WUHAN, China - No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka became the first player to successfully defend her title in the history of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, as she held off a determined effort from unseeded American Alison Riske, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
In the sixth edition of the Premier-level event, which began in 2014, the Belarusian became the first player to win consecutive titles, joining Petra Kvitova as a two-time champion.
"I can't believe that I defend this title. I couldn't even imagine that I will be able to do this. Right now I'm just happy. I don't know. I can't believe it's happened," Sabalenka said.
"This means a lot. This year been really tough for everyone. I was really afraid that I will be not able to defend this title. I was already saving my points on the beginning of this year. This was my problem. That's why I couldn't work well, couldn't play well, couldn't fight actually.
"Finally to defend this title, I couldn't even imagine it's going to happened. Right now, it's so many thoughts going through my mind. I'm really thankful to my team because they keep staying with me."
— WTA (@WTA) September 28, 2019
For the second time in 2019, Sabalenka beat Riske in three sets in the final of a tournament in China, as she collected her third title in the country with the victory.
"She played really well. She's a great player, big fighter. I knew it's going to be a tough match," Sabalenka assessed.
Third set I came out, like, 'This is a final, try to do everything you can. Just one match to go, just do your best.' I was just focusing on my game, focusing on each point. It's help me to come back in this match."
Needing to rally from a set down to beat the American to win the Shenzhen Open to start the year, Sabalenka started much quicker in Saturday's final, as she won five of the first six games before sealing the opener.
After a clutch performance by the World No. 35 in the second set, where she never faced a break point, withstood nine aces from Sabalenka, and broke serve in a key sixth game to send the match to a decider, the No. 9 seed again rolled through a streak of games to seal her fourth career WTA title.
"She played a really solid first set. I knew going into the second, I was going to have to push back somehow. I wasn't very forgiving of myself in the third. It kind of worked on my head a little bit. I really lost it. It was really tough," Riske said in defeat.
"I'm really disappointed in my mentality in the third set. I think I could have brought more out of myself. Still moving forward, I think that's something I have to work on, but obviously credit to Aryna. She's playing amazing tennis for me and made it very difficult for me.
"I think all in all, it was obviously an amazing week for me. It was a huge week in many regards. I'm super proud of the week I had.
"I played the top players in the world the last few days. I think the more I can put myself in those positions, have that success, I think the more I'll expect out of myself, too, in those moments, know that I can come out on the other end."
— WTA (@WTA) September 28, 2019
A subdued World No. 14 blitzed through the first five games of the final set, never facing a break point, and sealed the one hour, 54-minute victory with her 18th ace of the match.
"[The serve] was really important today because from the baseline she was playing really, really well. Sometimes, my serve helped me a lot, also physically," Sabalenka continued.
"I knew it's going to be a long rally. When ace happen, I'm like, Not this one. But serve is really important. This is my power. I was really happy every time I'm making the ace. At the same time, it brings some double faults. But if it's 18 aces, maybe it's okay."