EASTBOURNE, Great Britain - Top seed Caroline Wozniacki pulled off the ultimate escape act to dodge a spirited challenge from Aryna Sabalenka and claim her 29th career title at the Nature Valley International.
Wozniacki trailed by a break in both sets - Sabalenka even held set points in the first - before completing the turnaround to raise her first trophy since January’s Australian Open triumph.
20-year-old Sabalenka was into her first Premier-level final, and was looking to claim her first WTA title and biggest win-by-ranking of her career against Wozniacki, but the World No.2 drew from her long experience to win 7-5, 7-6(5) in just under two hours.
“It’s just amazing, it’s been a long time ago since I was here as the winner of this tournament, so it’s great that I can still play almost 10 years later,” Wozniacki, who also won here in 2009, said during the trophy ceremony.
Wozniacki faced a tough challenge in the very first game - which was nearly 5 minutes long and featured four chances for Sabalenka to break - but Wozniacki, who’s in her 53rd career final, didn’t panic. Sabalenka finally broke to love in the third game for a 2-1 lead, in an emphatic display of power tennis to notch four winners, but Wozniacki replied in kind to level at 2-2.
The pair stayed neck and neck for most of the set, before Sabalenka broke once more, marching ahead to 5-3 and bringing up two set points on her serve in the next game. But Wozniacki raised her level, breaking the Belarusian as she was trying to serve out the set, reeling off the last four games in a row to snatch away the opening set.
Sabalenka shook off the disappointment to start the second set with an early lead after three straight breaks of serve, holding for 3-1. She regularly stepped inside the baseline to take the ball early and move Wozniacki from side to side, but the Dane fought her way back to level the match at 3-3.
The Belarusian served for the set again at 5-4, but once again Wozniacki snatched the game away with a break to keep herself in the contest. The pair stayed toe-to-toe until the tiebreak, where Sabalenka once again opened up a healthy lead, 5-2. But Wozniacki never stayed down, fighting her way back again to reel off five points in a row, sealing with a searing backhand down the line.
Sabalenka fired 40 winners during the match - 17 more than Wozniacki - but was undone by her 48 unforced errors to Wozniacki’s 26. The Dane’s serve bailed her out of trouble on more than one occasion, serving at 76% of first serves and firing two aces.
As a result of Sabalenka’s impressive run - each of her victories went to three sets, and included wins over three seeded players and her first Top 10 win against Karolina Pliskova - she will rise 13 spots to World No.32 come Monday.
“I will remember playing 17 sets this week!” Sabalenka laughed during the trophy ceremony. “This is what I will remember from this tournament, it’s been amazing.”