For those of you hoping that I would flesh out my Five Worst ATP Matches of 2011 with a similar treatment of the WTA, here we go with list of five truly horrific women's matches. I'll add something here that I didn't bother to append to my men's picks—that these aren't necessarily the most lopsided, nor the most poorly played matches by one or both women.
And these are just five among the dozens of genuine stinkers to which we were exposed in 2011. They're the ones that caught my eye, partly because of where and when they were played, and partly because of who played them.
I mean, who's got time to rehash Angelique Kerber's 6-0, 6-1 blowout of Eleni Daniilidou in Rome? So let's get right down to business.
WTA Championships, round robin: Sam Stosur d. Li Na, 6-1, 6-0
Okay, so if this were a contest of some kind, Li could have submitted any number of matches for consideration. How about that 6-2, 6-1 loss to Klara Zakopalova at Doha? Or the 6-2, 7-5 loss to Simona Halep in the first round of the U.S. Open? Verily, Li gave fans of atrocious tennis numerous occasions to celebrate in 2011, but none more piquant than that loss in Istanbul.
Look at it this way: LI and Stosur are of a comparable age (Li is 29, Stosur 27) and they're both late bloomers. Each won her first Grand Slam event in 2011, and if anything Li had a leg up in the race for the bragging rights, what with that Australian Open final runner-up finish to go with her win at the French Open. But with qualification for the knock-out semifinals on the line, Stosur overwhelmed Li with kick serves and big forehands to bring her record against Asia's first Grand Slam singles champion to 7-0 on the year—five times in straight sets. The odd thing about this is that nobody ever accused Stosur of consistently dominating anything except, for a long period early in her career, the "headcase rankings."
You can tell the extent to which Stosur has Li's number, mentally, from this remark made by Li: "She has a huge serve, a very big serve, not like the other girls."
Fed Cup quarterfinals, second singles: Virginie Razzano (FRA) d. Maria Sharapova (RUS), 6-3, 6-4
Oh, I know, it was only Fed Cup. And Sharapova was still fighting her way back to the Top 10. But you know what? The tie was played on indoor hard in Moscow's Olympic stadium, and the Russians were led by two women who each have multiple Grand Slam titles, Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. And Sharapova was on the cusp of a run during which she would make the semis at Indian Wells and the final of Miami.
The French, meanwhile, had a pair of lady "aces"' ranked in the mid-80s: Alize Cornet and Razzano.
As it turned out, Cornet outfought Kuznetsova, 6-4 in the third, and Razzano overwhelmed Sharapova to put the Russians in a big 0-2 hole. Russian captain Shamil Tarpischev then yanked "Masha" in favor of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who together with a rejuvenated Kuznetsova saved the day.
Pavyluchenkova kept Russia alive with a win over Cornet, Kuznetsova beat Razzano, and the victorious Russians combined to win the doubles and stave off a humiliating loss at home.
Miami, semifinals: Victoria Azarenka d. Vera Zvonareva, 6-0, 6-3
Zvonareva was coming off a career year in 2011, one in which she made the finals at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Given the difficulties Zvonareva often had controlling her emotions, you had to wonder if she would draw inspiration from those two great performances in 2010 or react as if they were missed opportunities that may never come again.
Zvonareva held her own early in the year, making it to the semis at the Australian Open and the final of Doha. As a former champion at Indian Wells, she had reason to be hopeful, but she lost in the second round to mighty midget Dominka Cibulkova. Zvonareva did better in Miami, and was still No. 3 when No. 8 Azarenka bombarded and overwhelmed her with baseline firepower and accuracy.
Can one crushing defeat serve as an omen for the rest of the year? Azarenka would go to finish No. 3 in 2011, and she contended fiercely if unsuccessfully at the majors, while Zvonareva slipped to No. 7, and got as far as the quarterfinals at only one other major, the U.S. Open. Thus, the loss to Azarenka, who went on to beat Sharapova for the Miami title, seemed a turning point for both women.
Indian Wells, round of 16: Ana Ivanovic d. Jelena Jankovic, 6-4, 6-2
These two young women joined Novak Djokovic to launch that enchanted "Serbian Spring" back in 2008. Two of the three (Ivanovic and Djokovic) went on to win Grand Slam tournaments, all three were ranked No. 1, and two collected the prestigious year-end No. 1 ranking (Jankovic, in 2009, and Djokovic this year). But unlike their male counterpart, Ivanovic and Jankovic have struggled since hitting their career highs, and neither woman has been quite able to recapture the magic that once flowed so freely.
It's too bad, because their struggles made us forget that theirs once was a pretty wicked (and impressive) little rivalry, with loose-cannon Jankovic and maybe-TOO-nice Ana acting out roles as dissimilar but determined rivals from the same high school. Each time they meet, it's hard not to recall those heady days of 2008 and '09, and expect something akin to Ivanovic's 6-4-in-the-third win over Jankovic in the French Open semifinals of '08.
Jankovic won their next two meetings, by which time Ivanovic was in a rankings free-fall and struggling with confidence. At Indian Wells this year, Jankovic was still riding pretty high at No. 6 while Ivanovic was a lowly No. 21. But true to her mercurial, coy nature, Jankovic offered only cursory resistance in the 10th installment of the Battle of Belgrade, and Ivanovic rolled to an easy win to improve her career head-to-head with Jankovic to 7-3.
U.S. Open semifinal: Serena Williams d. Caroline Wozniacki, 6-2, 6-4.
It's pretty hard to criticize someone for losing to Serena Wiliams, especially at the U.S. Open. But the world No. 1 came up small instead of big on what might go down as a career-defining moment, and not in a good way. You have to appreciate just how much Wozniacki had on the line in this much-anticipated match.
Wozniacki had finished as the year-end No. 1 in 2010, but took a lot of criticism for having secured that prestigious honor without having won a single Grand Slam event—ever. Those who declined a rush to judgment were willing to give her more time to prove herself a champion of the first rank, but three majors went by in 2011 with Wozniacki unable to sway skeptics. In fact, her losses at the French Open (l. to Hantuchova) and Wimbledon (l. to Cibulkova) only seemed to confirm the suspicion that she was merely holding the No. 1 ranking until Serena, who lost almost an entire year due to injury and illness, could recover and take it back.
It's hard to say how differently we might see Wozniacki had she beaten Serena and exploited her last chance to win a major in 2011. But she didn't even put up much of a fight. By one point early in the second set, Williams had built a 20-0 lead in the winners department (she finished with a 34-5 advantage) and by the end Williams had rained down 11 aces. The only sign of life and hope Wozniacki showed was when she took advantage of three poor shots by Williams to break serve and trail, 4-5, but Williams broke her right back to win the match.
I'm sure Wozniacki didn't play the worst match of the WTA year—not by a long shot. And that's scads more obvious when you consider whom she was up against; women have played excellent tennis and lost to Williams by a wider margin. But when you take the context and stakes into consideration, it was perhaps the most disappointing match of 2011.