SHENZHEN, China - Top seed Aryna Sabalenka claimed the winner's trophy at the season-opening Shenzhen Open thanks to a 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3 victory over three-time finalist Alison Riske in Saturday's final.
A quarterfinalist in last season on her debut in Shenzhen, Sabalenka lost to eventual champion Simona Halep in last year's tournament, and needed to dig deep to win it all this time around.
"It was a tough day for us, especially to come back after the first set. She played unbelievable, an incredible match," Sabalenka said.
"She was putting everything in, down the lines, and she was playing really good. I'm so happy that I found a way how to win.
"This is the third title for me, and the second one in China. I'm so happy with this result and it's a great start of the year."
Due to rain which washed out much of Thursday's play and set the schedule behind by one day, both players were victorious in earlier semifinal matches before playing the final.
Sabalenka ousted home favorite Wang Yafan, 6-2, 6-1, while Riske made it a hat trick of final appearances when former World No.2 and two-time major finalist Vera Zvonareva retired due to a left hip injury after the American won the first seven games of the match.
"To start the season with a title, it gives you more belief in yourself, and hopefully I can do well at the Australian Open," Sabalenka said. "If I need tot play two matches in one day, I'm going to do that.
"Physically, it's tought to get ready...but I tried to be focused on each point in the second match and just tried to do my best and fight for every point."
After a pair of two-set defeats in her first two appearances in the championship, Riske got off on the right foot this time around.
The American saved a break point in her first service game, and rode the lone break of serve which she secured in the third game through to a one-set edge
The World No.62 won the last eight points of the opening set on her serve, and though Sabalenka broke for the first time in the fourth game of the middle set, the American saved two set points before making her own push to win the match.
Riske broke at love in the ninth game and held twice to keep pace with the Belarusian World No.13, but ultimately the 20-year-old's firepower broke through her defenses to win four of the first five points to help claim the tiebreak in emphatic fashion.
"I love Shenzhen and hope to be back many years. It holds a special place in my heart, and I think it's home to most of my finals on tour," Riske said.
"Even though I had no one here with me this week, I feel like I have a ton of support, which is always special."
After rallying from 6-3, 3-0 down in her opening match against Tatjana Maria, and needing over two hours to win her third career title, the Belarusian's victory in Shenzhen might be a harbinger of things to come this season.
The WTA Finals begins its tenure in the Chinese city this fall, and after coming up just short of a debut in Singapore last year, Sabalenka's road to the elite eight began in perfect fashion in week one of the season.
"Now I'm in first, and I'm so happy about that," she joked. "I really want to go to the WTA Finals. Last year, I didn't get in there. This year I'm going to do everything to go there, especially because we're playing in China.
"I like to play here and I will do my best to go."