Polona Hercog captured her first title in seven years at the Samsung Open presented by Cornèr with a three-sets defeat of first-time finalist Iga Swiatek.
Alex Macpherson
April 14, 2019

LUGANO, Switzerland - An invincible Polona Hercog stormed to her third career title at the Samsung Open presented by Cornèr, surviving the precocious power of rookie Iga Swiatek in an all-unseeded final 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 16 minutes.

It is the Slovenian's first trophy in seven years - previously, Hercog had been back-to-back Bastad champion in 2011 and 2012, and the last time she hoisted silverware her opponent today was just 11 years old - and means she becomes the 17th different winner in 17 WTA Tour tournaments this season.

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Hercog also ends her young rival's unbeaten streak in professional finals: Swiatek had won all seven title matches she had previously contested on the ITF World Tour. Despite the loss, though, the Pole is guaranteed to break the Top 100 for the first time on Monday.

For all that Swiatek has impressed this week, the 17-year-old is still very much a novice at this level - Lugano is just the third WTA main draw of her career - and she came out misfiring both in terms of execution and tactics. Five attempted dropshots in the first six games all went awry, and an hour-long rain delay with Hercog up a break at 3-2, 30-0 failed to settle the youngster, who racked up 23 unforced errors to nine winners in the opening act.

Instead, it was Hercog who lifted her level after the delay. Three aces and canny use of the slice to entangle her opponent took the 28-year-old to a 5-2 lead; and although Swiatek played her best game of the match at that point, pummeling the Hercog second serve with unretrievable returns to every corner of the court to save three set points and come through on her fifth break point, the Pole couldn't back it up. Careless net play and yet another ill-advised dropshot attempt paved the way to Hercog breaking back for the set.

Swiatek is not one for backing off daring plays, though, and the second set found the Wimbledon junior champion crowding the net at every opportunity in her bid to turn the match around. More untrammelled aggression on return gained her the first break of the set for 2-1 - but, just as at the end of the first set, Swiatek was unable to sustain her level on serve, and Hercog levelled the score at 2-2.

But the occasional glimpses the Lugano crowd had seen of the World No.115's ability blossomed into sustained form midway through the second set. At 3-3, Swiatek finally mastered two patterns that had hitherto bedevilled her: surviving Hercog's slices to power through a forehand of her own, and - at last! - coming up with a winning dropshot.

Now striking winners from all over the court, Swiatek reeled off six consecutive games, breaking the World No.89 three times, to level the match and take a 2-0 lead in the deciding set.

But a pair of excellent forehands put Hercog in a good position to get back into the match, and a careless volley error from Swiatek down break point extended the lifeline. The experienced veteran needed no encouragement to seize it, showing off her touch to once again nullify Swiatek's dropshot attempts, and finding her best serves when she most needed them.

From 0-2 down, Hercog would concede only two more points behind her delivery. Unable to tee off on return, the pressure was firmly on the youngster's shoulders on her own serve, and as the title began to slip from her grasp her forehand was particularly found wanting. One sailed over the baseline to drop serve for 2-3, and four games later that wing broke down once again, with another wild mistake - her 51st unforced error of the day - delivering the title to Hercog on her second championship point.

For Hercog, who had won only one WTA main draw match in 2019 prior to this week, a formidable week in Switzerland which started with a first-round upset of No.2 seed Carla Suárez Navarro ends with her season turned around in the best possible way - and, with her beloved clay season stretched out before her, she is primed to be a threat for the next few months.