PARIS, France - She faced a lot of resistance but Angelique Kerber finally overcame Marion Bartoli in a two-hour, 39-minute final at the Open GDF SUEZ on Sunday, emerging with her first WTA title and becoming Germany's first champion there since a certain 22-time Grand Slam champion won it in 1995.
Kerber, who was elevated to the No.9 seed following fellow German Sabine Lisicki's late withdrawal from the tournament due to illness, toughed out some tricky early rounds over Lucie Safarova and Monica Niculescu then had a career breakthrough in the quarterfinals, upsetting No.1 seed Maria Sharapova in straight sets, 64 64 - it was the first Top 10 win of her career.
"I knew before the match I had nothing to lose. It's amazing," a jubilant Kerber said afterwards. "I played my first match against Maria in Australia and I think I was a little bit shocked to play her, because she's such a great player."
Sharapova was equally complimentary. "Angelique is someone who has been playing really good tennis the last six months, and had a great result at the US Open. She's really starting to break through. And being a lefty gives her a bit of an edge - she has a great game for it, but she's also someone who's very aggressive, stays low, is very strong and runs well. She has many pluses."
After beating Yanina Wickmayer in the semifinals Kerber was on the verge of her first WTA title, but there was a fighter in her midst. Bartoli, the No.2 seed, had escaped several scares during the week, none bigger than her Houdini-like escape of No.7 seed Roberta Vinci in the quarters - she was down 4-1 in the second set and 5-2 in the third set of a 46 64 76(2) win over over the crafty Italian. France's No.1, Bartoli was looking for her first WTA title on home soil.
Kerber came out strong, clinching the 58-minute first set in a tie-break, 7-3, then racing out to a 5-2 second set lead. Bartoli went into overdrive from there, winning five straight games (four of them at love) to push the match to a third set, but Kerber came out strong again, racing out to a 4-0 lead and not letting go this time. Kerber closed out the center court thriller, 76(3) 57 63.
"I got a little bit nervous at 5-2 in the second set, but she was playing very well from that moment too," Kerber said after the match. "I was trying really hard to get it back in the third set and I'm very happy I did. I had nothing to lose today - she was the favorite and I just kept fighting on every point, and it worked."
Having lost her only previous final, at the International-level tournament in Bogotá in 2010, Kerber's triumph at the Premier-level Open GDF SUEZ is an even bigger breakthrough, and made her the first German to win the title since Steffi Graf in 1995. She also got her second Top 10 win two days after her first.
"This win is unbelievable for me. I will enjoy it for sure over the next days," she added. "And I believe in myself more. I know I can play with the top players."
The No.7-ranked Bartoli, who had beaten Kerber in straight sets in their last three meetings, dropped to a 7-10 career record in WTA finals.
"I gave everything I had and Angelique did the same," Bartoli said. "You have to know when to accept defeat, though. It's what sport is all about. I didn't fluff my lines when it came to the final and I was simply beaten by a better player."
Earlier in the day, No.1 seeds Liezel Huber and Lisa Raymond won their first title of the year with a 76(3) 61 victory over Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Petra Martic, rallying from 5-3 down in the first set (and saving a set point at 5-4) en route to the straight set win. Huber and Raymond now have five titles together, after Toronto, the US Open, Tokyo and the WTA Championships in 2011.
Huber and Raymond are both moving up the all-time list for WTA doubles titles - Huber now has 49 (putting her at 15th all-time) while Raymond now has 75 (still seventh all-time but just one away from Jana Novotna's haul of 76).