CHARLESTON, SC, USA - Years of injuries may have held her back, but they haven't kept her down, not one bit - former World No.9 Andrea Petkovic came full circle at the Family Circle Cup this year, putting all of those struggles behind her to capture the third and biggest WTA title of her career.
After a string of surprises throughout the week, the No.14-seeded Petkovic took on unseeded Jana Cepelova, conqueror of Serena Williams, in the final. The early goings were tough, and serving at 4-5, 30-40, Petkovic faced set point - but she dug out of that one and stormed through eight games in a row to build a 75 50 lead, and a few games later she finally closed her greatest triumph out, 75 62.
"When I was down facing set point, I just told myself, 'You gotta let loose and you gotta relax a little bit because otherwise you're not going to win this match,'" Petkovic said. "And so I relaxed, and I started hitting the ball harder and deeper, and I started moving better, and I started serving better.
"That's just how it is sometimes. You just relax and all of a sudden things come together."
Since breaking into the Top 10 in 2011, it has been a rough few years for Petkovic - back and ankle injuries pretty much ruined her 2012 season, and a knee injury kept her out for the first chunk of the 2013 season. She nearly fell out of the Top 200 at one point, falling as low as No.192 the week of October 8, 2012, and just over a year ago she went into the Miami fortnight down at No.177.
But some very encouraging results last summer - most notably finals in Nürnberg and Washington DC - proved Petkovic wasn't done yet. She came into Charleston this week ranked No.40 in the world, and now, after six grueling rounds, her first Premier-level title - her other two came at Internationals.
Needless to say, it was an emotional triumph - she was emotional after just reaching the finals.
"I don't know why but I just sort of broke down," Petkovic said. "I was happy. Normally I don't cry when I'm sad - I cry when I'm happy, strangely, so it's weird, but I don't know. I was just so relieved and proud that I've come back from all these injuries, and I never thought I would play in the finals of the big tournaments again, and so I was just proud and happy and everything just sort of came together."
And there's a special connection here too - her father went to college here and played tennis here.
"It's a little sad that he couldn't come this year, but I'm just very proud of him and everything he achieved," Petkovic said of her dad. "Coming from Yugoslavia, where it was communism back then, it wasn't easy to get out of it, and he just gave me all the chances that I took in my life, being educated in Germany, being the person I am today, and all the opportunities in tennis I wouldn't have without him and without him going to college here in the United States and learning the western way of living.
"It's funny how destiny plays out sometimes, how I've come to reach the final of such a big tournament here in South Carolina, where my father went to college. It's nice. It's an honor. It's a blessing."
For Cepelova, leaving without the title doesn't mean she's leaving empty-handed. It was truly a breakthrough week for the young Slovak, beginning with her massive upset over Williams in the second round (which wasn't just her first win over a World No.1 - it was her first win over any Top 15 player). She had also never been to a WTA semifinal before - let alone to a final (and a Premier at that).