NOTTINGHAM, Great Britain -- A topsy-turvy week at the Nature Valley Open came to a close with No.1 seed Caroline Garcia of France claiming her first title of the season after defeating No.2 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia, 2-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(4), in Sunday’s scintillating championship final.
"I’m very happy and very proud of all of the week, and the way I fought today on court," Garcia said, after her win. "The first set was tough for me, she was starting very well, but I knew there was only one way to go, and it was by fighting. I didn’t know if I was going to get the win, but I really wanted to fight hard, and try to get the experience and enjoy it, and I definitely did a lot."
World No.28 Garcia, who had finished off her semifinal victory over Jennifer Brady just hours before on Sunday, recovered from quickly losing the first set to outlast 2017 Nottingham champion Vekic after two hours and 36 minutes of play. Garcia eked back ahead to a 4-3 head-to-head lead in her gripping rivalry with Vekic.
In her Nottingham tournament debut, Garcia claimed the seventh WTA singles title of her career, and her second trophy at a grass-court event, following her victory at Mallorca in 2016.
The final brought to a conclusion a week of wild weather in Nottingham, where a majority of matches were played indoors due to rain. Vekic, for example, had to get through a quarterfinal match against Kristina Mladenovic which was started on the grass outdoors before being moved into the indoor hardcourts, where most play occurred during the opening rounds.
"I think I managed [the event], with my team who is with me this week, very well," said Garcia. "We had to have a lot of patience, and I think it was tough for the tournament also, because no fans could watch us indoors. It’s always very difficult, but you have to be ready."
On Sunday, the final was contested on the lawns outdoors without interruption, and the women played one of the most high-quality matches of the season. Vekic converted all four of her break points, while Garcia went 2-for-2 on break points, and they each fired seven aces. It was the Frenchwoman who squeaked out the win after stellar play in tiebreaks in the last two sets.
Garcia is off to Mallorca, where she will face Victoria Azarenka in the first round. "I played only two matches on grass [this week,] so I want to go to Mallorca and try to get more experience on the grass courts, and enjoy it over there," Garcia stated. "I just want to keep improving and giving the best I could, like I did this week."
Vekic got off to a flying start, firing a backhand passing winner down the line and into the corner to break Garcia in the opening game of the tilt. The Croat found another down-the-line winner to break Garcia at love two games later and open up a 3-0 lead.
After a routine hold brought Vekic to 4-0, Garcia finally got on the board. Vekic, however, was overwhelming in the opener, closing out the first set at 6-2 with another love hold. Vekic won all six of her second-service points and never faced a break point during the opening frame.
The second set was far more competitive, as Garcia took an early 2-0 lead by breaking Vekic at love, punctuating that game with a forehand winner down the line. Strong returning led to an exchange of breaks in the next two games, before Vekic got back on serve in the set for good after using fabulous forehands to break Garcia at 4-2.
The combatants both held serve without facing any break points for the remainder of the set, as they moved into the tiebreak. The breaker was closely contested as well until 5-4, after which Vekic fired backhand errors in back-to-back points on her serve to cede the set to Garcia, leveling the match.
In the decider, both players were firing on all cylinders, as the rallies increased in intensity and quality. The serving by both Garcia and Vekic was at a high level, and there were zero break points in the entirety of the final set. After the Frenchwoman held for 3-3 with an ace, Vekic responded by nosing ahead for 4-3, also punctuating that game with an ace.
Vekic was two points away from victory twice during Garcia’s late service games, as the Croat led 15-30 at 5-4 and 0-30 at 6-5. But Garcia overcame those blips, using stunning serves to get out of the 5-4 game, then ending up on the winning side of multiple tremendous rallies to hold for 6-6 and move the match into the decisive tiebreak.
In the final-set breaker, Vekic hit an amazing slice forehand crosscourt for a winner to reach 3-3, but she double faulted to give Garcia a 5-3 lead. Garcia stepped on the gas, clocking a forehand return winner to earn triple championship point at 6-3. Vekic ended another rally with a stunning forehand winner to reach 6-4, but an ace by Garcia on the next point finished the tense final which was hard fought by both players.