Australian Open: 10 Greatest Women's Matches in Tournament History
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Here we are on the eve of the 2012 women's final. As we get ready to crown another champion, let's look back at the great women's rivalries and their contests at the Australian Open.
The tournament’s greatest female champions include Margaret Court (seven consecutive titles), Evonne Goolagong, Steffi Graf, Monica Seles and Monica Hingis (three consecutive titles each).
Among those with the most titles in a career are Court (11) and Serena Williams (five). Williams is the only champion to win the title on two relatively different surfaces: Rebound Ace and Plexicushion. I’ll mention each of these champions in the pages that follow.
Not many matches are considered here from the era between 1922 and 1965 because the Australian Open was not then the truly international competition it is today. So this list is biased toward the Open Era (after 1968), and especially toward the year 2010—a golden year in women’s tennis?
10. Steffi Graf vs Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario, 1994 [6-0, 6-2]
Steffi Graf in 1994
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In the category of most emphatic wins, the match listed here takes the prize, but runners up include:
- No. 81 Serena defeats No. 2 Sharapova 6-1 6-2
-  Margaret Court defeats Billie Jean King 6-1 6-2
- [1969 rematch] King defeats Court: 6-4 6-1
This is total domination of the opponent, which can be boring for the audience. But when an athlete is in the zone, it is nonetheless noteworthy.
9. Serena vs Venus, 2003 [7–6(7–4), 3–6, 6–4]
The 'Serena Slam'2003
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With the Australian Open of 2003, Serena achieved the "Serena Slam," becoming one of five ladies in history to complete four consecutive tennis majors, though not within a calendar year.
The runner-up in every single final of the Serena Slam? Venus.
8. Justine Henin vs Elena Dementieva 2010 [7–5, 7–6(5)]
Justine Henin and her classic one-handed backhand, the most beautiful stroke in the sport.
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An Olympic gold medal winner, Elena Dementieva was one of the best women's champions never to win a major title. Justine Henin, on an unexpected return from retirement, received a wild card and proceeded to destroy all of her opponents as an unseeded lurker in the draw.
In 2010, Elena, then ranked No. 5, was playing some of her best tennis. In some ways she'd just been unlucky, a point here or there keeping her from a title, such as in the 2009 Wimbledon semifinal against Serena.
An incredible, tension-filled match ensued between two greats of the sport at the top of their games, one of the most thrilling in contemporary Australian Open history.
7. Serena vs Henin , 2010 [6–4, 3–6, 6–2]
Serena with her 5th Australian Open Title
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Was 2010 a golden year in women's tennis? The element of Justine Henin returning from retirement was very compelling. And Serena, one of the tournament's greatest champions, was on course for her fifth title.
In this match, Serena provided a serving clinic.
6. Evonne Goolagong vs Chris Evert, 1974 [7–6(7–5), 4–6, 6–0]
Chris Evert in 1984
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The most prolific ladies' champion of the early '70s was Evonne Goolagong from Australia. One of her best matches was against American prodigy Chris Evert (age 19) at the 1974 Australian Open.
In 1971, she fought an epic battle with the aging star Margaret Court, and lost. Three years later, at the age of 24, she faced American prodigy in a thrilling match.
Goolagong had already beaten Chris in their first encounter at the semifinals of Wimbledon earlier that year (the Australian Open used to be contested at the end of the calendar year). This Australian Open final was very competitive except for the third set, when Evonne ran away with it.
5. Margaret Court vs Evonne Googlagong, 1971 [2–6, 7–6(7–0), 7–5]
Two great competitors in 2005
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Evonne Goolagong's dominance of women's tennis began in 1971. At age 20 she met living legend Margaret Court, 29, who had already won nine singles titles there, and a number of doubles and mixed doubles titles as well. This was sort of the equivalent of Bernard Tomic taking on Roger Federer, or Petra Kvitova taking on an in-form Serena Williams.
This was a real battle. The youthful and athletic Googlagong took the first set easily, but Court battled mightily in the second set and took the third set by breaking Googlagong in the final game.
4. Martina Navratilova vs Chris Evert, 1981 [6–7(7–4), 6–4, 7–5)
Martina Navratilova in 1981
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Chris Evert dominated women's tennis for about five years starting with the epic series of matches with Evonne Goolagong mentioned here. She was the Bjorn Borg of women's tennis—the "ice princess" of the late 1970s.
Martina defected from Soviet Czechoslovakia in 1975 when she was 18. Cut off from her family, she had gained weight and lost focus in tennis. She started a regimen of training that saw her elevate her game to the very top of the rankings. She then began to challenge Chris Evert just like John McEnroe started to challenge Borg's dominance.
In 1984, Martina was coming off of a record year, like Novak Djokovic's 2011, where she went 86–1. This final represented the first clash of the seasons, and she faced her chief rival.
3. Margaret Court vs Maria Bueno, 1965 [5–7, 6–4, 5–2, Retired]
Maria Bueno in 1960
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Maria Bueno, No. 1 in the world in 1959-60, was originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
She was cheeky enough to defy her family and play tennis in the first place (read more about Maria Bueno as part of the 2009 Queens of the Court series here at B/R). She was also cheeky enough to defy the All England Lawn Tennis club and wear her Ted Tinling designed tennis whites with a little pink lining—enough that pink drew the eye every time she stretched for a shot.
She won three Wimbledon singles titles and four U.S. Championships.
Her biggest rival was Margaret Court of Australia, who had started winning singles titles there in 1960. The two of them contested Grand Slams across the stretch of 1964 and 1965, and their 1964 Wimbledon contest is called one of the most compelling matches in Wimbledon history. The Australian Open final of 1965 was also highly competitive, though Bueno ended up retiring.
2. Jennifer Capriati vs Martina Hingis, 2002 [4–6, 6–3, 6–2]
One of the tournament's greatest champions: Martina Hingis
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Martina Hingis, one of the tournament's greatest champions, lost a dramatic final, and endured one of the greatest fight-backs in tennis history at the hands of Jennifer Capriati in 2002.
Hingis led 6-4, 4-0 and held four match points. Capriati fought them off and defeated Hingis 6-2 in the third in a thrilling classic.
1. Monica Seles vs Steffi Graf, 1993 [4–6, 6–3, 6–2]
Monica Seles, Jan 30, 1993 at the time of one of her greatest matches.
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Monica Seles is the mother of contemporary women's tennis with her aggressive style.
In 1993 she was the top women's player and had beaten her chief rival and one of the greatest champions in the sport, Steffi Graf, three out of four of their previous contests.
This match is the last in their gripping rivalry. Monica was stabbed a couple of months later by a fan, and the women's game was never the same.