BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Belgian Alison van Uytvanck claimed her second career WTA singles title at the Hungarian Ladies Open on Sunday, outlasting No.1 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, in a two-hour and 11-minute barnburner. Van Uytvanck adds to the title she won in Quebec City last year for her maiden WTA singles championship.
"I think we played a high level throughout the whole match," van Uytvanck told the press afterwards. "In the beginning maybe I was a little bit better, but in the second set she was better. To turn it around in the third set, I was just hanging in there, trying to play every point as good as I could."
The combatants had played once before, with Cibulkova the 3-6, 6-3, 8-6 victor in another grueling match in the first round of Wimbledon in 2014. But it was the Belgian who emerged victorious in a extremely tight match in Budapest, behind six aces and 73 percent of first serve points won.
"[The serve] helped me," van Uytvanck continued. "I mean, without the serve, I wouldn’t win this match, for sure. So that was a big bonus to my game today."
Van Uytvanck took the initiative early, staving off a break point to hold for 1-1, then claiming the first break of the match when a strong service return on break point forced a wide forehand from Cibulkova, to lead 2-1.
Cibulkova had four chances to get back on serve at 2-2, but aggressive play from van Uytvanck behind typically solid serving helped the Belgian fend those off as well, and hold for 3-1. From that point forward in the opening set, van Uytvanck was serving too well for Cibulkova to find any more footholds in the Belgian’s service games.
At 5-3, van Uytvanck struck a stellar service return that forced a long forehand from the Slovakian, handing the unseeded player a break point which doubled as set point. After another CIbulkova backhand sailed long, the Belgian found herself a set away from the upset.
But the tables turned in the second set. After repelling a break point in her first service game, which would have seen her go down a set and a break, Cibulkova began to dominate more of the rallies, particularly with her powerful forehand.
That wing would give the Slovakian her first break of the match, when she broke van Uytvanck for 3-2 with a stunning crosscourt forehand which the Belgian could barely get her racquet on. Many more strong winners from that side followed for Cibulkova, and van Uytvanck failed to utilize her serve as effectively in the second set as she had in the opener.
Serving down 3-5, the Belgian quickly fell behind, setting Cibulkova up with double set point. On the second, another brilliantly struck crosscourt forehand forced another error wide from van Uytvanck, squaring the match at one set apiece. Suddenly, the scoreline began to resemble their previous encounter.
Indeed, the match would progress nearly as far as it could, as both players refused to give up an inch for the first 10 games of the deciding set. Cibulkova claimed the first chance of the third set, when she held a break point to go up 2-0, but van Uytvanck steeled herself and held for 1-1.
The Belgian was again in trouble in her next service game, when another stunning forehand winner from Cibulkova set up triple break point to lead 3-1. But van Uytvanck pulled multiple forehand winners out of her pocket to drag the game back in her favor, and held for 2-2 with an ace.
Cibulkova, though, kept holding serve with relative ease, and as she was serving first in the set, the Slovakian continued to pressure van Uytvanck deep into the decider. With the Belgian serving down 4-5, Cibulkova got to 15-30, putting her two points away from victory. But extravagant power play from the Belgian allowed her to hold once again, getting to 5-5 without having to dodge another break point.
The mental toughness of van Uytvanck during the third set finally took its toll on Cibulkova in the 5-5 game, as the Slovakian hit too many errors, including only her second double fault, and was broken at 15, giving van Uytvanck the chance to serve for her second career title.
Cilbulkova had one final chance as van Uytvanck served for the match, holding a break point after a forehand error by the Belgian. But another great serve swatted that opportunity away, and, following that, an ace brought up the Belgian's first match point. There, Cibulkova's vaunted forehand went awry, going long, and giving van Uytvanck an extremely hard-earned championship trophy.
"I had two tough service games in the third, and I was able to manage to get through that, and it was getting better and better," van Uytvanck concluded. "I was getting a little bit more confident, and I just kept fighting. I’m so happy with the win."