Unheralded Dulgheru Wins Warsaw

Alexandra Dulgheru, ranked No.201 in the world, ended up pulling off one of the most unlikely title runs in the Tour's history.

Published May 23, 2009 12:00


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WARSAW, Poland - One of the most unpredictable tournaments of all time only got more surprising, as Alexandra Dulgheru - ranked No.201 in the world - beat Alona Bondarenko in the final of the Warsaw Open, becoming one of the unlikeliest champions in Sony Ericsson WTA Tour history.

Dulgheru's journey began in the qualifying draw, where she was nearly bundled out, rallying back from 75 42 down to beat Lenka Wienerova then winning two more matches to reach the main draw. Once there she only got better, notching wins over four more players - including seeds Sara Errani and Daniela Hantuchova - to reach the final in her first career Tour main draw.

On the other half of the draw, Alona Bondarenko - another seed, No.8 - was on fire, losing just 15 games en route to the final, including a double bagel win in the first round and a 62 62 rout of Maria Sharapova in the quarters. With a big Tour title under her belt already - at Luxembourg in 2006 - it looked like her time.

The first set of the final was extremely tight, as the two players duked it out from the baseline for 91 minutes before Dulgheru captured it in a tie-break, 7-3. Bondarenko struck back with a convincing second set win but completely ran out of steam in the third. Dulgheru won, 76(3) 36 60, in two hours and 52 minutes - the exact time it took her to beat Wienerova in the first round of qualifying.

"I didn't expect to win. I don't know what happened that I was playing so well," Dulgheru said. "I knew Alona was a very solid player, especially from the baseline. My plan was to play with topspin because when I tried to play with her rhythm she was too powerful. I had to use every drop of energy I had to win."

"I hope when I come here next time I'll finally win," said Bondarenko, a runner-up to Justine Henin here two years ago. "I was a little nervous at the beginning of the third set. She got an early lead and played too well. I couldn't do anything. I didn't know how to beat Alexandra today. But I expected her to play well."

Dulgheru, who turns 20 next week, is the fifth player ever to win a Tour singles title ranked outside the Top 200, although on the new rankings she surged to No.83. Others doing so were Angelique Widjaja at 2001 Bali (No.579), Fabiola Zuluaga at 2002 Bogotá (No.285), Tamira Paszek and 2006 Portoroz (No.259) and Lindsay Davenport at 2007 Bali (No.234). But this was Premier-level.

"I am incredibly happy with this win. Coming here I wanted to go through the qualifying and then just take it one match at a time, and if I lost just learn from my mistakes and move on. I think I have to improve a lot of things still, like I need to be more aggressive and do more physical work to keep my rhythm up."

Other players making noise in Warsaw included Anne Keothavong, who made her third semifinal of the year. It was the first time a British woman reached a clay court semifinal on the Tour in 26 years, so before the 25-year-old Keothavong was born. Sharapova's comeback was also a headline-grabber - the former world No.1 had missed nine months due to a nagging shoulder injury.

In the doubles, Raquel Kops-Jones and Bethanie Mattek-Sands lifted the trophy, beating two-time Slam winners Yan Zi and Zheng Jie in the final, 61 61.

"This is the first time we played together. We played tough teams but we had good chemistry," said Mattek-Sands, who won her third Tour doubles title of the year and the seventh of her career. "We both have regular partners outside of this event we're going back to, but we'd love to play together again."

"We were a bit worried about the rain today. We arrived on site pretty early and weren't really sure what to expect, maybe we'd play the final indoors," said Kops-Jones, who won her second Tour doubles title of the year and the third of her career. "We knew we had to stay tough. We just had good energy. We were good to go despite hail, rain, wind and sun! We played a solid match today."

See photos in the Photo Gallery presented by Dubai Duty Free.

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