NEW HAVEN, CT, USA -- Rising star Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus unlocked her biggest career achievement to date by claiming her first WTA singles title at the Connecticut Open on Saturday, dispatching former Top 10 player Carla Suárez Navarro of Spain, 6-1, 6-4 in the final.
"I am so happy with my first title," Sabalenka effused to the media, after the match. "This is a great feeling."
The champion was already looking forward to her title defense in 2019. "In the first second you are so happy, then you understand, 'I have to work more because the next year I have to do it again,'" Sabalenka exclaimed. "This is how I feel right now."
Following losses in finals in Tianjin last year (to Maria Sharapova) and in Eastbourne earlier this year (to Caroline Wozniacki), Sabalenka broke her duck as she rolled through the championship match to her first WTA singles trophy after 73 minutes of play.
20-year-old Sabalenka blasted 29 winners during the two-set match, well outpacing her 17 unforced errors, and claimed 60 percent of Suárez Navarro's second-service points. Currently ranked World No.25, Sabalenka is projected to make her Top 20 debut on Monday after winning the title in New Haven, landing at No.20 on the dot.
"I didn't have some [career] plan," said Sabalenka. "I was just, like, 'Keep going, keep fighting.' Now I am 20 years old and I have my first title, so... it's okay."
Sabalenka noted her work ethic alongside her coach, Dmitry Tursunov, and the rest of her support system, stating she does "work a lot with my team. It's not an easy job, but when you understand for what you're working, well, then it starts to be easier."
"I'm so happy that I got one title," the victor continued. "I will just work more, just to try to keep going, keep showing my best tennis, and we will see."
Sabalenka raced through the first set after only 24 minutes of play. The Belarusian took command from the get-go, taking the first break from an error-prone Suárez Navarro to lead 2-0, then quickly going up a second break for 4-0 as huge forehands, often crosscourt, were frequently too much for the Spaniard to handle.
The 20-year-old also showed off her rapidly improving court mentality by fending off a break point in the next game as a big serve set up yet another forehand crosscourt winner, and more of the big-serving power game allowed her to maneuver to a hold for a fifth consecutive game.
Suárez Navarro finally used her superb passing shots and picked up her serving effectiveness to get on the board at 5-1, but Sabalenka closed out the set in the following game, rebounding from 0-30 to take the one-set lead via an additional forehand winner. Sabalenka had 14 winners to seven unforced errors in the opening frame, while Suárez Navarro had four of each.
The second set was much more competitive throughout. Sabalenka, for example, needed to save a break point with a backhand winner to keep pace to 1-1. Suárez Navarro was powering through the types of service games she had lost in the opener, saving a break point to lead 2-1, and holding at love with a crosscourt forehand winner for 3-2.
Sabalenka still struck first, stealing a lengthy 3-3 game from Suárez Navarro after the Spaniard led 40-15. But Suárez Navarro finally got a handle on the Sabalenka serve, breaking straight back for 4-4 after Sabalenka double faulted while down break point.
In the pivotal next game, Suárez Navarro seemingly held for 5-4, but Sabalenka challenged an ace at 40-15 and was proven correct. From that juncture on, both players went full throttle for the game, with Sabalenka crushing returns, while Suárez Navarro pushed the Belarusian into errors with deep groundstrokes. Sabalenka finally broke for 5-4 on her third break point of the game.
The Belarusian quickly reached double match point in the next game, but Suárez Navarro was not finished yet, taking chances on returns and running Sabalenka around the court to get to break point, one point away from leveling at 5-5. But Sabalenka again kicked her serve-and-forehand combination into high gear, taking the final three points of the match.