After a long wait, Sorana Cirstea is once again a singles champion on the WTA, as the Romanian defeated No.1 seed Elise Mertens 6-1, 7-6(3) to win her second career title at the TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championship Istanbul on Sunday.
Cirstea won her first WTA singles title way back in 2008, when she triumphed in Tashkent as an 18-year-old. 13 years later, Cirstea at last has a companion for that trophy, finishing off a superb event with a 100-minute victory over World No.17 Mertens.
"I’m very, very happy for this trophy," Cirstea said, in the trophy ceremony. "I did not expect it, to be honest, so probably I’m twice as glad!"
67th-ranked Cirstea charged to the trophy without losing a set all week, and improved to 3-0 against Mertens with the win under breezy, overcast conditions. Cirstea broke the Mertens serve five times and won a stellar 70 percent of her own second-service points to clinch the crown.
With the victory, Cirstea notched her third Top 20 win of this season, which has turned out to be a resurgent year for the former Top 25 player. Earlier in 2021, she reached her first WTA quarterfinal in 17 months at the Grampians Trophy in Melbourne, then shocked World No.8 Petra Kvitova to reach the third round of the Australian Open.
Cirstea was utterly dominant in the opening frame, cruising through it behind a series of fiery groundstrokes. Mertens never held serve in the first set, and came unglued with 16 unforced errors compared to just three winners. By contrast, Cirstea’s nine winners during that timeframe helped her along to the one-set lead after just 28 minutes, punctuated with a love service hold.
Things got dicier for Cirstea in the second set, as pristine passes by Mertens helped the Belgian put together her first solid patch of the day and a 5-2 lead. However, when Mertens served for the set at 5-3, powerful, aggressive returns by Cirstea put the top seed on the defensive, and Mertens dropped serve at love, ending that game with a double fault under pressure.
Cirstea regained the momentum from there, and although she was unable to serve out the match at 6-5, the Romanian edged ahead in the tiebreak. On the first of her three match points, Cirstea closed out the match with a backhand winner, and her lengthy stretch between WTA singles titles had come to an end.
Mertens did leave with a champion's trophy after all, though, as she combined with Veronika Kudermetova to win the doubles title in Istanbul.
The No.1 seeds dispatched the 2nd-seeded Japanese pairing of Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya, 6-1, 6-1, not long after Mertens contested the singles final.
Kudermetova and Mertens broke Hibino and Ninomiya six times during the 50-minute match, as the top-seeded tandem won a stellar 86 percent of points behind their first serves.
Mertens, ranked World No.5 in doubles, earned her 12th career WTA doubles title, and her second of the year after triumphing at the Australian Open alongside Aryna Sabalenka. For Kudermetova, it is her second career WTA doubles title, and first of this season.