Thursday, January 7, 2016

2015 second half awards, Part 2: Top 20 Exhilarating Wins

In Part 2 of the 2015 On the Rise (a tennis blog) Second Half Awards, I present the 20 most exhilarating American wins of the latter part of the year. (Note that I'm not including wins by Americans over other Americans, which is its own category.) Vote for which match you found most exhilarating in the poll at the end!

Stay tuned for Part 3, the most crushing losses from the 2nd half. (See: Part 1, MVPs.)

Top 20 Exhilarating Wins of 2015, 2nd Half

1. Wimbledon 3R: Serena Williams d. Heather Watson 6-2 4-6 7-5. This match, as Stefon would say, had everything. A (nearly) dauntless out-of-nowhere local challenger, a hyper-engaged (let's be honest, over-the-top) crowd, and a legend on the verge of ignominious defeat who saved her year with a brilliant comeback from down 0-3 0-40* in the 3rd set, and from Watson serving for the match at 5-3. A match that could have seen Serena's quest for history aborted far too early instead turned into one of the more memorable afternoons of these latter stages of her career, and helped her complete the Second Serena Slam. It also gave us Tara Moore's now-deleted, infamous "learn how to lose" tweet, which destroyed the internet, and Serena's epic "Don't try me" warning to the crowd.

2. Wuhan SF: Venus Williams d. Roberta Vinci 5-7 6-2 7-6(4). Context was everything with this match. Prior to Wuhan, Venus had last played at the US Open, where she reached the quarters before running into her sister, the odds-on favorite to win the title. (See the forthcoming "Crushing Losses" post for what happened next.) So when, after beating Aga, Goerges, Suarez Navarro, and Konta to reach this Premier 5 semifinal, she found herself down a set to the cagey Italian, it ... wasn't looking good. But then Vee turned on the jets to win 10 of the next 13 games and the conclusion seemed foregone. However, as you can tell from the scoreline it was anything but, and in fact Vinci held match point in the penultimate game. Fortunately, Williams collected herself in the end to win, but not without some controversy of the hot beverage kind.

(Venus of course went on to beat Muguruza in the final for one of her biggest titles in years.)

3 & 4 (tie). US Open 1R: Donald Young d. Gilles Simon 2-6 4-6 6-4 6-4 6-4 and US Open 3R: Donald Young d. Viktor Troicki 4-6 0-6 7-6(3) 6-2 6-4. The US Open started with Donald Young a combined 0-6 against Simon & Troicki, and a combined 0-career when losing the first two sets of a match. What a difference a week makes.

Exhibit A:
Exhibit B:
A photo posted by Donald Young (@donaldyoungjr) on

5. Cincinnati R1: Varvara Lepchenko d. Barbora Strycova 2-6 7-5 7-6(6). They had just played one week prior in Toronto, a match the Czech won 6-2 6-4. This time, Strycova was seemingly guaranteed an identical score, serving up 6-2 5-4 40*-0. And then she blinked and lost the next three games. No worries: Strycova leapt to a 5-1 final set lead. She failed to serve the match out at 5-2 and then at 5-4 found herself down 0-40, but then got it to her advantage -- match point #4! But Lepchenko saved that, and the tiebreak came. Four points in, it started to rain. When the rain stopped, they played 2 more points and the rain returned. Finally, the American prevailed and, tennis being tennis, faced not Maria Sharapova in the next round, but a lucky loser: Mirjana Lucic-Baroni ... the same woman she had beaten in the first round two weeks prior in Stanford in her only other 3rd set tiebreaker of 2015. (Lepchenko won the rematch as well.)

6. Sacramento Challenger R2: Taylor Fritz d. Dustin Brown 6-7(3) 7-6(5) 7-6(7). The scoreline is impressive enough, but the circumstances (first tournament since his US Open junior crown, leading to first pro title) and the level of his competition (Dreddy owns Rafa) cemented this as one of the matches of the year. And he followed it up the next week with another title, topped off with a far more comprehensive 3 & 4 win over Brown in the final.

