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
No.4: Ashleigh Barty d. Petra Kvitova, Miami Open
No.3: Belinda Bencic d. Naomi Osaka, Mutua Madrid Open
No.2: Aryna Sabalenka d. Caroline Wozniacki, Nature Valley International
Coming in at No.2, Aryna Sabalenka saves a match point to shock rival Caroline Wozniacki and foreshadow her late-season surge at the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne.
WHAT HAPPENED: Aryna Sabalenka ended the 2018 season on many a shortlist to capture a Grand Slam title after winning her first Premier 5 title at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and finished the season just outside the Top 10.
After beginning off 2019 with a title at the Shenzhen Open, however, Sabalenka saw her fortunes reverse as the 21-year-old made just two more semifinals and lost before the second week at both the Australian Open and Roland Garros.
Runner-up at the Nature Valley International a year before, she came to Eastbourne on a three-match losing streak before snapping it to set up a rematch of the 2018 final against Caroline Wozniacki.
Read the match report: 'I'm coming back on my game and on my fight': Sabalenka topples Wozniacki in Eastbourne epic
The Dane was close to her peak when she won that match, having only just recently captured her long-awaited maiden major title at the Australian Open. When the two played again at the Coupe Rogers in August, it was the Belarusian upstart who avenged the Eastbourne defeat, saving three match points to kickstart her breakthrough summer, one that saw her make the Western & Southern Open semifinals, win the Connecticut Open in New Haven, and reach the fourth round of the US Open - narrowly losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
Wozniacki ended 2018 with a mixed bag of her own, winning a Premier Mandatory title at the China Open but failed to defend her WTA Finals win in Singapore, ending the year with a surprising admission of a rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. A mix of illness and injury subsequently stunted her start to 2019, where she fell in the Australian Open third round to Maria Sharapova and lost a three-set thriller to Hsieh Su-Wei at the Miami Open.
The need for a big win weighed on both, but it was Wozniacki, who married to longtime fiancé David Lee following the French Open, who got out to a better start, racing out to a 5-0 and feeding off the big-hitting Belarusian's erratic form to take the opening set with ease.
Sabalenka soon steadied and grabbed the first two breaks of the second set to take a 5-2 lead of her own, only for Wozniacki to claw one of the breaks back and get within one game of leveling proceedings at five games apiece.
While Sabalenka leveled the match, Wozniacki came into the decider with momentum and took full advantage to break early and earn a match point in the 10th game.
As in Montréal, Sabalanka saved it and ultimately won four of five games from 2-5 down to force a tie-break. On her third match point, Sabalenka won one of the best points of the year, pulling off a passing shot that saw her stumble but nonetheless succeed, flying past the Dane to make it over the finish line.
WHAT THEY SAID: Sabalenka was clearly pleased with the win, citing it as a testament to her renewed focus that had been largely missing from the hard and clay court swings.
"I have been working for long to be more consistent on the court and to be more focused, and doesn't matter what, to play each point, forget about anything else," Sabalenka said.
"That's actually what happened today. I lost the first set, and [in the] last three games in the first set, I started showing my best, my tennis. Then it helps me to come back in the second set and start to play well from the beginning of the set."
"This win is really important for me, and I didn't win these tough matches for long, since last year."
Wozniacki had been optimistic earlier that week, giving a lengthy press conference following her win over 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist Kirsten Flipkens on herself and the state of the game.
"I think we are such competitors that it's never enough," she remarked. "You know, once you have reached one goal you want to do something else. In tennis, you have competitions all the time.
"I think when I'm done with my career, that's when I can really look back and appreciate and be proud of everything I have achieved. But until then, you strive for more and you want to try and do more and you want to try and get better.
"There is always things that you can improve on. I think that hunger needs to be there, too. I think that's a hunger that never goes away."
WHAT IT MEANT: Wozniacki's hunger was on display at the end of the season when she made a strong result in Beijing. After early losses to the teenaged trio of Iga Swiatek, Dayana Yastremska, and Bianca Andreescu - the latter in the third round of the US Open - the Dane was on the precipice of a ranking drop that she largely avoided with straight set wins to reach the semifinals, bowing out to eventual champion Osaka.
Sabalenka ended up on a similar trajectory after a series of false starts took her through the summer hardcourt swing. A runner-up finish at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic and a dramatic win over countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in Flushing Meadows - where she won her first Grand Slam title in doubles alongside Elise Mertens - didn't invigorate the soft-spoken big-hitter quite like a week without her team at the Zhengzhou Open.
She took that momentum into the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, where she survived a tense three sets against Mertens in round robin play to defeat Dutch rival Kiki Bertens in little over an hour to end the year having won 10 of her final 11 matches.
"There will always be ups and downs, but during the downs, it’s important to remember that I’ll eventually go back up again," she said in Zhuhai. "It’s really unbelievable, and I’m really happy with this year; it doesn’t matter that there were a lot of bad moments. I’m still really happy."