MOSCOW, Russia - In a field with four of the Top 20 players in the world it was the World No.30 who finished first place, as Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won the Premier-level Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
Pavlyuchenkova didn't end up facing any of those Top 20 players. Three of them - Dominika Cibulkova, Ekaterina Makarova and Flavia Pennetta - lost their opening matches, and the last one left, Lucie Safarova, bowed out in the semifinals. But Pavlyuchenkova had to take on several of the inspired underdogs who picked them off, most notably her opponent in the final, Irina-Camelia Begu, who was actually responsible for beating both Makarova in the second round and Safarova in the semis.
And Begu brought her A-game to the final, going up a break in the first set and, after Pavlyuchenkova came back and won that set, jumping out to an early 3-1 lead and eventually taking the second set.
But the No.6-seeded Pavlyuchenkova saved her best tennis for the third set, soaring out to a 5-0 lead and eventually closing the championship match out after two hours and 29 minutes, 6-4, 5-7, 6-1.
"I think I was playing well at the beginning, so I got that break and went up 4-1, but then Irina probably got a little bit more relaxed and started serving a lot better," Pavlyuchenkova said afterwards. "She served well the whole match actually, so it wasn't easy to break her at all in the match today.
"After the second set I knew I had to be more energetic and intense out there. I knew I had to play my aggressive game and just do something, otherwise she'd be too good. She was playing so well the whole week. The surface really fit her game. I just needed to stop thinking about the score and go for it.
"I'm happy I could regroup in the third set and win this title at home. I'm extremely happy."
It was the seventh WTA title of Pavlyuchenkova's career, following triumphs at Monterrey and Istanbul in 2010, Monterrey in 2011, Monterrey and Oeiras in 2013 and Paris [Indoors] earlier this year. It was also the equal-biggest title of her career - Paris [Indoors] was also a Premier-level tournament.
"I'm super delighted," Pavlyuchenkova said. "It's the best way to finish the season for me - winning the title at home, and now I have seven in my career. I couldn't be happier with how the week went."
And so, the Russian's season comes to a close - how does she look back at the last 10 months?
"It was a special year. It was a little bit strange, because there were a lot of ups and downs, but I started really well by winning the Premier title in Paris and beating a lot of good players there, and after some downs I've managed to finish the season well and give it my all for the last tournament.
"At the end of every season I say the next season will be better, but it's hard to predict something like that, so this time I'm not going to predict anything," Pavlyuchenkova added. "I'll just rest well and relax for a little while now, and then head back and work hard and get ready for the next season."
It was still a dream week for Begu, though. She had never been to the quarterfinals of a Premier, let alone a final, and she had never beaten multiple Top 20 players at the same event in her career.
The Romanian, a former WTA Newcomer Of The Year, breaks back into the Top 50 with the result.