LUGANO, Switzerland - At the end of another stormy week in Lugano, it was ultimately experience that led Polona Hercog through the rain and to a third career WTA title at the Samsung Open presented by Corner.
The Slovenian shook off a second set hiccup to dispatch 17-year-old first-time finalist Iga Swiatek, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, maintaining a form that first appeared two weeks earlier at the Miami Open, where she narrowly lost to former World No.1 Simona Halep.
"It’s a dream start to the clay season," she explained over the phone on Sunday. "I was really looking forward to it, especially after playing so well in Miami against Halep. I thought I played really well, and I was just looking forward to getting back to clay and using that match to get me some more confidence. I didn’t think about a final when I came here, but it was an amazing week, and a great way to start the clay season this way."
Hercog has played her best tennis on clay - reaching all six career singles finals on the surface - but it was at the Hard Rock Stadium where she pushed the reigning Roland Garros champion to within a tie-break of defeat.
"It was a match that gave me so much. I got so much support from people and so many positive messages, that it was amazing. I was feeling so confident after that match, even though I lost, because I took all the positives out of it.
"Of course, I was disappointed, a little bit, but to play a constant Top 10 player who has been No.1 for the last two years, get her in difficult positions and even come close to winning, it was an amazing feeling."
The 28-year-old parlayed the result into a big win over former World No.6 Carla Suárez Navarro in the opening round of her Lugano campaign, settling quickly into the calm atmosphere compared with Miami's hustle and bustle.
"It’s a very nice place. It’s right next to the lake, and so the scenery and people are very nice. It’s more easy-going, and I like tournaments like this, as opposed to more hectic cities. It’s like a little holiday, but you’re doing your job at the same time!"
Following up the upset with a win over 2009 French Open quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea, she made it all the way into her first final in almost a year, where she recalled another educational defeat to Pauline Parmentier at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Cup.
"The most important thing I learned from Istanbul was that I became passive in too many key moments in that match. Today, even though I was down, I knew I had to raise my level, be aggressive, and go for my shots. If I was going to wait for it, it wasn’t going to happen because she was playing really well at the end of the second set and the beginning of the third. Playing passively, I knew I wouldn’t have a chance."
Hercog plans a full slate of clay court tournaments that will continue at the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem and end at the French Open, where she'll likely aim to make good on her clay court potential and reach the second week for the first time.
"I grew up on clay and until I was 14, I played almost exclusively on the surface. I feel very comfortable on it, and it suits my game well because I can mix up the rhythm and run around for a forehand. I have a little more time, too. I did well on hardcourts recently, but clay is still my primary surface."