A tightly contested final at the Astana Open saw No.2 seed Alison Van Uytvanck lift the inaugural trophy after a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 defeat of No.1 seed Yulia Putintseva in two hours and 20 minutes.
Two conflicting streaks were at stake heading into the match. Van Uytvanck had never beaten Putintseva in four previous pro encounters - but neither had she lost a WTA final. In the event, it was the latter record that was extended as the Belgian captured her fifth career title, and fourth indoors. She has won all of her finals at this level in three sets.
Fab five: Alison Van Uytvanck's career finals
d. Timea Babos 5-7, 6-4, 6-1, Québec City 2017 (indoor carpet)
d. Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, Budapest 2018 (indoor hard)
d. Marketa Vondrousova 1-6, 7-5, 6-2, Budapest 2019 (indoor hard)
d. Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, Tashkent 2019 (outdoor hard)
d. Yulia Putintseva 1-6, 6-4, 6-3, Nur-Sultan 2021 (indoor hard)
The trophy is World No.89 Van Uytvanck's first since winning Tashkent 2019 - indeed, one week after the points from that Central Asian title run fell off her record, she has replaced them with another one. Fiancée Greet Minnen, who was cheering Van Uytvanck on throughout the final, has enjoyed one week of being ranked above her partner; on Monday, Van Uytvanck will reclaim the household bragging rights.
This week's results also turn around a year that had hitherto seen Van Uytvanck struggle. The 27-year-old's record in 2021 Tour-level main draws had only been 7-12 before she arrived in Nur-Sultan.
Match management: Van Uytvanck's victory seemed an unlikely outcome after a blowout first set in which she won only nine points. Putintseva, seeking her third career title and first in front of her home crowd, peaked to put on an inspired show. Jumping backhands down the line, needle-threading passes and clever point construction saw her flummox Van Uytvanck, who committed 13 unforced errors and found just one solitary winner in the opener.
But Van Uytvanck reset impressively as the second set got under way, breaking Putintseva immediately - and from then on, the match was nip-and-tuck all the way until the home stretch. The second set was particularly compelling: six games went to deuce, including the final four, as both players stretched each other to the limit.
Van Uytvanck twice led by a break, and twice Putintseva pegged her back. But a superb volley captured the Kazakh's serve for a third time, and she managed to serve out the set after saving three break-back points after Putintseva mishit a forehand down set point.
As the match progressed, more elements of Van Uytvanck's game clicked into place - particularly in the forecourt. During the first half of the match, her customary skill at net had been lacking, with a series of volleys netted or sent wide. But as it improved, it became a crucial weapon in getting through Putintseva's defence.
In the third set, Van Uytvanck would overturn a 0-2 deficit and then move a break ahead after Putintseva double faulted down break point at 3-3. She then came up with her finest drop volley of the day to fend off break-back point and move up 5-3. Putintseva, who was beset by a succession of uncharacteristic groundstroke errors as the match went on, could not cling on. On Van Uytvanck's first championship point, she punished a tentative second serve by hammering a backhand return to seal the win.
Quotable: "She started off unbelievable without making any mistakes," said Van Uytvanck afterwards. "I was trying to be aggressive but it was not working. I had struggles, but I tried to be positive and get myself into the match. Even the second set was tight, but I felt more comfortable coming into net and being more aggressive.
"I was struggling physically, I kept saying to myself, it's the last set, push it, push it, push it. I didn't expect winning today and I just gave everything - I'm so tired but so happy."
Friedsam, Niculescu end Gabueva, Zakharova fairytale run to win doubles title
No.3 seeds Anna-Lena Friedsam and Monica Niculescu became the inaugural Nur-Sultan doubles champions after holding off Angelina Gabueva and Anastasia Zakharova 6-2, 4-6, [10-5]. Friedsam and Niculescu led by a break twice in the second set but ultimately needed a match tiebreak to quell the unseeded Russians.
It is Friedsam's second WTA doubles title following Stuttgart 2019, which she won with Mona Barthel, and Niculescu's 10th. The German-Romanian pair had only played one previous tournament together - all the way back at Guangzhou 2015, where they reached the quarterfinals.
For Gabueva and Zakharova, who partnered each other for the first time ever, this week has still been something of a fairytale run.
Gabueva, 32, played her first WTA doubles main draw 15 years ago, at Tashkent 2006, and is a 15-time ITF doubles champion. Zakharova, 19, had made her WTA singles main draw debut in Gdynia in July, but was contesting a Tour doubles event for the first time. Nur-Sultan marked a maiden WTA final for both players after a run that began with a first-round upset of No.4 seeds Varvara Gracheva and Oksana Kalashnikova.