BUDAPEST, Hungary - No.1 seed Alison Van Uytvanck successfully completed a lionhearted defence of her Hungarian Ladies Open title by recovering from a one-sided first set to defeat No.8 seed Marketa Vondrousova 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 in exactly two hours.
The Belgian had saved five match points in her semifinal win over No.5 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, and today had to come from a set down for the third match in a row to hold on to her crown. Yet despite struggling to get on the scoreboard during a 27-minute opening act, it was Van Uytvanck who maintained her perfect record in title rounds to capture her third career trophy in as many finals. The 2017 Biel/Bienne and 2018 Budapest champion also became the third player in 2019 to win a title after saving match point(s), following Julia Goerges in Auckland and Belinda Bencic this week in Dubai.
"I really love Hungary, and this court, and this event," a delighted Van Uytvanck told the crowd during the trophy presentation. She would also congratulate Vondrousova, telling her opponent: "You're still young, you have a long and good road ahead of you - keep working like that and you'll have more titles for sure."
Van Uytvanck also thanked the people closest to her: fellow player Kirsten Flipkens, who had acted as her coach in Budapest, main coach Michiel Antheunis in Belgium, her family at home and girlfriend Greet Minnen, away playing a tournament in Japan this week.
An edgy start to the final saw three consecutive breaks of serve, with Van Uytvanck's touch deserting her on the drop volley down break point in the first game and Vondrousova repaying the favor with a double fault on break point in the second. But it was the 19-year-old who settled first, and when she did so seized firm control of the set to take 15 of 16 points: Vondrousova's combination of power and finesse was allied with excellent point construction to dominant effect, with the left-hander's forehand down the line and willingness to come forward paying particular dividends.
As the set drew on, Vondrousova visibly grew in confidence, bringing out the dropshot three times in coming through a tight service hold for 5-1 and controlling rallies with her forehand for a fourth break and a set in which Van Uytvanck had managed to win a paltry five points on serve.
The second set saw the Belgian begin to essay a remarkable turnaround. Striking her forehand with lightning pace, taking the net away from Vondrousova effectively and deploying the dropshot judiciously herself, Van Uytvanck's renewed aggression enabled the 24-year-old to capture two epic tussles on her opponent's serve, taking her fourth break point in each of the fifth and seventh games.
Vondrousova, meanwhile, was struck by a sudden rash of double faults, offering up two in a row after a crying baby briefly interrupted play in the third game and going on to tally seven in total.
On neither occasion was Van Uytvanck able to immediately consolidate her advantage. The greater pressure Vondrousova was under, the more the teenager seemed to go to the dropshot - but there was no dip in execution of either the shot itself or the follow-up, whether a carefully angled pass or a pinpoint lob.
But by now, both players were showcasing their full repertoire to superb effect: Vondrousova would win a marvelous all-court point that saw both players come forward, then scramble back before a Van Uytvanck lob drifted wide in the ninth game, while Van Uytvanck would conjure a dropshot winner while pushed back on her heels before nailing a backhand volley to break once again for 6-5. This time, greater control behind her serve enabled the 2015 Roland Garros quarterfinalist to force a deciding set.
Van Uytvanck was now in the kind of full flow that had seemed implausible during the struggle of the first set. Her drive backhand, skidding low and flat through the surface, left Vondrousova flailing; reading her young opponent's game superbly, Van Uytvanck seemed ready to counter everything thrown at her with redirected accuracy of her own, racking up an even ratio of 31 winners to 31 unforced errors.
Crouching low after the longer rallies, it was now Vondrousova's turn to look slightly out of ideas, with her backhand in particular letting her down; as if to rub salt in the wound, it was that wing that went from strength to strength for the defending champion, who hammered two backhand return winners to break for 3-0, and building a 4-0 lead for the loss of just six points.
Vondrousova would gather herself to make life more difficult for Van Uytvanck as she stepped up to serve out the championship, forcing four deuces in an eight-minute game and holding two break points. But Van Uytvanck was equal to the task, ultimately sending down three consecutive unreturnable serves from break point down to seal a memorable title run on her third championship point.