For the first time in nearly four years, Sloane Stephens is in the winner's circle. The No.6 seed from the United States defeated Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 7-5, 1-6, 6-2 to claim the title at the Abierto Akron Zapopan.
World No.57 Stephens, the 2017 US Open champion and a former World No.3, won her seventh career title with a challenging 2-hour and 28-minute victory over the 96th-ranked Bouzkova.
Words from the winner: "It’s the beginning of the season, so there’s still a lot of tennis to be played, but I’m excited to be able to put some matches together," Stephens said after her win. "Excited that I was able to do that, get a title, and hopefully continue on with that momentum.
"I think I prepared all last year, I committed to training and my fitness and everything. Obviously I didn’t get results right away, but now seeing the fruits of that labor blossom is nice.
"I still want to get back to where I was, that’s still really important to me. I think it’s possible, it’s doable, so I’m really excited about that."
Resurgent Sloane: Stephens was undefeated in the first six WTA singles finals of her career, which included a Grand Slam championship at the 2017 US Open and a WTA 1000 crown at Miami in March of 2018.
But since that victory in Miami almost four years ago, Stephens had gone 0-3 in her past three finals. Stephens had not reached a final since her appearance in the championship match of the year-ending WTA Finals in 2018.
In Guadalajara, Stephens stopped that skid and added another crown to her resume, becoming the third American to win a WTA singles title this season (joining Amanda Anisimova at Melbourne Summer Set 2 and Madison Keys at Adelaide International 2).
Stephens also leveled her head-to-head against Bouzkova at 1-1. Bouzkova had defeated Stephens in the second round at 2019 Toronto, a breakthrough event for the Czech in which she reached her first WTA 1000 semifinal as a qualifier.
Bouzkova, meanwhile, posted another solid runner-up finish, reaching her third career WTA singles final, all of which have come on hard courts. The Czech bettered her semifinal result from her Guadalajara debut last season.
Key moments: A lob winner on the baseline gave Bouzkova the first break and a 3-1 lead, but Stephens pulled back on serve three games later, slamming a volley winner on break point. At 5-5, Bouzkova double faulted down break point, handing Stephens a chance to serve for the one-set lead, which Stephens took.
Bouzkova, though, rebounded in the second set, which was one-way traffic in her favor. The Czech broke Stephens at 1-0 and 4-1 and never faced a break point in that set.
The rallies became even more extended in the decider, but Stephens took control after the midway point of the set. At 3-2, Bouzkova saw a 40-0 lead slip away as Stephens chipped away at the game to notch the first break of the set. The Stephens forehand began to rack up points from there, and she closed out the championship with a winner from that wing.
Doubles delight: Earlier on Sunday, the doubles title was won by No.3 seeds Kaitlyn Christian of the United States and Lidziya Marozava of Belarus, who defeated the all-Chinese pairing of Wang Xinyu and Zhu Lin 7-5, 6-3.
Wang and Zhu were alternates into the draw, replacing the No.2-seeded team of Hailey Baptiste and Caty McNally after McNally withdrew due to a right hand injury. The Chinese duo took that opportunity and made it all the way to the final, winning their quarterfinal and semifinal in straight sets.
But Christian and Marozava were too strong in the final, prevailing in 1 hour and 21 minutes. The victors converted seven of their 12 break points and won exactly two-thirds of points returning second serves in the match.
For Christian, it was a long-awaited first WTA doubles title. The 30-year-old had gone 0-for-5 in her five previous doubles finals on tour.
It is Marozava's third WTA doubles title. The 29-year-old also picked up titles at 2017 Luxembourg (with Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove) and Gdynia last year (with Anna Danilina).