7 & 8 (tie) Nottingham 2R: Sachia Vickery d. Zarina Diyas 4-6 7-6(5) 6-1 and Lauren Davis d. Magda Linette 5-7 7-6(13) 6-2. Vickery, the American qualifier, saved 6 match points in the 2nd set to reach her 1st career WTA quarterfinal (including 3 on return at 4-5 0-40* and 2 more at 5-6 15-40*). This came a day after Lauren Davis saved *8* match points in the 2nd set, including 4 at 2*-6 in the tiebreaker. Shine on, crazy grass court.

9. Newport: Rajeev Ram d. Field 7-6 in the 3rd. Okay, that's an exaggeration, but "Rampras" did have a remarkable three 3rd-set tiebreak wins during his run to the title. First round it was over top seed Isner 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(8). More dramatically in the quarters, he beat Mannarino 2-6 7-6(8) 7-6(2), saving 2 match points. And in the final, he knocked out Ivo Karlovic 7-6(5) 5-7 7-6(2). The win put Indy's pride back into the Top 100, last achieved back around when he won his first title (as a Lucky Loser at Newport 2009 ... he really deserves his own plaque at the Hall of Fame).

10. Zhuhai F: Venus Williams d. Karolina Pliskova 7-5 7-6(6). The win that won Venus the WTA Elite Trophy, got her back into the top 10 (at 35!), and gave us this photo.

11. Paris R2: John Isner d. Roger Federer 7-6(3) 3-6 7-6(5). Isner capped off his best season with this gem. Put him on the verge of a return to the Top 10, but his loss to Ferrer in the next round put an end to that ... for the time being. Highlights:

12. Washington, DC SF: Sloane Stephens d. Sam Stosur 7-6(4) 6-0. Okay okay, the match didn't go the distance and the second set wasn't even competitive. But if you're a Sloane fan, the match that got her to NOT ever again be referred to as Sloane "she's never reached a WTA final" Stephens was the very definition of exhilarating. (Also helped that Stosur had thwarted Stephens from reaching her first final a few months prior in Strasbourg, courtesy of a third-set bagel.)

13.Wimbledon 3R: Denis Kudla d. Santiago Giraldo 6-2 6-7(3) 2-6 6-1 6-3. After a great grass challenger run and two tough wins to open his Wimbledon campaign, Kudla found himself down 2 sets to 1 against the Colombian with the big forehand. But Denis composed himself brilliantly to reach his first career major 4th round (in which he gave Cilic a tussle before falling in 4 sets).

14. US Open R1: Austin Krajicek d. Santiago Giraldo 3-6 7-6(6) 7-6(6) 7-6(1). Oh hai again, Santi! First slam win for AK. The first two tiebreaks showed impressive clutchiness.

15. Nottingham QF: Sam Querrey d. Gilles Simon 5-7 7-6(8) 6-4.  Speaking of clutchiness, Ol' Sam isn't always celebrated for that quality, but it was on display here, as Querrey saved 2 match points in the second set. He showed more clutchiness in the semis with another come-from-behind win, over Dolgopolov. In less-clutch news, he lost the final in two tiebreaks to ... well, I'll just come out and say it: to Denis Istomin.

16. Winston-Salem R1: Frances Tiafoe d. James Duckworth 3-6 7-6(4) 7-6(3). First of many ATP wins for the kid, coming back from 0-3 down in the 3rd.

17. Vienna QF: Steve Johnson d. Kevin Anderson 5-7 7-6(5) 6-4. Johnson had lost 4 straight matches to the big-serving South African and fellow former collegiate. He followed it up with a win over Gulbis for his first career ATP final.

18. Davis Cup World Group Play-Off: Jack Sock d. Denis Istomin 6-2 2-6 6-4 6-4. The second of two wins in the tie for rookie Sock. His heroics kept USA in the World Group.

19. Knoxville 2R: Tennys Sandgren d. Blaz Rola 6-4 3-6 6-3. Legendary tbh. If you do nothing else today, watch the third set of this match.

20. US Open Juniors Tommy Paul d. Felix Auger-Aliassime 4-6 6-4 7-5. I mean, I didn't watch this but knowing how good FAA has been and is going to be, and given that the win helped ensure one last junior slam title (by Fritz) for that amazing cohort of American juniors, I'm including it.

So what did I miss? Let me know in the comments!

What was the most exhilarating USA tennis win, 2015 2nd half?

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