PARIS, France - Facing an opponent who clearly wasn't about to surrender, Mona Barthel hit it big and hit the big time in Paris on Sunday afternoon, winning her first Premier title at the Open GDF SUEZ.
The unseeded Barthel had already taken out a pair of seeds en route to her first Premier final - No.5 seed Roberta Vinci in the second round, No.3 seed Marion Bartoli in the quarterfinals. But her biggest test of the week would come in the final as she took on the tournament's No.1 seed, Sara Errani.
The match-up featured one of the WTA's biggest-hitting young stars against one of its craftiest, most established stars. And while the bigger-hitting Barthel seemed to always be ahead in the match, Errani just kept clawing her way back - the Italian closed from 3-5 to 5-5 in the first set before finally letting it go, and then came back from 2-5 to 5-5 in the second set before finally letting that one go too.
In the end Barthel blasted one last forehand winner to clinch it, 75 76(4), the more aggressive player coming out on top - Barthel had 53 winners to 50 unforced, Errani 16 winners to 18 unforced.
"Even though I was up a set and 5-2, I knew she's a fighter and doesn't give any points away," Barthel said afterwards. "I was a little bit nervous - it was my first final in such a big tournament and she was making it so difficult for me in the end - but I just tried to keep stepping in and going for my shots, and I had to keep telling myself I was still in a position to win the match despite all of those things."
It may have been a surprise that a World No.45 came away with a Premier title, but the most surprised of them all may have been that World No.45 herself. "When I came here I wasn't expecting to win the title at all," she said. "I was just taking it round by round, hoping to win the first round, then hoping to win the second round, and so on. When I got to the final I knew it would be tough, because Sara had such an amazing year last year and is playing so well - she just doesn't give anything away."
Barthel collected her second WTA title, her first coming at the International-level event in Hobart last year. And her wins over the No.10-ranked Bartoli and No.7-ranked Errani were her second and third Top 10 wins - she also beat a No.7-ranked Bartoli at her home tournament in Stuttgart last year.
Errani is now 6-5 in WTA finals. Like Barthel, the Italian was playing her first Premier final - but unlike Barthel, she had played an even bigger one than this, making the French Open final last year.
"Mona serves so well, plays so well from the baseline and physically moves so well - I just couldn't beat her today," Errani said. "I usually like to have more time to place the ball where I want but I was on a limit today, particularly on my serve. I tried my best, but she was just unbeatable today."
There was some fast redemption for Errani, however - as part of the No.1-seeded team with Vinci she won the doubles, routing No.2 seeds Andrea Hlavackova and Liezel Huber in the final, 61 61. The Italians now have two WTA doubles titles this year, having won the Australian Open, and 15 overall.