STRASBOURG, France -- Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska saved a match point to pick up her third career WTA singles title, all coming in an astonishing stretch over the last eight months, as the No.6 seed outlasted 4th-seeded Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(3) in an epic final to claim the Internationaux de Strasbourg trophy on Saturday.
"Excited and very emotional, that’s the two feelings I’m most feeling now," an elated Yastremska said to the media, after her whisker-thin win. "I tried my best, I did work hard. I don’t know how to describe it -- I had match points, she had match points, it’s just very emotional. I had to stay very focused, and be calm."
Yastremska held two match points herself at 6-4, 5-3 before a furious comeback by 2016 Strasbourg champion Garcia pushed the match into a final set. Garcia then held her own match point at 5-4 in the third set, before Yastremska came through in the decisive tiebreak to win after a grueling two hours and 58 minutes of play -- the longest championship match of the WTA season to date.
"You had two match points, the title in your hands, and then it’s just gone," Yastremska admitted. "Then you have to not put extra pressure on yourself, you have to forget [them], you have to remind yourself that the games continue. Next game, next point, next set."
"[I'm proud] that I could find somewhere the passion, and the power, especially in the third set, when I was losing at 6-5," Yastremska continued. "I felt really tired, I had a blister in my foot, it was bleeding and so painful. I’m proud of myself that I could find the power and just put everything into the game."
Yastremska had 49 winners and 50 unforced errors in the match, while Garcia fired 18 winners to 29 unforced errors. Both players broke serve six times in the match -- but nine of those came in the first set, as they both stayed stingy on serve as the match progressed.
It is the first clay-court title for 19-year-old Yastremska during her rapid run of championship victories, after claiming a maiden title on hardcourt in Hong Kong last October, and following up with a second crown on hardcourt in Hua Hin in February of this year. Yastremska also won the Hua Hin title in a final-set tiebreak, over Ajla Tomljanovic.
Now with three titles under her belt, World No.42 Yastremska is projected to move up approximately ten spots in the rankings, meaning she will go into the second Grand Slam of the year at Roland Garros at or near a new career-high ranking. Yastremska has a challenging draw against No.28 seed Carla Suárez Navarro in the first round in Paris.
"I have just one day to prepare, tomorrow, and I have a train to take!" Yastremska exclaimed with a laugh. "I have to now get my focus back to prepare for my first round. It won’t be easy, because I play against Suarez Navarro, Spanish player, really tough player. I lost to her in Rome, but won [against] her in Australia. We will see, I will try to recover and get my energy, and just fight."
No.1 Frenchwoman Garcia was outgunned at the very end of the final by Yastremska, but she has to go into her home Grand Slam event with improved confidence after reaching her first quarterfinal, semifinal, and final of 2019. Garcia, seeded 24th at Roland Garros, will meet Germany’s Mona Barthel in the opening round of the year’s second major.
"[Garcia] showed a great game, she was really confident and stable, especially when I had the match points," said Yastremska. "She has a good serve, she’s strong mentally."
The match started well for Garcia, who powered strong serves through the court for an opening hold and then claimed a 2-0 lead after Yastremska double faulted on break point. But Yastremska dominated with her backhand in the third game of the match to pull back on serve, and suddenly the race was on for both players to take control in return games.
Both Yastremska and Garcia fired aggressive service returns back to their opponents whenever they could as the opening frame wore on, leading to six service breaks in the first eight games as the combatants moved to a 4-4 deadlock. The set was epitomized in the subsequent game, when Yastremska hit three return winners in four points to break at love for a 5-4 lead.
It was the Ukrainian who earned the rare service hold in the next game exactly when she needed to, evading big returns from Garcia and using outstanding depth on her groundstrokes to careen to triple set point. A forehand crosscourt winner gave Yastremska the set on her second chance; each player had nine unforced errors in the opener, but the teenager out-winnered Garcia by 14 to two.
Yastremska used more fiery returns to break Garcia in the opening game of the second set, and after fending off a break point with a strong serve to hold for 2-0, the Ukrainian held the momentum. Garcia, however, collected herself, staving off two break points in the next game to keep herself in touching distance.
The service breaks dried up as the players became more patient, but that meant Yastremska was able to maintain her lead up to 5-3. A Garcia double fault in that game gave Yastremska double match point, and the match’s conclusion seemed imminent. But Garcia got out of trouble with aggressive play, mainly from the forehand, to hold on for 5-4.
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Suddenly, the set turned when Yastremska served for the match. Sturdy groundstrokes from Garcia drew errors from the Ukrainian, and the fourth seed broke for 5-5. After a clutch hold from Garcia gave her a lead in the second set for the first time, Yastremska blasted more miscues at 6-5, and dropped serve again with a double fault, ceding the set to Garcia.
A dramatic early exchange of breaks occurred in the decider, as Yastremska claimed the early lead at 2-1, sealing that protracted battle on her seventh break point of the game. But Garcia struck right back to level the set at 2-2 after errors crept back into the Yastremska game.
Despite a number of tight games, those would be the only service breaks of the set. Garcia nearly claimed a decisive one, holding break point, which doubled as match point, at 5-4 after a long forehand by Yastremska. But the Ukrainian teen pulled out a stellar serve to draw a long return from the Frenchwoman, and ended up eking out a hold for 5-5.
At last, Yastremska took control in the final-set tiebreak. The Ukrainian blasted a forehand winner for a crucial 3-2 mini-break lead, then fired a second serve square on the service line to garner a netted return and lead 5-2. A forehand winner by Yastremska on the baseline gave her four more match points, and she notched the win two points later after a wide return by Garcia.