NEW HAVEN, CT, USA - Daria Gavrilova can finally lift a championship trophy.
The unseeded Australian triumphed in the final of the Connecticut Open on Saturday, ousting No.2 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in a gripping encounter, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Gavrilova clinches the first WTA singles title of her career in New Haven.
"It feels pretty special to win my first tournament here," Gavrilova exclaimed during the trophy presentation. "It means the world to me to hold this trophy." Gavrilova, currently ranked World No.26, is also projected to enter the Top 20 for the first time in her career on Monday.
The two players had met only once before, with Cibulkova taking a decisive 6-3, 6-2 win over Gavrilova in the second round of last year’s Wimbledon. But the Australian turned the tables on Cibulkova this time, claiming victory in a grueling two hours and 45 minutes.
Cibulkova, the World No.11, fought hard throughout the match, but was denied her first WTA title of the year.
"It was a fight for every single ball, and I gave 100 percent today, and she was just better," Cibulkova said on court after the match. "This was a tournament I could finally play my good tennis, and I'm happy about it."
The first set opened with breaks of serve in four of the first six games, as both players were struggling while serving into the bright sun on a lovely day in New Haven.
But after a quick hold for 5-4, Cibulkova hit a cluster of powerful forehands to give her three break points on the Gavrilova serve, which doubled as set points.
Once another strong forehand from the Slovakian forced Gavrilova to hit a rally forehand into the net, Cibulkova claimed the first set 6-4.
The tide started to turn for Gavrilova in the second set, which featured lengthy games and wearying rallies which would continue for the remainder of the match.
After fending off break points in each of her first two service games, Gavrilova took the initial lead of the set at 3-2, when she chased down a drop shot and hit a forehand winner on her third break point of a marathon game.
At this point, Gavrilova’s typically reliable forehand, which had not been effective earlier in the match -- only one forehand winner in the first set -- started to click.
She hit a winner off of that side to consolidate the break for a 4-2 lead, and then held on until she got three break points at 5-3, taking the last one, and a 6-3 set, with another forehand winner.
It was a huge reversal for Gavrilova, who had 20 winners in the second set, four times what she had in the first set.
Meanwhile, Cibulkova's characteristic footspeed seemed to have slightly diminished in effectiveness, and the momentum seemed firmly with Gavrilova going into a deciding set.
Nevertheless, Cibulkova continued to demonstrate her patented grit, getting the first break of the set at 3-3, and the match briefly swung back in the Slovakian's favor. But unforced errors off of her forehand allowed Gavrilova to break and tie up the match again at 4-4.
After Gavrilova held for 5-4, it was left to Cibulkova to prolong the match, but a blistering forehand return gave Gavrilova two consecutive match points.
Both were saved, but a backhand crosscourt winner by Gavrilova gave her a third chance, which was the charm when she hit another forehand winner to take the title.
Gavrilova will surely head to the US Open with great confidence after winning a Premier title for her first WTA singles championship. She is seeded No. 25 in New York, and will face off in the first round against American qualifier Allie Kiick on Tuesday.
Cibulkova, seeded 11th at the US Open, has to deal with a faster turnaround, as she is in the bottom half of the draw, and will therefore play her first-round match on Monday, against compatriot Jana Cepelova.