescu would take on Karolina Pliskova and feel a ‘crack’ in her left knee. She was forced to retire, and later withdraw from the tournament as a result. It was a worrying sign for the teenager, who had already missed part of the season due to injury as well.
Even still, the match between Halep and Andreescu was a tantalizing early look at could be one of the next great rivalries to look forward to in 2020, and one of the best WTA matches of the year.