No.2 seed Alison Van Uytvanck continued to thrive on indoor courts, taking the Open BLS de Limoges title with a 6-2, 7-5 defeat of No.8 seed Ana Bogdan in the final.
Van Uytvanck did not drop a set all week en route to the title - her third of the year following the Nottingham ITF W100 on grass in June and the inaugural Nur-Sultan 250 event indoors in September. The Belgian has successfully turned around a year that got off to a difficult start. In February, she underwent a small surgery on her right knee, and she lost her first five matches after returning to action in May.
"I came back on the clay, which is my least favourite surface," Van Uytvanck said. "Your confidence is going down, down, down. I was happy when I got back on the grass. I played quarters in Nottingham, then I won the W100, and that's what launched me again. I'm happy about the grass season every time."
Victory in Limoges marked a second career WTA 125 trophy for Van Uytvanck, who was the Taipei 125 champion in 2013 and who has also won five WTA 250 tournaments. Four of the 27-year-old's 250 titles and both of her 125 titles have come under a roof. Her overall 2021 record on indoor hard courts is 13-3.
"Mostly indoors is a bit faster," she said. "And without the wind and the sun, which change a lot. That's what I like."
In the final, World No.68 Van Uytvanck dominated the first set wth strong serving and emphatic forehands, breaking Bogdan three times and sealing it after 29 minutes with a one-two punch. Another forehand winner garnered her an immediate break in the second set, but an overly casual dropshot paved the way for Bogdan to level at 2-2.
The 29-year-old Romanian, who was playing the biggest final of her career to date, took advantage of the opportunity by raising her game. Bogdan had found few answers to Van Uytvanck's game in the first set, but managed to hold her at bay with strong forehands and serves of her own in a tighter second act.
World No.119 Bogdan found some clutch deliveries to stave off four break points as the pair remained neck-and-neck at 5-5. But she sent a forehand wide to concede her serve at that juncture, and Van Uytvanck closed out the contest with a brilliantly redirected forehand winner down the line.
"I was kind of stressed before the final, and she as well," said Van Uytvanck afterwards. "I think it was my least good match - I was playing exceptional this week, I thought. But to stay positive [was important] - I had a lot of break chances and didn't take them, and it was key to stay calm and not get frustrated, otherwise it could go down fast."
In total, Van Uytvanck dropped just 29 games over her five matches in Limoges - all the more impressive given the difficulty of her draw. In the first round, she defeated Vitalia Diatchenko, the Angers 125 champion last week, 6-1, 6-3. Van Uytvanck also took down two former Top 10 players - No.7 seed Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals, and No.6 seed Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 6-4 in the semifinals.
Afterwards, she was satisfied that her off-season work is already beginning to show.
"We've been working on my aggressive style of play this off-season," she said. "Coming a lot to net, trying to serve well and take advantage from the return. It's nice to see it working immediately. I thought it would take some weeks to get into my game. We found a way how I should play and I hope I can continue this level."
Van Uytvanck will test that out as she targets new highs in 2022.
"I'm trying to get into the Top 50," she said. "I think if I play like this week I belong there. But I need to get more consistent every week. And I'll try to get even better than my highest ranking, No.37. Let's try to go for Top 30!"
Bogdan, Zvonareva rebound from injury; Ponchet upsets Zhang for career-best win
For defeated finalist Bogdan, Limoges was also the highlight of an injury-disrupted season. She was sidelined between the US Open and the Transylvania Open due to a stress fracture and an Achilles injury, but hit her stride to reach her first WTA 125 final after overcoming No.5 seed Varvara Gracheva 7-5, 2-6, 6-3 in the semifinals.
Former World No.2 Zvonareva underwent foot surgery, the seventh of her illustrious career, in September, but delivered strong performances to reach the last four in her second tournament back in action.
The 37-year-old Russian opened by avenging a loss last week to compatriot Natalia Vikhlyantseva. In the Angers second round, Vikhlyantseva had won 6-3, 6-4, but in a first-round rematch this week, Zvonareva came from 3-5 down in the decider to triumph 6-3, 4-6, 7-5. Zvonareva backed that up by taking out Nina Stojanovic 7-5, 6-4 and, in a battle of former Top 5 players, No.3 seed Caroline Garcia 6-4, 6-3.
Home hope Garcia was the only former champion in the draw, having won the tournament in 2015, but had needed to come through two arduous matches to reach the quarterfinals this year. In the first round, Garcia won the longest match of the week over India's Ankita Raina 7-6(7), 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 53 minutes; in the second, she missed five match points in the second-set tiebreak against 18-year-old qualifier Elsa Jacquemot, but eventually closed out her teenage compatriot 6-1, 6-7(7), 7-5.
Jessika Ponchet joined Garcia and Mladenovic as a third French quarterfinalist. The World No.201 had scored the biggest upset of the week, and the biggest win by ranking of her career, by ousting No.1 seed Zhang Shuai 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 in the first round. It was Ponchet's third career Top 100 victory, following her defeats of Olga Danilovic at Luxembourg 2018 and Kateryna Kozlova at Limoges 2019.
Niculescu, Zvonareva capture first doubles title together
No.1 seeds Monica Niculescu and Vera Zvonareva sailed to their first title as a team without dropping a set, culminating in a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of local pair Estelle Cascino and Jessika Ponchet in the final.
Niculescu and Zvonareva have enjoyed illustrious doubles careers with sundry other partners. Zvonareva is a three-time Grand Slam champion in women's doubles, a two-time Grand Slam champion in mixed doubles, and has won 10 WTA doubles trophies in total. Niculescu has also won 10 WTA doubles titles, and was the 2017 Wimbledon runner-up alongside Chan Hao-Ching.
The Romanian-Russian pair teamed up for the first time last week in Angers, where they were runners-up to Tereza Mihalikova and Greet Minnen. This week, they went one better against first-time WTA 125 finalist Cascino and Ponchet, who was also runner-up at the 2020 Newport Beach 125 alongside Marie Benoit.