No.5 seed Viktorija Golubic underlined her 2021 resurgence by lifting her biggest trophy in two years at L'Open 35 de Saint-Malo, defeating the unseeded Jasmine Paolini 6-1, 6-3 in the final.
The Swiss player ended 2020 ranked World No.137, but has surged back into the Top 100 this season off the back of consistently superb form. Golubic's record this year now stands at 31-6, and she has made the final in five of the eight tournaments she has played in 2021.
That includes back-to-back runner-up showings in Lyon and Monterrey in March, both times as a qualifier - Golubic's first WTA 250 finals since 2016, when she won Gstaad and reached the Linz final.
Viktorija Golubic's 2021 finals
January: Fujairah ITF W25, l. Clara Tauson 6-0, 4-6, 6-3
February: Grenoble ITF W25, d. Maryna Zanevska 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(2)
March: Lyon WTA 250, l. Clara Tauson 6-4, 6-1
March: Monterrey WTA 250, l. Leylah Fernandez 6-1, 6-4
May: Saint-Malo WTA 125, d. Jasmine Paolini 6-1, 6-3
"I have a really good attitude," said Golubic. "I try to learn from every day and match, and this year I've been really playing successful. I've been taking energy from the matches I've won, so that helps to feel my game better and better. I'm on a good run and I hope to keep it that way."
L'édition 2021 de l'Open 35 de Saint-Malo touche à sa fin... Félicitations aux gagnantes Viktorija Golubic remporte la finale simple ainsi que Kaitlyn Christian & Sabrina Santamaria pour le double 👏👏👏 #WTA #FFT #Open35deSaintMalo pic.twitter.com/TXAwbsMbef— L'Open 35 de Saint-Malo (@LOPEN35STMALO) May 9, 2021
World No.84 Golubic dropped only one set en route to her second WTA 125 title (following Indian Wells 2019). That was in the second round, when she needed to save three match points and recover from a 3-5 final-set deficit before overcoming Greet Minnen 6-4, 4-6, 7-6(2).
"Ah yeah, crazy," she recalled. "When I think back, my return landed on the line, so I almost lost. In tennis it's very, very close and I'm happy I used my second chance, my second life, to play so well."
From then on, her multifaceted game clicked beautifully to move past Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-1, 6-0 in the quarterfinals and wildcard Harmony Tan 7-6(4), 6-3 in the semifinals.
In the title match, Golubic had the answers to almost everything Paolini threw at her. Elegant movement and a willingness to finish points at net meant that she was proficient both on attack and in defence. Her rare one-handed backhand was in full flow, too, with a gorgeous winner down the line from that wing sealing her first championship point.
"In Switzerland, it's not so rare," Golubic said. "We have a couple of players with one! But on the women's tour, it is rare. That makes my game a little more tricky, maybe."
Viktorija Golubic's WTA and WTA 125 finals
2016 Gstaad 250, d. Kiki Bertens 4-6, 6-3, 6-4
2016 Linz 250, l. Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 7-5
2019 Indian Wells 125, d. Jennifer Brady 3-6, 7-5, 6-3
2021 Lyon 250, l. Clara Tauson 6-4, 6-1
2021 Monterrey 250, l. Leylah Fernandez 6-1, 6-4
2021 Saint-Malo 125, d. Jasmine Paolini 6-1, 6-3
It was a fine week for Italian World No.103 Paolini as well, who turned around her year in style. The 25-year-old had won just six out of 15 matches this year prior to Saint-Malo, and needed to battle past 18-year-old wildcard Elsa Jacquemot, the reigning Roland Garros girls' champion, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 in the first round.
After that, Paolini hit her stride with her bold, attacking brand of tennis. In the second round, she took a 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 revenge on No.7 seed Nina Stojanovic, who had defeated her in Madrid qualifying a week previously.
That was followed by a 6-3, 7-5 win over Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in the quarterfinals and a 6-3, 6-1 victory over Varvara Gracheva in the last four to reach the biggest final of her career to date.
"Today it was a tough match," said Paolini. "I wasn't playing my best match today - I was a little nervous maybe in the beginning, but she played a very good tournament. It's a good result but when you are in the final you want to win, so I'm a little bit sad. But still I'm going to keep working, try to make another final and maybe to get the title next time."
Previously one of the longest-running events on the ITF World Tennis Tour, the tournament had been running as a W60 since 1996 in Dinan, and since 2008 in Saint-Malo. Former champions include future Top 10 players Timea Bacsinszky, Roberta Vinci and Daria Kasatkina.
Le choc du jour : Océane Dodin face à Alizé Cornet ⚡️ Un match très accroché qui donne la victoire à la Lilloise. Océane et son nouveau coach Thomas Drouet nous livrent leurs impressions juste après match🧐 #WTA #FFT #Open35SaintMalo pic.twitter.com/pVSjGY0LOV— L'Open 35 de Saint-Malo (@LOPEN35STMALO) May 3, 2021
This week, as the first WTA 125 event of the calendar, it saw plenty of marathons in its opening rounds. Ten matches lasted more than two-and-a-half hours, and the longest of those was the biggest shock: Oceane Dodin's upset of No.1 seed Alizé Cornet 7-5, 6-7(8), 6-1 in a two-hour, 56-minute all-French first-round derby.
Schmiedlova won back-to-back epics to reach the last eight, ousting No.3 seed Alison Van Uytvanck 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 over two hours and 39 minutes in the first round and following that by defeating Kateryna Kozlova 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in two hours and 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, Gracheva posted her first semifinal run of the year via two notable upsets. The Russian beat fast-rising Lyon champion Clara Tauson 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the first round and took down No.2 seed Rebecca Peterson 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals.
In the doubles, American No.2 seeds Kaitlyn Christian and Sabrina Santamaria won the first WTA 125 title of their careers 7-6(4), 4-6, [10-5] over No.1 seeds Hayley Carter and Luisa Stefani.