Denmark’s world number two Caroline Wozniacki gave herself the perfect confidence-booster ahead of Wimbledon with a hard fought 7-5, 7-6 (7/5) victory over Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka to take her second WTA Eastbourne title on Saturday.
The 27-year-old top seed was winning her first title since claiming her maiden Grand Slam trophy earlier this year in the Australian Open.
She benefited from her greater experience than her 20-year-old opponent, who served for both sets only for Wozniacki to break back both times.
Sabalenka’s consolation will be to rise to 32 in the rankings – having been 135 this time last year – and beating three seeded players on the way to the final.
Wozniacki – who last won the Eastbourne tournament in 2009 the same year Sabalenka’s coach Dmitry Tursonov won the men’s title – said she was delighted to have won what was her 29th WTA title.
“This means a lot, I forgot how heavy (the trophy) it is!” said Wozniacki. “It is great I can still play at this level almost 10 years later.”
Wozniacki, whose father and coach Piotr came on to the court twice to give her advice, says the victory sets her up nicely for Wimbledon, the only Grand Slam event in which she has never reached the quarter-finals.
“I was thinking she (Sabalenka) has played so many sets this week and doubles yesterday how can she still be so full of energy,” said Wozniacki. “Then I recalled she is much younger than me.
“Wimbledon is such a special tournament and I love grass. To be playing well going into Wimbledon is great. I definitely had some great matches this week which sets me up nicely.”
For Sabalenka, who sprang to prominence last year as the driving force behind Belarus’ run to the Fed Cup final where they lost to the United States, said playing Wozniacki, only the fifth top 10 player she has faced, had been an invaluable experience.
“I will remember that this is my first premier level WTA final and the 17 sets from this week,” she said laughing.
“She (Wozniacki) is a great player. You have to be focussed on every point, she puts the balls in the right place.”
Sabalenka’s power threatened to overwhelm Wozniacki in both sets only for the younger player to suffer an attack of nerves when presented with opportunities to close them out.
In the first, serving for the set at 5-4, she dropped her serve with a double fault giving Wozniacki the game.
Wozniacki – whose brother Patrick was commentating on the match for Danish TV – won the next two games to take the first set.
A similar pattern developed in the second set with Sabalenka breaking Wozniacki early on, the Dane breaking back only for the Belarus to move a break up again to lead 6-5.
However, again she faltered when in sight of taking a set, Wozniacki breaking her and forcing the tie-break.
The Belarus also had a mini break on Wozniacki in the tie-break but the redoubtable Dane again fought back to take the set and the match.
The men’s title – a lower key event than the women’s – saw Germany’s Mischa Zverev beat Slovakian Lukas Lacko 6-3, 6-4.