Julia Grabher continued a career-best season by claiming the biggest title of her career at the inaugural Open delle Puglie, defeating qualifier Nuria Brancaccio 6-4, 6-2 in the final to lift her first WTA 125 trophy.
The No.120-ranked Austrian will debut inside the Top 100 after a title run that also included a 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 quarterfinal upset of No.1 seed Panna Udvardy. However, her sternest test came in the second round against another of this year's WTA 125 champions: Grabher needed 3 hours and 6 minutes to overcome Bastad titlist Jang Su-Jeong 7-5, 6-7(3), 6-1, recovering after missing her first match point at 5-4 in the second set.
Grabher, 26, has already impressed in 2022. In April, she notched her first Top 50 win over Jil Teichmann en route to reaching her first Hologic WTA Tour quarterfinal in Istanbul. Last month, she collected the second ITF W60 title of her career in San Bartolomé de Tirajana, defeating former Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Podoroska in the final.
During those runs, the Grabher forehand stood out as an eyecatching weapon, and in Bari it was in full flow. Consistently running around that wing with nimble footwork, Grabher was able to fire angled winners to every corner of the court with it against Brancaccio. Forehand winners sealed both set point in the opener, and match point after 1 hour and 9 minutes.
Brancaccio, Paoletti, Jani score career-best runs
No.433-ranked Brancaccio was the tournament's surprise package. The Italian had never won a title above ITF W15 level and has only contested one tour-level main-draw match, as a wild card at Palermo 2021. But the 22-year-old scored the first two Top 100 victories of her career back-to-back, upsetting No.6 seed Laura Pigossi 7-5, 6-3 in the second round then shocking No.3 seed and Wimbledon semifinalist Tatjana Maria 7-5, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.
Brancaccio wasn't the only example of success on home soil. Wild card Matilde Paoletti, 19, dispatched No.7 seed Harmony Tan 6-2, 6-0 in a 57-minute opener, and rode her momentum all the way to her first WTA 125 semifinal, where she fell 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 to Brancaccio. Paoletti has already cut her ranking over 300 places in the past four months after qualifying for her first WTA main draw in Palermo and winning her maiden ITF W25 title in Verbier, and will receive another significant boost from her current No.678.
While former junior No.17 Paoletti enjoyed a breakthrough as a teenager, Hungary's Reka Luca Jani continued to put together a career-best month at the age of 31. Jani played her first pro match in 2008 and qualified for her first Grand Slam at the 2011 US Open, but the past two weeks have seen persistence pay off in the form of two more milestones. Last week, Jani collected her 25th ITF title, but first at W60 level, in Prague. She extended her winning streak to eight in Bari, taking out No.5 seed Elisabetta Cocciaretto 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) in a 2-hour, 54-minute quarterfinal before falling 6-4, 6-1 to Grabher.
No.2 seed Danka Kovinic came through the longest match of the WTA 125 season so far in the first round, saving one match point in the deciding tiebreak before defeating Kateryna Baindl 6-4, 6-7(3), 7-6(6) in 3 hours and 35 minutes. However, the Montenegrin was upset in the second round by Dutch qualifier Eva Vedder 6-3, 6-3, in Vedder's first encounter with a Top 100 player.
Cocciaretto, Danilovic claim doubles title
The unseeded first-time pairing of Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Olga Danilovic took the doubles title, defeating No.1 seeds Andrea Gamiz and Eva Vedder 6-2, 6-3.
The result marked the biggest doubles title of Cocciaretto's career; Danilovic is already a two-time WTA doubles champion, having won Tashkent 2018 with Tamara Zidansek and Lausanne 2022 with Kristina Mladenovic.