The Chicago Tennis Festival kicked off in style as Clara Tauson captured the WTA 125 title, defeating wildcard Emma Raducanu 6-1, 2-6, 6-4 in a top-quality two-hour, 15-minute final between two of the Tour's most exciting 18-year-old prospects.
Tauson, who ended 2020 ranked World No.152, has risen to a new career high of World No.77 after lifting her fourth trophy of 2021. The Dane started her year by winning ITF W25 events in Fujairah and Altenkirchen before storming to her first WTA title in Lyon in March.
In the Chicago final, Tauson faced a familiar foe from her junior days. Raducanu, also born in 2002, has enjoyed a breakthrough of her own in recent months after reaching the fourth round of her home Grand Slam at Wimbledon, and this was the biggest final of the Briton's career to date. Tauson had previously won all three of their junior meetings between 2017 and 2019, but Raducanu had come away with the win in their only pro encounter, in the 2020 Sunderland ITF W25 semifinals.
Here, Tauson's formidable power was on full display in a one-sided opening set, but Raducanu levelled the match with canny courtcraft that neutralised her opponent's big strikes. Raducanu twice went up a break in the deciding set at 2-0 and 3-2, but despite visible frustration at falling behind Tauson had enough composure to prevent momentum from slipping away.
As the match reached its dénouement, Tauson began to unleash with the same ferocity as she had in the first set. Despite Raducanu coming up with the shot of the match at 3-4 down, a spectacular counterpunching forehand off a full-blast Tauson pace injection, this was enough to see Tauson over the line.
"I fought for every single point even though I was down almost all of the third set," said Tauson afterwards. "Today I just wanted to fight for every point and see what I could do, because she's playing so well."
The 10 highest-ranked 2002-born players as of 23 August, 2021
56. Marta Kostyuk (UKR)
72. Leylah Fernandez (CAN)
77. Clara Tauson (DEN)
150. Emma Raducanu (GBR)
162. Zheng Qinwen (CHN)
207. Daria Snigur (UKR)
223. Diane Parry (FRA)
233. Anastasia Zakharova (RUS)
239. Whitney Osuigwe (USA)
285. Elina Avanesyan (RUS)
This week marked the first time Tauson had won back-to-back matches since reaching the Charleston 250 quarterfinals in April. Since her Lyon breakthrough, the youngster has been adjusting to the level required for a full-time WTA schedule.
"I've definitely learned it's not very easy to win matches when you have a bad day, and I've had some bad days," she said. "Maybe you can win those matches in juniors or on the ITF tour when you're not playing so good, but here you have to be there for every single point. I think I was this full tournament, so that's why I won!"
Tauson had required three sets in her first two matches of the week, overcoming qualifier Harriet Dart 6-1, 6-7(2), 6-2 and wildcard Hailey Baptiste 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. But she hit her stride from then on, beating Storm Sanders 7-5, 6-3 in the quarterfinals and upsetting No.3 seed Ann Li 7-6(5), 6-1 in the semifinals.
Raducanu, who has risen to a career high of World No.150, also enjoyed another successful week. She opened her campaign with a 7-6(7), 6-3 upset of No.1 seed Alison Van Uytvanck in the first round, a match in which Raducanu displayed immense fortitude, winning the first set on her seventh set point and holding off a comeback by the Belgian from 5-0 to 5-3 in the second.
That was Raducanu's third career Top 100 win, and she backed it up with her fourth over Lausanne finalist Clara Burel in the second round. In the semifinals, Raducanu also impressed by coming out on top of a punishing two-hour, 46-minute battle 7-6(3), 4-6, 6-1 over Claire Liu.
Notable results for American trio Baptiste, Li, Liu
Baptiste, 19, also essayed a first-round upset, scoring her fourth career Top 100 win over No.2 seed Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-4. That match pitted two players returning from injury against each other: Kovinic had not played since Bad Homburg in June due to a right calf injury, while Baptiste was making her comeback from a right knee injury sustained in Berlin in June.
The opening round also saw notable results from Russian qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko, who upset No.7 seed Ana Konjuh 7-6(4), 6-3 for her first Top 100 win since 2019; and Kateryna Kozlova, who reversed the result of last month's Gdynia semifinals to overcome Maryna Zanevska 5-7, 6-4, 7-6(2) in three hours and six minutes, the longest match of the week.
2017 Wimbledon junior finalists Li and Liu also delivered fine results in Chicago. Li, who was sidelined between March and June due to an abdominal injury, defeated Whitney Osuigwe, Oceane Dodin and Zarina Diyas to make the last four - the first time the American had won three matches in a row since reaching the Monterrey semifinals in March. Liu's own semifinal run, beating Ysaline Bonaventure, Anna Kalinskaya and Diatchenko, extended her 2021 record to 37-14 and has seen the 21-year-old crack the Top 100 for the first time.
Hozumi, Plipuech capture doubles crown
The doubles title was captured by the unseeded Eri Hozumi and Peangtarn Plipuech 7-5, 6-2 over Mona Barthel and Hsieh Yu-Chieh in the final. Plipuech, who won her first WTA 125 doubles trophy two weeks ago in Concord with Jessy Rompies, teamed up with 2018 Roland Garros doubles runner-up Hozumi to back it up with her second. Hozumi had previously won two WTA titles - Katowice 2016 with Miyu Kato and Hiroshima 2018 with Zhang Shuai - as well as the 2016 Honolulu 125 trophy with Kato.
The Japanese-Thai duo needed match tiebreaks to squeeze through their first three matches, impressively saving quadruple match point in the quarterfinals to beat Dalma Galfi and Kamilla Rakhimova 5-7, 6-4, [11-9].
The Chicago Tennis Festival series of tournaments will continue this week with the Chicago Women's Open 250 event, and end with the Chicago Fall Tennis Classic 500 event in the week of 27 September.