LYON, France - No.1 seed Sofia Kenin became the first player to win two titles in 2020, becoming the inaugural Open 6ème Sens - Métropole de Lyon champion with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 win over the unseeded Anna-Lena Friedsam in one hour and 49 minutes.
The Australian Open champion had come into Lyon seeking to snap a three-match losing streak, and her journey to the final had been a singularly dramatic one: Kenin had to come from a set and 3-5 down, saving one match point, against qualifier Jaqueline Cristian in the first round; rebounded from the loss of an apparently straightforward 6-1, 5-2 lead to defeat home favorite Oceane Dodin in the quarterfinals; and then survived three-time indoor titlist Alison Van Uytvanck in three tiebreaks in the semifinals. Kenin is the third player in 2020 to win a title after facing match point during the tournament, following Karolina Pliskova in Brisbane and Simona Halep in Dubai.
"I had two tough losses but I knew I needed to regroup, and I'm so happy that I won it," assessed Kenin of her past month, which had previously seen her lose her opening matches in Dubai (to Elena Rybakina) and Doha (to Dayana Yastremska). "Every match was a close one and I had to really fight through - every player I played put up a tough fight against me, and I was able to play my game which was good. I'm happy that I came here - it was a good decision from my side... I wanted to get enough match play going into Indian Wells and Miami."
Today's momentum shifts were less wild, but Kenin was still given a tough ride by Friedsam, whose run to a second career final marked the 26-year-old's return to the sport's top level after several injury-marred years that involved two shoulder surgeries. In their first meeting, the German was initially outclassed - but raised her level to ensure that, following the first set, the Lyon crowd were treated to an evenly matched contest for the tournament's first trophy.
Ultimately, though, it was the game's newest Grand Slam champion who overcame 42 unforced errors to strike 29 winners and four aces to seal her fifth career title on International Women's Day, improving her record in finals to 4-1 - with her only loss coming just over a year ago to Wang Yafan in Acapulco.
A 25-minute opening set saw Kenin maintain a superlative first serve percentage of 81%, conceding just five points behind her delivery in total. Friedsam also posted positive numbers - but her 76% first serve percentage garnered her just 56% of those points compared to Kenin's 76%. In large part, this was due to Kenin's supreme point construction and ability to change the direction of the ball. Winners flowed from the American's racquet, less due to power than to placement and precision as she carved up the court to create open spaces. Repeatedly wrongfooting Friedsam paid dividends, while the 21-year-old was also able to conjure up some marvellous deep off forehand winners from behind the baseline.
In the first set, Friedsam found herself playing catchup after an immediate break - but missed her chance to do so in the sixth game as errant forehands squandered a 0-30 lead on Kenin's serve. Instead, it was the World No.5 who responded by reeling off six straight points, then five straight games including two further breaks of the Friedsam serve, to take an even tighter grip on the match.
Up a set and a break, though, Kenin became careless. The Mallorca and Guangzhou champion allowed two points she had been dominating get away from her, once by missing a putaway forehand and the next as a desperate Friedsam defensive stab turned into a remarkable backhand winner. The World No.136 needed no further encouragement, hammering a return to break for the first time - and thereafter piling the pressure on Kenin as her baseline game grew more robust.
Indeed, Kenin would need to save break points in both of her own next service games as she began to struggle with consistency in the face of Friedsam's greater accuracy, with tentative play in the forecourt proving particularly costly. The Toronto and Cincinnati semifinalist would fend these off in style - particularly with a perfect dropshot in the fourth game - but a surging Friedsam was keeping the top seed firmly at bay with a series of focused holds. Serving to stay in the set, Kenin grew passive, throwing up a short mid-court ball down set point - which the 2015 Linz runner-up wasted no time in slamming away for a winner.
"It's expected," recalled Kenin afterwards. "She lost a set but she's not going to give up, it's the final. She just played some really good tennis and I tried to find a way to regroup and find my game in the third set."
This week, though, Kenin has demonstrated a superlative ability to ride out the ebbs and flows of the scoreboard, and once again she refused to dwell on her lost momentum. A brace of winners paved the way to an immediate break of the Friedsam serve for the third time in as many sets - and this time Kenin made sure to consolidate, closing out a deuce game with another brilliantly weighted dropshot and an efficient one-two punch to seal the 2-0 lead.
The higher-ranked player went from strength to strength as she went after the double break, with her mainstays of the backhand down the line and the dropshot working a treat before she sealed her third break point for 4-1 with a glorious running forehand crosscourt.
That insurance break would be necessary: a pair of less well-executed dropshots opened the door for Friedsam in the next game, and the former World No.45 pounded an inside-in forehand winner to get one of the breaks back. Kenin, though, showed real fortitude to keep hold of her remaining lead.
The closing stages of the match were not without nerves and potential turning points as both of Kenin's remaining service holds went to deuce, and an overly casual missed volley on her first championship point might have proved catastrophic. But the Kenin forehand proved her money shot when she needed it the most: a short inside-out winner with it edged her into a 5-3 lead and, serving for the title, it also garnered her winners on both the first point of the game and her third championship point.