PRAGUE, Czech Republic - No.18 seed Kristina Kucova delivered a stellar performance to stun No.2 seed Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-4, 6-3 in one hour and 30 minutes to win the biggest title of her career to date at the Prague Open 125K.
The 30-year-old, a former US Open junior champion in 2007 who reached a career high of World No.71 in September 2016 after reaching the Montréal semifinals that year, has since battled a succession of injuries that have seen her ranking fall back out of the Top 200. Today, though, Kucova was on song: her powerful double-fisted groundstrokes on both wings would enable her to dominate the match from the baseline, repeatedly fizzing into the corners and finding crosscourt angles that her teenage opponent never quite got to grips with.
"It's like a dream," Kucova said after winning her first WTA 125K trophy. "I was dreaming about this, that I would maybe win it and how it would be. I'm proud of myself that I could win such a tough tournament with seven matches, and I'm so happy this tournament was possible to make during these tough moments. It was a very great match, and Elisabetta was a great opponent and great fighter."
The Slovak's high intensity in rallies was matched by a feast-or-famine approach on serve: despite tallying 11 double faults in the match, Kucova would only drop serve once. A formidable first serve would win 83% of the points behind it, and her 63% percentage in landing them was sufficient to tilt the high-risk strategy towards success.
This was something she was aware of in assessing the match afterwards. "I think I played some important points better than her, and that decided the match," Kucova told the press. "My best shot? I would say serve, but you will bring up the statistics! I know I made a lot of double faults - but in the end I was pushing, pushing more to put as many first serves in and it was quite fast and quite precise on the lines."
Kucova was not the only player on court determined to play offensively. A high-quality start to the match also found the 19-year-old Cocciaretto swinging for the lines, repeatedly running Kucova from side to side before finishing points efficiently at net. Neither player would need to face a break point through the first six games, and both survived extended deuce tussles in the subsequent two with positive play.
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At 4-4, Kucova struck again, this time with raking returns that Cocciaretto could barely get her racquet to. One off the backhand wing opened the door for Kucova in the game, and another off the forehand sealed it before the World No.173 served the set out with little trouble.
Cocciaretto has impressed all week with her problem-solving ability on court, and down an early break in the second set the Italian began to show signs of another potential comeback. Flashing a pair off forehand winners crosscourt and taking advantage of a ninth double fault from Kucova, Cocciaretto levelled the score at 2-2 from 0-2 down.
But a fired-up Kucova simply redoubled her intensity to surge ahead once more. In a series of high-octane rallies, it was Cocciaretto whose strokes would tend to break down first, while Kucova's greater levels of aggression meant that the former junior World No.3 was opening up the court and taking charge first.
Having immediately regained her break and found greater consistency with her first serve, Kucova advanced to a 5-3 lead, and sealed the title by capturing the Cocciaretto serve once more, taking her first match point with yet another ferocious return down the line.