There is a new Russian champion on the books, Veronika Kudermetova, who lifted Charleston’s Volvo Car Open trophy on Sunday, her first career WTA title, after defeating Danka Kovinic, 6-4 6-2, in the final.
When I came here, I said to myself, ‘Veronika, you just need to work, that’s it, and we will see how you play here’. When I started to play matches, I focused just on tactics, work, and that’s it. And I think match by match, I started to play really well. Veronika Kudermetova
After being cancelled last year, the tournament was closed to the general public because of the coronavirus pandemic, and matches were shuffled to a secondary court as the main stadium is undergoing a $50 million renovation.
A groundbreaking ceremony took place at the old stadium court a few hours before the final.
The stadium had remained unchanged since the event moved from Hilton Head Island to Daniel Island in Charleston in 2001, and Ben Navarro, owner of Charleston Tennis LLC, which runs the tournament, is planning on having a packed stadium next year.
Navarro’s daughter, Emma, lost to Kudermetova in the second round this week.
None of that mattered to Kudermetova, who will cherish her win as if she played in a full house.
“Of course, it means a lot,” Kudermetova, the No 15 seed, said. “I’m really happy and proud of myself at my first title.”
The 23-year old did not drop a set in her run through the Charleston draw, which fielded 9 top 20 players, including the World No 1 Ash Barty and No 4 Sofia Kenin.
“When I came here, I said to myself, ‘Veronika, you just need to work, that’s it, and we will see how you play here,’” Kudermetova said in her post-match press conference. “When I started to play matches, I focused just on tactics, work, and that’s it.
“And I think match by match, I started to play really well.”
The Russian is the first Charleston champion to have a flawless set record since Serena Williams pulled off the feat in 2012.
“It means a lot,” Kudermetova said. “It shows me that I can play really well, that I can beat good players, and if I play like this and keep working, I think I can be in the Top 10 or higher.”
For Kovinic, the Montenegrin was also after her first title, and she had defeated three seeded players to advance to the final.
“I know that I will be coming back,” said Kovinic, a 26-year-old who played in her first final since 2016.
Kudermetova broke in the opening game of the match before Kovinic’s impressive foot-speed allowed her to extend the rallies and force errors from the Russian, pulling her back level at 2-2.
A lengthy hold for 3-3, though, served Kudermetova well, and she gritted out the next long game as well, which ended with Kovinic misfiring on two straight drop-shots to cede the service break.
Outstanding defence by Kovinic helped her fend off 2 set points at 5-3, but Kudermetova’s aggressive play got her the one-set lead as she ended the frame with an error-forcing overhead.
Kudermetova continued unabated in the second, firing an ace to hold for 2-2, then used a stunning return to set up an overhead winner and break for 3-2 on her 3rd break point of the game.
At the end of another protracted game, a superb crosscourt forehand gave the Russian a 2nd break and a 5-2 lead.
Kudermetova successfully served out the match with ease and clinched her first WTA singles trophy.
She had reached her first final at the season-opening event in Abu Dhabi, but lost to Aryna Sabalenka and, on this occasion, she delivered 6 aces in the final, which makes her the current ace leader on tour for the season, having slammed down 130 aces for the year, ahead of Barty’s 127.
“Right now,” Kudermetova exclaimed, “but we have more months, and somebody can beat me in aces!”
Those aces were 6 of Kudermetova’s 22 winners against just 19 unforced errors, while Kovinic, the World No 91, had the reverse with 19 winners and 22 miscues.
“All the matches were really tough,” Kudermetova observed. “It’s really tough matches for nerves, and the tennis part, but I’m really proud of myself that I can take the first title. I’m really happy.”
“I really enjoyed the play here,” Kudermetova said to the few dozen people on hand to see her historic win as she held up the trophy.
She also won her choice of a new Volvo SUV and, after the award ceremony, she walked over to where four Volvo models were parked, looking like a car buyer trying to make a smart decision.
Kudermetova had heard about the winner receiving a vehicle but said: “It means more to take the title than to get a car.”
The World No 38 became the 5th first-time winner on tour this season, just minutes after Maria Camila Osorio Serrano also picked up her first title in Bogota.
In the doubles final, No1 seeds Nicole Melichar & Demi Schuurs, from the USA and Netherlands respectively, completed their week with the title, defeating unseeded Czechs Marie Bouzkova & Lucie Hradecka, 6-2 6-4.
“We’re super happy, we’re super pleased,” Melichar told the press, after their victory. “Every time we win a title, it’s really exciting for us.
“To transition from the hardcourt to the clay and win right away in your first week, I think that’s incredible.
“We kept each other up this whole week, sometimes I was playing well, sometimes Demi was playing well, and we had to bring each other up. So I think our communication, our support was key.”
Since starting their partnership last season, Melichar & Schuurs are now 3-0 in doubles finals as a team while, overall, it is a milestone 10th WTA doubles title for Melichar and a 14th trophy for Schuurs.
“If you just see our games, they fit with each other,” Schuurs said. “We’re just good friends, on-court and also off-court, and we practice together a lot when we’re on the road, and I think that’s an advantage.
“You always can practice every day, you keep improving, practicing to be better.”
Melichar & Schuurs swept well ahead in the first set, and broke the Czechs’ serves for a 3rd straight time as the Dutchwoman cut off a winning volley to close out the one-set lead.
Four straight service breaks came early in the second, as the pairs stayed closer than they had in the first set, but a clutch volley winner by Schuurs on deciding point at 4-4 gave the top seeds the upper hand, and they stormed to a love break of Bouzkova in the next game to claim the crown.