Danish Caroline Wozniacki and Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka took center court before a full house to play the Nature Valley International final on Saturday. Both players had advanced to the title match by overcoming a mine field of obstacles.
In just under two hours, the top-seeded Wozniacki captured the Premier title with a steady hand and her father by her side. By experience and statistics, the reigning Australian Open champion “should” have run away with the title in straight sets, but tennis is a paradox of complexity as indicated by 7-5 7-6(5) score. The win is Caroline’s 29th career title.
Wozniacki opened the first set strong, with a hold, and Sabalenka followed that lead. With no obvious sign of nerves or fatigue, the rising star captured the first break. Moments later, Wozniacki broke back to 2-2. There was an aggressive urgency in the air. Moving well and making smart decisions, the 20-year-old ranked No.45 navigated her way to a 5-3 lead, despite solid tactics by Wozniacki.
With the wisdom and confidence from numerous final appearances, the world No.2 Wozniacki pressed and created her opportunities. After approximately one hour, she owned the set as champions do.
The second set lived up to the hype of the first. Both players took risks and went for difficult shots, finding mixed success. Once again, Sabalenka broke first. Given her level of play, there were no signs of overconfidence in Wozniacki, even though she was up a set. The battle raged on with a mix of holds and breaks. Once again, Sabalenka lead 3-2. The lead was short-lived, as Wozniacki broke back, even though Sabalenka was serving big with a 112MPH unreturned serve, score 3-3 and then 4-4. The unseeded Sabalenka took the lead again to 5-4, but a well-placed lob sealed the next break for Wozniacki, score 5-5.
The chess match reached a fever-pitch tiebreak where the breakout led again 4-1. However, Sabalenka would witness the expertise of driven confidence, as her opponent held steady, playing each point with intent and intensity. Wozniacki closed with a blazing backhand winner, her arms immediately in the air. Her reaction was indicative of happy relief.
Earlier this week Wozniacki shared her feelings about playing in Eastbourne stating:
I feel very comfortable here, and I really enjoy playing here. I have always played well here.
Regarding her status as a seasoned professional, she shared the following:
I think you learn all the time. I think you get experience and maybe you make smarter decisions. But I think I have always been good under pressure, and I have always been good in tight situations. So I think it’s all about learning from previous mistakes and there will be mistakes in the future, too. But, I think you just try and eliminate those and try and minimize those as much as possible.
Of course this is amazing, because I remember one thing when I was young. I watched her game, and there was the longest point and she was totally dying on that, but it was amazing because she’s a good fighter. She tries to put all the balls in. I was watching and I thought, well, it would be nice to play against her. I hope it will happen sometime. Now I played the final with her and I’m happy.