Wozniacki wins 29th WTA title at Nature Valley International
Caroline Wozniacki showed her opponent no mercy at the Nature Valley International Saturday. The world number two pressured Aryna Sabalenka at the right points during the match to win in straight sets 7-5, 7-6(5) capturing her 29th WTA title on Center Court at Devonshire Park.
A first time meeting became the pinnacle of both their careers as one searched for her first WTA premier while the other tried for a third Eastbourne title. The 2009 winner looked to end her nine-year absence from having her hands on the grass court title but had no experience playing the young Belorussian.
Sabalenka won a 125k at Mumbai last year but missed out on an international title at Lugano back in April. With everything going her way so far with an aggressive style of tennis, the 20-year-old would try to not only pull together an upset but also take a big step in her career as a player with much to gain for herself.
After facing the opening serve of Wozniacki, Sabalenka jumped out to a 2-1 lead earning a clean triple break of the Dane before fighting to keep hold of her service game. The top seed wouldn’t let her get a third, breaking back in the fourth to level the score.
In her attempt to reel in the serve, Wozniacki was again challenged by the Sabalenka who scored a double break in the fifth. She carried the most built up momentum of the set taking her hold after three breaks on deuce to lead by two games. The Dane needed another hold and got it with much easier effort keeping in touch with Sabalenka through seven.
The Belorussian couldn’t get through one of her serves so easily as she had to go to deuce with Wozniacki. Despite extra work being required, the 20-year-old continued to hold the Dane at bay leading 5-3.
A rare mistake hit Sabalenka during the ninth where she touched the net earning a penalty that gave Wozniacki an edge to ultimately hand a free game. The serve was back in her hands but couldn’t secure the set making too many errors in the game. It gave the world number two life to play on as Sabalenka racked up unforced errors to lose control.
Wozniacki gained the lead at a critical point to serve for the set but saw her opponent get some last minute advice from her coach on what to do to force a tiebreak. She wouldn’t get the chance to do that as she laid down a strong service hold in the 12th to bring an end to 58 minutes of play. Sabalenka had 27 errors that was her issue to holding the offense together which saw 20 winners and a first serve percentage close to 70.
With the ground lost due to Wozniacki’s pure surge of control, she opened the second with a service hold looking to induct the same strategy of how the match started. She opened to a 3-1 lead trying hard to keeping the Dane at bay and force a third set in action. Wozniacki held serve in the fifth getting closer to levelling again with Sabalenka under pressure. She couldn’t hold serve in the sixth erring just enough with getting Wozniacki to level terms.
The number one seed held in the seventh that put Sabalenka in a tough spot mentally as she couldn’t recover from losing the gap created early. With something positive turning on inside her, the Belorussian turned the tables back around and won two straight to serve for a deciding third set. Unforced returned for the 20-year-old opening the door for the Dane to walk through on three break points making it 5-5.
The 27-year-old had Sabalenka right where she wanted her as reminders of the first set were in play. She got the serve locked down in the 11th as Sabalenka fired the ball too wide on the returns. With only one more chance to save herself, the 20-year-old had a good start but had her mental game fall apart at times. Despite those moments, she held in the 12th to set up the tiebreak which Wozniacki showed no worries about.
It wasn’t until the errors began to roll up for the number one seed who fell 1-4 to Sabalenka before she cut the lead in half before the changeover. She lost another point but closed in to get a chance at overtaking.
A challenge arrived for the Dane during a critical point that gave her the chance to put Sabalenka away. With the lead at 6-5, the 28-year-old got match point winning on a miss from the young Belorussian ending her title hopes in 1 hour and 57 minutes.
Wozniacki showed poise from start to finish finishing the match at 76 percent with 59 percent of points won from it. While it stood at the strongest element of her offense, her focus and the difficulties put on Sabalenka were enough to get her second title in the Eastbourne.
She would be more than warmed up for the Wimbledon tournament beginning Monday but fatigue would no doubt play a role in how she and Sabalenka performed in the opening round.