CHARLESTON, SC, USA - No.7 seed Sloane Stephens was a point from a one-set deficit against 2011 Volvo Car Open finalist Elena Vesnina, but the young American turned the tide in emphatic style, capturing her third title of the season, 7-6(4), 6-2.
Stephens had lost her only prior encounter with Vesnina back in 2013, but appeared to have weathered the storm after falling behind an early break to take a 5-2 lead in the opening set. Vesnina had to win two matches in qualifying just to reach the main draw, however, and was far from finished as she clawed back to win four games in a row and even hold set point behind a barrage of winners.
The 2013 Australian Open semifinalist nonetheless held her nerve and, saving her best tennis for the ensuing tie-break, reclaimed the initiative and never looked back, breaking serve twice more to clinch the victory on her fourth championship point.
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? WTA (@WTA) April 10, 2016
"I just said to myself, 'You have to fight for every point and compete.' She's a great player, so I knew I had to stay in every point," she told ESPN's Pam Shriver after the match.
"When I got a couple of opportunities, I took them, so that was great."
Stephens has now won three titles in 2016, starting with the ASB Classic in Auckland and the Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco. The 23-year-old will take her Charleston victory to Europe to start the red clay season in earnest at the Mutua Madrid Open.
"I love red clay, so starting in Madrid, I think I'll have a lot of fun and just look forward to the French Open."
Later on in press, Stephens credited a change in mindset with helping her reverse a string of disappointing results in Charleston, a tournament where she had only ever won one main draw match in five career appearances.
"Obviously coming into here I have a lot of anxiety coming into this tournament because I've never done well here. I just thought, you know, I'm just going to go have fun. I have nothing to lose. I've only won one match here ever, and just go out and play and have fun because I mean it's just another week, and after this I'll have a nice little break. I'm going to go to Europe.
"I don't have anything to lose. My life is great. It's tennis. And this is what I do every week. So I kind of just changed my mindset, and that worked. So I should just do that every week."
For Vesnina, losing felt pretty close to winning after seven match wins from the qualifying draw; starting the season having to play Grand Slam qualifying for the first time since the 2005 US Open, the Russian veteran has enjoyed a career renaissance since Australia, nabbing wins over Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki in Doha, Venus Williams in Miami, and Sara Errani on Saturday.
"This final is like a win," she said in her post-match press conference. "I know that there's only one winner, and for us, for all the athletes there's only one place, No.1, but here, today, I feel like I'm a winner because I played so many matches from qualies. I was just counting, I had like eight matches in singles and two in doubles, so ten matches in one week. That's quite a lot.
"I'm just really happy about my run here, and let's see how it's going to be the rest of the year. But I'm really looking forward to that because I think it's going to be good."
In the doubles final, French Connection Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic won their first title of the season; the Frenchwomen announced their partnership at the end of 2015 in anticipation of the Olympic Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, and after two finals at the Apia International Syndey and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the two struck gold in Charleston, taking out top seeds Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova, 6-2, 7-5.
? WTA (@WTA) April 10, 2016