No.2 seed Anett Kontaveit delivered a rock-solid performance to win the inaugural Tennis in the Land event 7-6(5), 6-4 over Irina-Camelia Begu in one hour and 55 minutes.
The Estonian has been ranked inside the Top 40 ever since July 2017, but in eight previous WTA finals had come away with the title only once, at 's-Hertogenbosch 2017. But in a first meeting with Begu, Kontaveit held her nerve and controlled her power in all the important moments to triumph in her third title match of 2017 following the Grampians Trophy in February (where the final against Ann Li was cancelled) and Eastbourne in June (where she lost to Jelena Ostapenko).
Kontaveit, who has started a new coaching trial with Dmitry Tursunov this month, struck 25 winners while keeping her unforced error count down to 15, and converted both of her break point opportunities. Begu's winner total was marginally higher at 27, but the 31-year-old Romanian was undone by 25 unforced errors, frequently due to bailing out of extended rallies with ill-advised shot selection.
Turning point: A high-octane first set saw both players pummeling the ball at each other from the baseline, unafraid to risk errors by going for low-percentage winners. Begu was the first to blink on serve, coughing up three mistakes at 2-3 down - an opportunity Kontaveit was swift to convert with judicious net play.
But when it came to serving out the set, it was Kontaveit's turn to wobble. The 25-year-old could not seal the lead in an epic game, and Begu took her fifth break point en route to levelling at 5-5. In the ensuing tiebreak, though, Kontaveit didn't falter. At 5-5, Begu's shot selection went awry, and errors on the dropshot and forehand put Kontaveit a set up.
The contest one-way traffic after another loose game saw Begu broken to fall behind 1-2. Kontaveit, maintaining a 69% first serve percentage, conceded just six points on serve through the second set and sealed the title in style with a fine backhand winner.
Thoughts from Kontaveit: "I was really enjoying myself out there," Kontaveit told the press, after her victory. "I was really having a good time, I was really happy that the crowd was back, and I was feeling more comfortable on the court match by match.
"It was a really, really, really close match," Kontaveit added, with a laugh. "I got ahead in the first set, then probably got a little bit nervous, and then it was really point-by-point in the tiebreak. I was trying to stay as tough as I could, and get every ball back and just not miss, and I think that was my main focus.
"I was just trying to be as consistent as I could, and fight for everything. It’s really humid and warm out here, but I’m really happy with the way I managed to push through, and I pushed myself this week."
What's next for Kontaveit and Begu: Both players head to New York to start their US Open campaigns. Begu, whose record in WTA finals is now 4-4, has never gone beyond the second round in Flushing Meadows, and opens against Cluj-Napoca champion Andrea Petkovic.
Kontaveit, by contrast, has twice reached the US Open fourth round, in 2015 and 2020. The No.28 seed this year, she starts against 2011 champion Samantha Stosur, with a projected third round looming against Iga Swiatek.
Doubles final: An incredible season for No.1 seeds Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara continued in Cleveland, as the Japanese duo defeated Christina McHale and Sania Mirza, 7-5, 6-3, to claim the doubles title at Tennis in the Land.
Aoyama and Shibahara won the 84-minute final to claim their fifth team title of the year. They are an astounding 8-0 in their last eight WTA doubles finals.
All of Shibahara's eight WTA doubles titles have come during her run with Aoyama. Aoyama has won 17 WTA doubles titles in her career.
"This week we wanted to kind of play the way we've been practicing, and see what works and what doesn't work," Shibahara said, after the match. "Obviously, I think a lot of it worked, so that really helped us get the title."