No.5 seed Anhelina Kalinina claimed the biggest trophy of her career to date after defeating Clara Tauson 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 in the Open BLS de Limoges WTA 125 final.
Kalinina, 25, did not drop a set en route to the final, taking out No.1 seed Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals and then posting her first win in six meetings over No.9 seed Anna Blinkova 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals. Kalinina had lost a three-set barnburner to Blinkova in the Cluj-Napoca quarterfinals just two months ago.
"I cannot say I did something special," Kalinina said about the Blinkova win. "Four out of our five matches went three sets, so it was always tough. But I changed a little bit in some moments -- I was more aggressive."
The victory is a strong conclusion to the season for Kalinina, who was forced to withdraw from the US Open and several of the following tournaments due to a stomach virus. "I basically spent September in bed," she said.
The final clash was between two big hitters who had already exchanged a pair of wins against the other this year. The very first week of 2022 saw Tauson defeat Kalinina 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of Melbourne 2, but the Ukrainian got a 7-6(3), 6-4 revenge in the Angers 125 quarterfinals last week and managed to reprise that result in Limoges.
Tauson had the early edge, winning a pair of multi-deuce tussles to move up 3-1. But Kalinina roared through the rest of the first set, rattling off 16 out of the next 21 points for a dominant five-game run.
Thereafter, both players settled into an impressive rhythm on serve. The second set saw no break points until the final game, when Kalinina became a touch tentative. Tauson took full advantage, converting her first set point as her opponent's forehand sailed long.
A three-break run in the middle of the third set was decisive in the home stretch. Kalinina struck some of her most breathtaking forehands of the match to go up 3-2, only to hand the break straight back thanks to a slew of cheap errors and a double fault. But Tauson repaid her in kind, sending a forehand long to go down 4-3. This time, Kalinina held on to her lead, closing out the win with an authoritative love hold.
Kalinina's previous best title had been the 2021 Contrexéville ITF W100; she has one tour-level final under her belt, at Budapest 2021. This year, she reached her first three quarterfinals at WTA 500 level or above, in Charleston, Madrid and Eastbourne, and ends 2022 satisfied with the goals she had set out before the season.
"I wanted to play a full WTA calendar, because before I was mixing or playing mostly ITFs. And this year almost every tournament I played was WTA. The main goal was to test myself at that level, to see how I could play against all the top players. I didn't play all of them, but a lot of them. And I think it was pretty amazing."
Despite the loss, Tauson ends the winter WTA 125 series with her form and ranking heading in the right direction. The 19-year-old Dane started 2022 as one of the tour's brightest teenage prospects, reaching her career-high ranking of No.33 in February. But a series of injuries repeatedly disrupted her season and sent her ranking as low as No.140 two months ago. This week's run lifts Tauson back into the Top 100.
Bronzetti finds form, Blinkova continues strong run
No.6 seed Lucia Bronzetti had come into Limoges on a seven-match losing streak dating back to August -- indeed, just after the Italian had reached her first WTA final on home soil in Palermo and then backed it up with another runner-up showing at the Vancouver WTA 125.
Bronzetti put her slump behind her with a semifinal run that featured a 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 defeat of home hope Clara Burel in the last eight, before she fell 6-3, 7-5 to Tauson.
Blinkova was one of 2022's most unexpected champions after winning Cluj-Napoca as a qualifier, but the 24-year-old continued to sustain that level in Limoges. She opened with a 6-4, 6-4 defeat of former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, competing here as a wild card, and then routed No.4 seed and last year's runner-up Ana Bogdan 6-1, 6-2 in the quarterfinals. Blinkova had only notched one win over Bogdan in their five previous meetings.
Kalashnikova, Kostyuk claim doubles title
The doubles competition also ended in victory for Ukraine as Marta Kostyuk teamed up with Georgia's Oksana Kalashnikova to defeat British duo Alicia Barnett and Olivia Nicholls 7-5, 6-1 in the final.
No.1 seeds Kalashnikova and Kostyuk had played together just once before -- a first-round loss in Cluj-Napoca two months ago. Kalashnikova, a five-time WTA doubles champion since 2013, added a third WTA 125 title to her resumé. Kostyuk, who collected her first WTA doubles crown in Portoroz with Tereza Martincova this September, added a first WTA 125 title.