Belinda Bencic and Jelena Ostapenko capture titles to end 2019 WTA regular season on high note
Belinda Bencic and Jelena Ostapenko ended 2019 with a bang at their respective tournaments Sunday. World no.10 Bencic played beautifully after losing the opening set, and defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 3-6, 6-1, 6-1 to claim the VTB Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
Meanwhile, Ostapenko won her first title since the French Open in 2017. The 22-year-old Latvian took down defending champion Julia Goerges 6-4, 6-1 to win the BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open.
In their sixth meeting, the Swiss star Bencic had a 4-1 lead in the head-to-head and received good news of her qualification for the WTA finals in Shenzhen. With a chance to capture her third WTA singles title, a second win over the Russian veteran Pavlyuchenkova this year would make things even better.
Nerves got the best of Bencic early as she handed the break to Pavlyuchenkova who consolidated for the 2-0 lead. The early mistake of double faults cost her as she struggled to keep up before losing the set in 49 minutes. She recorded six double faults which stood out as a factor for improvement thorugh the remainder of the match.
A smart decision to call her father and coach down during the set break turned the tables. Bencic broke the Russian, opening a 2-0 lead to her benefit. After allowing a hold to the 28-year-old, Bencic ran off, taking four games in a row to level the match at one set apiece after 30 minutes. Committing no double faults and boasting a flawless first serve, the 22-year-old fired on all cylinders.
She went on to claim the title with another 6-1 victory in the third set, firing five aces in the process. In her on-court interview after the victory, Bencic said:
"It feels unbelievable right now. I still can't imagine it. I had no pressure going into this match. We were so happy yesterday, celebrating my qualification and this is the cherry on top."
Jelena Ostapenko, on the other hand, knew all about letting opportunities slip away and choosing Marion Bartoli to coach her was the key to success this time. Since the start of their professional relationship, Ostapenko has lost one match across two tournaments. She reached her first final of the year at Linz Open last week and went one better in Luxembourg. The biggest improvement in her game was the low number of double faults committed, which in turn heightened her offense.
Taking on Goerges was a big task as the German made it to her first title defense since Auckland earlier this season. Her idea didn’t go to plan as Ostapenko came out fighting for the early break. Despite not gaining the upper hand early, she forced Goerges to scramble for control, holding after two breaks of deuce.
The 22-year-old flexed her muscles, scoring an ace on serve that led to a lengthy service draw. It came to an end in the ninth as the Latvian broke Goerges, gaining two set points to take the lead and consolidate for the set that ended in 34 minutes. Ostapenko had five aces and won 88 percent of the points from the first serve showing her eagerness to win the championship.
With Goerges on the edge, she held to love at the start of the second set but couldn’t group anything else. Ostapenko took control and never looked back. Countering in the rallies during her return play, the Latvian pressured Goerges forehand that led to a double break.
Ostapenko flew ahead into a 5-1 lead. Goerges served to stay alive in the seventh game and despite reaching the game point, she blew it away with back-to-back unforced errors. That costly error handed Ostapenko the championship point which gave her the title on Goerges’ third double fault