No.7 seed Jule Niemeier claimed her biggest trophy to date at the Makarska Open WTA 125 tournament, defeating Elisabetta Cocciaretto 7-5, 6-1 in the final in 1 hour and 39 minutes.
Niemeier was a two-time Hologic WTA Tour semifinalist last year in Strasbourg and Hamburg, and the German has methodically continued to hit milestones in 2022. In May, she cracked the Top 100 for the first time after winning the Zagreb ITF W60 event, and then came through qualifying at Roland Garros to make her Grand Slam main draw debut.
In the first round, Niemeier fell to eventual quarterfinalist Sloane Stephens in three sets, and the 22-year-old brought her form to Makarska. She dropped just one set en route to the title, winning the longest match of the tournament 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-4 over Wang Xiyu in a 2-hour, 59-minute second round. Having dipped to No.102 in the rankings, Niemeier will return to the Top 100 next week.
Cocciaretto had reached a career high of No.108 last June just before knee surgery sidelined her for six months. The Italian's comeback has gathered pace lately, though, and she took a nine-match winning streak into the final after taking the Grado ITF W60 title the previous week. In Makarska, Cocciaretto upset No.4 seed Magdalena Frech 6-1, 6-0 in the first round, No.6 seed Clara Burel 6-2, 6-4 in the quarterfinals and No.5 seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 7-6(7), 6-1 in the semifinals.
In the final, neither player was able to gain momentum for much of the first set, which saw seven breaks of serve in total. But as Cocciaretto served for it at 5-4, Niemeier pulled off the shot of the match -- a reflexed, volleyed lob over Cocciaretto's head -- and went on to break.
Niemeier's wider repertoire had at that point only been intermittently well-executed. But her heavy forehands, exquisite dropshots and knifing backhand slices all clicked thereafter as she reeled off nine of the last 10 games of the match.
Niemeier on her tournament: "The key was that I was staying calm. To be honest, I was not really nervous before the match, I was looking forward to it and ready to win it.
"I know [Cocciaretto] pretty well because we were playing juniors together, and I knew she was on a nine-match winning streak. She has a really difficult game, she is making many balls and running for the balls, but she is still staying close to the baseline and not giving you much time. You have to be ready to play every ball.
"[The match against Wang] was really important, because the last couple of months I lost three-set matches pretty often, especially against lefties. My results were not how I wanted them to be so I'm happy I got that win.
Niemeier on adjusting to the level of tour: "It's pretty tough when you're new on tour and playing events with a ranking of No.260, like I was last year. You don't have really high expectations, you're just playing and it's pretty easy, the balls are going your way. When you have the ranking to be in the main draw, you know you have the level to compete against the best players, you have to realise this, stay calm and focus.
"[The most important thing I've learned is] the mental aspect. To focus on your game, to focus on what you have to do for your gameplan. To focus on tennis, not on results or points or rankings, because that's not helping."
Noskova continues to make noise, Wurth proves wildcard worth
Fresh off an eye-catching run at Roland Garros, Linda Noskova continued to impress. The 17-year-old Czech had come through qualifying in Paris to make her tour-level debut and taken US Open champion Emma Raducanu to three sets in the first round.
Noskova backed that up with a run to her first WTA 125 semifinal in Makarska before falling 6-2, 6-1 to Niemeier.
In an all-teenage quarterfinal, Noskova took out 19-year-old wildcard Tara Wurth 6-4, 7-5. The No.357-ranked Croat had pulled off one of the upsets of the tournament in the second round, ousting No.3 seed Anastasia Potapova 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 for her first Top 100 victory. The result put Wurth into the last eight of a WTA 125 event for the second time, having previously reached that stage in Belgrade last year.
The top two seeds were also evicted before the quarterfinals. Former World No.96 Olga Danilovic, playing the third tournament of her comeback from health issues, defeated No.1 Varvara Gracheva 6-4, 6-3 in the second round. Anastasia Gasanova stunned No.2 Lucia Bronzetti 1-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the first round for her seventh career Top 100 win.
Jakupovic, Lukas claim doubles crown
An all-unseeded doubles final saw Dalila Jakupovic and Tena Lukas edge out Danilovic and Aleksandra Krunic 5-7, 6-2, [10-5] for their first title together. The Slovenian-Croatian duo had previously teamed up twice, at the 2016 Altenkirchen ITF W25 and the 2019 Bol WTA 125.
Jakupovic, a two-time WTA doubles champion at Istanbul 2017 (with Nadiia Kichenok) and Bogota 2018 (with Irina Khromacheva), collected her second WTA 125 trophy following Anning 2018 (with Khromacheva). For Lukas, it was a first WTA 125 title.