It began with Garbiñe Muguruza in Dubai and ended with Paula Badosa's spectacular run to the Indian Wells title this past Sunday. 

In all, there were seven WTA 1000-level tournaments on the 2021 calendar, and each had no shortage of memorable moments. 

To put some perspective on these events, the WTA's Jason Juzwiak and Courtney Nguyen unveiled their final thoughts. 

Most impressive title run

Juzwiak: There were a handful of exceptional WTA 1000 title runs, many of which could qualify, but I’ll go with Ashleigh Barty’s run to the Cincinnati trophy in August. The World No.1 did not drop a set that week, with quality wins over Grand Slam champions Victoria Azarenka, Barbora Krejcikova and Angelique Kerber preceding her victory against Jil Teichmann in the final. Barty’s path to the fifth of her five top-tier titles this season was emblematic of her stellar season as a whole.

WTA 1000 winners, 2021 season

  • Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships: Muguruza def. Krejcikova 7-6(6), 6-3
  • Miami Open: Barty def. Andreescu 6-3, 4-0 (ret.)
  • Mutua Madrid Open: Sabalenka def. Barty 6-0, 3-6, 6-4
  • Internazionali BNL d'Italia: Swiatek def. Ka. Pliskova 6-0, 6-0
  • National Bank Open: Giorgi def. Ka. Pliskova 6-3, 7-5
  • Western & Southern Open: Barty def. Teichmann 6-3, 6-1
  • BNP Paribas Open: Badosa def. Azarenka 7-6(5), 2-6, 7-6(2)

Nguyen: When it comes to pure quality from first point to last point under the weight of enormous stakes, it’s hard to argue against the Paula Badosa-Victoria Azarenka Indian Wells final. That 29-shot rally on set point in the opening tiebreak was an indication of how this battle would ultimately play out. The match eventually reached a third-set tiebreak, which Badosa would capture when she rocked a forehand winner past Azarenka and immediately fell to the court, overcome by emotions. Badosa joined Bianca Andreescu in 2019 and Serena Williams in 1999 as the only players to win the Indian Wells title in her first appearance.  

Top overall match

Juzwiak: We might think there is some recency bias involved in this selection, but it would be impossible to forget the aforementioned Indian Wells final between Badosa and Azarenka no matter what time of year it occurred. Both players raised their games in the final stretches of the 3-hour and 4-minute battle (the longest WTA singles final of the year), especially at key moments. The players saved 18 break points combined. The rallies became lengthier and more gripping by the end, leading to a final-set tiebreak, which was the only fitting conclusion to such an engrossing match. 

Nguyen: I’m going to highlight two matches that involve Sara Sorribes Tormo. Her Miami Open quarterfinal against Bianca Andreescu, which the Canadian won 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 was a physically punishing and thoroughly entertaining battle. Then came the Spaniard’s opening-round win against Camila Giorgi, 7-6(4), 6-7(7), 7-5 in Rome, which lasted 3 hours and 51 minutes. The striking contrast of styles yielded the eighth-longest women’s match of the Open Era. If 2021 taught us anything, it’s that Sorribes Tormo is good value for any ticket holder.

Also: A shoutout to Collins-Pegula in Montreal. This was a late-night thriller that was full of fun shot-making. Pegula won 6-4, 3-6, 7-5.

Most notable upset

Juzwiak: Few players feel safe when placed against Camila Giorgi and her go-for-broke style. But when Giorgi beat 2021 Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova in the Montreal final, that particular upset felt different. By going undefeated through a career-best week, Giorgi proved she could sustain that level of excellence for six matches in a row, even when it ended with arguably the most high-pressure match of her career. That Giorgi hasn’t been able to replicate that level since proves how notable that moment was -- and that she did it at all should give her confidence she can do it again. 

Nguyen: Pretty much any win Jil Teichmann tallied en route to her first WTA 1000 final, in Cincinnati. Some might focus Teichmann’s three-set win over Naomi Osaka in the round of 16, but the Swiss went on to beat Belinda Bencic and Karolina Pliskova in the quarters and semis without losing a set. After her win against Pliskova, Teichmann told the press it had taken long, grueling hours to get to this spot. Teichmann would eventually fall to Barty in the final, but altogether, she strung together a memorable week in Cincinnati. 

Favorite quote

Juzwiak: After losing a tight Dubai final to Garbiñe Muguruza, Barbora Krejcikova said, “I’m just going to enjoy it and just continue, and just work hard again. Hopefully next time, when I’m going to get to the final, I’m just going to hold the trophy. It would be really nice.” Sounds like she knew what was coming the whole time."

Photo by Getty Images

Nguyen:  After her run to the Montreal title, Giorgi had some enlightening perspective:

“I was very proud of my career.

“I think that tennis is not everything in life, first of all. It's good, it's my work, and I love sports. I am very passionate about sport, all kinds of sports, the Olympics, I was following every kind of sports. I think they are amazing. But we cannot say anything.

“From outside the court, you can say you could or you couldn't. From outside the court everything is easy. Even I can play soccer from the sofa and I have no idea how to play soccer in the real life. So it happens when it needs to happen, you know? The planets know when to put the planets in a good way. I believe in that actually.”