Donna Vekic is back in the winner's circle.
The Croat, who underwent right knee surgery in February, snapped a four-year title drought with a one-hour, 46-minute 7-6(3), 6-2 defeat of No.5 seed Clara Tauson in the Courmayeur Ladies Open final.
Vekic and Tauson had carried contrasting records in finals into the title match in north-west Italy. Vekic had won only twice in six previous WTA finals stretching back to 2012, at Kuala Lumpur 2014 and Nottingham 2017; Tauson had won her first two WTA finals this year, both also indoors in Lyon and Luxembourg. Indeed, the 18-year-old was on an eight-match winning streak in finals at all levels, with her last loss coming to Olga Govortsova in the 2019 Darmstadt ITF W25 event.
The wait is OVER 🏆— wta (@WTA) October 31, 2021
🇭🇷 @DonnaVekic is back to winning ways, clinching her first WTA title since 2017 without dropping a single set in Courmayeur!#CourmayeurLadiesOpen pic.twitter.com/ffaILmgAny
For Vekic, who did not drop a set all week, the tournament marks a welcome return to form. The former World No.19 had begun the year with a fourth-round run at the Australian Open, but since returning to action at Roland Garros had made only one quarterfinal - on her beloved grass in Birmingham - until this week. In September, she dipped out of the Top 100 for the first time since December 2016, and came into Courmayeur ranked No.97.
However, the 25-year-old had used her time on the sidelines productively, working to launch her luxury candle business DNNA.
Stat corner: In a clash of heavy firepower, it was Vekic who was more explosive and more often on the front foot. She slammed 39 winners to Tauson's 23, while also keeping her unforced error count down to 13 compared to the Dane's 17.
Vekic demonstrated both higher highs and lower lows as the momentum swung back and forth. Twice, she coughed up a brace of double faults to drop serve; but this was outweighed by 11 aces and a succession of pacy one-two punches to hold Tauson at bay.
Match management: A nervy start from both players saw the match open with four consecutive, error-strewn breaks of serve. But it was Vekic who settled first with a hold for 3-2, and thereafter she led all the way.
Holding on to that lead wasn't without its complications. Vekic held her first set point at 5-2, only to see it snuffed out by a Tauson ace. In the following game, her second was swatted away by a return winner from the teenager, and a third was wasted with a double fault.
By now, World No.49 Tauson had found her groove in terms of accuracy and strategy. Eliciting Vekic errors with canny slices and serving at a higher level, she chipped away at the lower-ranked player's lead to force a tiebreak.
However, Vekic shook off the momentum swing for a dream start to the tiebreak, firing five straight winners - including consecutive aces - en route to a 6-0 lead. Putting this away was still a challenge, but a determined forehand finally sealed the opening stanza on her seventh set point.
The start of the second set continued to be narrowly contested, but Vekic got the upper hand in all the tight passages of play. She eked out three straight deuce games from 0-1 to 3-1, saving three break points against her along the way. Thereafter, Vekic did not need to face another game point, sealing her first championship point with a service winner.