SHENZHEN, China – Ekaterina Alexandrova became the first WTA winner of the decade as she defeated Elena Rybakina, 6-2, 6-4 to win the Shenzhen Open and win her maiden title.
The No.5 seed in Shenzhen, Alexandrova won the WTA 125K Series event in Limoges last month and maintained the winning momentum to start her season, as she lost just one set this week to extend her winning streak to 10 straight matches.
"The whole week was pretty good for me, I think, right from the start. It wasn't easy but I did it until the end. I won my first title, and it feels amazing," Alexandrova said after the match.
"The first one is always special. I was playing my second final, and the first one [at Linz in 2018] wasn't so good for me, so I was trying to get this one."
The Russian set about dismantling the serve of her Kazakh opponent in the first set, then showed a capacity to dig in during the second, in which her 20-year-old opponent struck her best level.
Rybakina, meanwhile, was playing her third final in the space of six months, but after losing to Rebecca Peterson in the Nanchang showpiece suffered disappointment at the last in China for a second time.
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The pair had never previously met on the WTA, though after Alexandrova won an exhibition in the Czech Republic between the pair recently, it was the Russian who quickly got a read on her opponent’s serve to leap out in front into a 4-0 lead in the first.
"I just wanted to stay calm through the match today. I didn't expect the first set would be so easy, because I know she plays so well," Alexandrova said. "When it was 4-0 right away, I didn't expect that. I knew the second set would be so much tougher because it isn't easy to play her."
Serve had been such a weapon of Rybakina’s in her semifinal victory over Kristyna Pliskova, in which she hit 81% of first strikes in and combined that with nine aces, yet Alexandrova greedily fired return winners throughout the opening set.
Rybakina was only able to hold once in the first set, and that after a lengthy battle on deuce, and while it provided her a toehold in the match, it was insufficient to make genuine inroads into her rival.
The first set disappeared in little over half an hour but the second was to prove a more competitive affair as the No.7 seed started to match fire with fire and showed a capability of hitting spectacular winners of her own as the level of Alexandrova, who was playing only her second WTA final and first since Linz in 2018, briefly dipped.
Indeed, the 20-year-old showed character to make a fight of the match after being broken in the opening game, in which she netted a couple of balls and saw her rival benefit from a fortunate kick off the net.
She would go on to establish a 4-2 advantage and serving at that juncture appeared well placed to go on and level the match. Alexandrova, however, had other ideas and allied impressive persistence with her shot making to draw within a game once more.
After holding serve, she once again exerted serious pressure on her opponent and on her third break point, Rybakina buckled, serving a double fault.
"In the second set, I think she played well, and I was lucky when it was 4-4 with a net [cord], and that gave me three break points," Alexandrova said. "After that, she was nervous, and I think it helped me."
There were no signs of nerves as Alexandrova impressively served the match out to write a page of history as she became the first WTA champion of the 2020s.