ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - No.2 seed Kiki Bertens pulled off an thrilling comeback in the opening set to ultimately dispatch Premier final debutante Donna Vekic, 7-6(2), 6-4 and win her first title of 2019 at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
"It's a great feeling to hold the trophy," Bertens said after the match. "It was a really tough week. Every tournament has its challenges, but I think I played great the whole week. I didn't start good today, but I was still able to turn the match around, so I'm really proud of that."
Bertens trailed 2-5 in the opening set only to win 17 of the next 18 points, reclaim momentum in an ensuing tie-break, and surge towards her eighth career singles trophy after one hour and 43 minutes in Sibur Arena.
"It's great to win my first title of 2019 so early in the year!"
For Vekic, her breakthrough week was on course for a storybook ending, having reached the biggest final of her young career. The 22-year-old was hitting all of her targets to start the match, snatching a double break lead that brought her within four points of the first set.
At a career-high ranking of No.8, Bertens has gained plenty of experience in the last year - winning her first Premier 5 title at the Western & Southern Open and finishing runner-up at the Mutua Madrid Open - and likely used some of that as the moment appeared to strike Vekic, steadying her big game to level the match in emphatic style.
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Though the Croat was able to force a sudden death, Bertens held her nerve to race through the tie-break and break first in the second set.
Shades of their dramatic three-setter at the Brisbane International - where Vekic won en route to the semifinals - cropped up when Vekic won three straight games of her own, but Bertens remained undaunted, breaking once more.
"My coach Raemon Sluiter told me I was playing the right way, and just needed to keep going for my shots, which I did!"
"There was a time when I was feeling too much stress on the court, and I didn't enjoy tennis at all. I was close to quitting the game and had to get my energy and focus back. I set some new goals for 2018, and it ended up being my best year so far. Right now, I'm just enjoying my life, and tennis. I'm a really happy person right now."
In all, both women hit 33 unforced errors, but the No.2 seed struck 27 winners to just 16 from Vekic, and was ultimately more efficient on serve, striking eight aces and winning 79% of points behind her first serve.
It won't be the last fans will see of Bertens and Vekic, who, per WTA Communications, have agreed to play doubles together at the upcoming BNP Paribas Open.