ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Kristina Mladenovic won what is an undoubted front-runner for one of the best matches of 2017, surviving an inspired Yulia Putintseva, 6-2, 6-7(3), 6-4 to win her first WTA title at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy.
"I have no words, really, to express what I feel right now," she said after the match. "This win means a lot to me. It was my fourth final, and I'd lost three before that. The wait was definitely worth it because this tournament is just amazing, from the organization all week to the show at the end.
"It was amazing getting to face so many top players, and clinching my first WTA title here, especially at a Premier event, I feel absolutely happy right now."
Mladenovic was playing her fourth WTA final with wins over Venus Williams and defending champion Roberta Vinci. That experience shone through from the start against Putintseva, who had battled through back-to-back three-setters against Svetlana Kuznetsova and Dominika Cibulkova to reach her first championship match.
Striking winners from all angles of the court, the Frenchwoman raced through the opening set after digging out a long first game, and fought through a similarly tense service game in the middle of the second to have the match all but wrapped up at a set and 5-2.
But Putintseva had flirted with elimination twice before this week, and appeared to master the art of the comeback in St. Petersburg, breaking Mladenovic as she served for the match and ultimately leveling the match in a tie-break.
"It was extremely difficult. I've been in three finals, but she's such a big fighter. We were both tight and there were ups and downs from both sides, but I never gave up."
Undaunted, Mladenovic took another big lead in the decider, giving herself two more chances to serve for her first WTA title.
"I believe everyone is limitless, and it's just about moving forward with the mentality. Physically, I felt great, though sometimes the nerves made my legs feel heavy. But it came down to fighting spirit.
"This is what I love most about sports, and what pushes me to be on the court; the more complicated things get, the more I think how much I love this and how much I want to keep battling."
The Kazakh wouldn't give up so easily, however, and saved four championship points with screaming winners to win three straight games and get with a game of an even final set.
On her fifth championship point, Mladenovic finally ended the contest with a forehand winner of her own - her 62nd of the match - to take the title in two hours and 36 minutes.
"There were a lot of important moments, but I think I showed great mental strength to come back after losing the second set, and the suspense at the end was great."
In all, the stats tell the story of an epic, as the 23-year-old maintained a +16 differential in winners to unforced errors while Putintseva wasn't far behind, hitting 32 winners to 21 unforced errors of her own.
The win brings Mladeovic up to No.31, a few spots shy of her career-high of No.27, the spot Putintseva will take on Monday's rankings.
"This one means a lot. Like everybody, I work hard and a lot. It just feels great to win the first title.
"It means the world to me and I'll never forget this week. I fell in love with the city and I'll never forget it. This event is very special."
"I think we were a really good combination because Jelena is a very strong player and I'm more touch and have more experience in doubles," Rosolska said after the match. "When we combined out skills on the court, we could make it through the matches.
"It was a great week in doubles, and my first WTA title in doubles, so I was very happy to play here," Ostapenko added.
"I actually started to play more doubles; this year I was in the semis in Auckland, and the third round of the Australian Open. This week, I tried to use doubles for practice, but I played so well with Alicja that I won the title!"
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This article was first seen on www.wtatennis.com.