The unseeded Anna Karolina Schmiedlova stormed to victory at the Belgrade Ladies Open 125 event with a 6-3, 6-3 defeat of No.2 seed Arantxa Rus in the final.
The title is Schmiedlova's first in three years. The Slovak World No.122 is a three-time champion at WTA 250 level, having previously lifted trophies at Katowice 2015, Bucharest 2015 and Bogota 2018.
"When I came here I had low confidence, and every match I won was a surprise," said Schmiedlova. "So I appreciated every one. I think I played better and better every day, and today was my best match in the last couple of months."
Prior to this week, Schmiedlova had lost in the second round of her last four main draws. In Belgrade, she would overcome that hurdle in gruelling fashion. As temperatures in the Serbian capital rose to a high of 38°C, Schmiedlova came back from 0-3 down in the third set to beat Jule Niemeier 6-4, 5-7, 7-6(5) in two hours and 55 minutes.
"I didn't believe I could win," she recalled. "But the conditions were so difficult that I didn't think about winning or losing. I was just thinking to survive the next point, the next game - so maybe that helped me that I couldn't overthink it."
Coming through such a tough battle was a key confidence boost for Schmiedlova, who went on to upset No.1 seed Anna Blinkova 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and then triumph 7-6(4), 6-1 over Rebecca Sramkova in an all-Slovak semifinal. In the past, the 26-year-old has spoken of her constant quest to find "bravery" and aggression on court, and that was crucial all week in Belgrade.
"It's not natural to me, but I'm always trying," she said. "Every word I say before a point is 'Be brave, be brave.' It still sometimes doesn't happen, but I know it's important because otherwise I cannot beat players on this level."
Schmiedlova, who reached a career high of World No.26 in October 2015, has not been ranked inside the Top 100 since September 2019 - though this has in large part been down to bad luck. Having been sidelined for six months in 2019 due to knee surgery, Schmiedlova found herself stuck outside the Top 100 due to the Covid-19 rankings freeze. Victory this week will lift her back to the edge of that echelon once more.
Other noteworthy performances in Belgrade included Rus, who made her second 125 final of the year without dropping a set. The Dutchwoman defeated No.5 seed Martina Trevisan 6-1, 6-4 in the quarterfinals and No.4 seed Andrea Petkovic 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals. However, she fell to 0-3 in 125 finals against Schmiedlova, having previously lost to Belinda Bencic at Taipei 2017 and Jasmine Paolini in Bol this June.
Qualifying wildcard Tara Wurth, 18, was also impressive, reaching the quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-1 upset of No.7 seed Irina Bara before falling 6-4, 6-4 to Petkovic. The Croatian teenager, ranked World No.671, improved to 38-12 in 2021 with the career-best run.
In doubles, Belarusian No.2 seeds Olga Govortsova and Lidziya Marozava captured the title with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Russians Alena Fomina and Ekaterina Yashina in the final. Marozava improved her winning streak to six, having also been crowned Gdynia doubles champion last week alongside Anna Danilina.