Sorana Cirstea claimed the inaugural Catalonia Open WTA 125 title after saving a championship point against Elizabeth Mandlik in the final held in Reus, Spain, on Sunday.
I still have a lot of goals. I can still improve my ranking and do big results, and this is what motivates me. I always felt I could be much better, and as long as I feel this, I will still play. Sorana Cirstea
The Romanian No 2 seed continued her 2023 revival to defeat American qualifier, 6-1 4-6 7-6(1), after 2 hours 15 minutes of play.
Cirstea came from 2-5 down in the deciding set, saving the match point as she held for 5-5, to claim the WTA 125 title and marking the Romanian’s first singles title since Istanbul 2021.
At the start of March, Cirstea was ranked 83 in the world and in danger of falling out of the Top 100 without good performances in Indian Wells and Miami where the 33-year-old reached the quarter-finals at the former and semi-finals at the latter, scoring three Top 5 wins, with two over Caroline Garcia and one over Aryna Sabalenka, on the way.
Cirstea is now ranked 34, having made it to the final in Reus without dropping a set, but she was pushed all the way by Mandlik, the 21-year-old daughter of four-time major champion Hana Mandlikova, who is ranked 147, and was contesting the first WTA 125 final of her career.
“I started very, very well,” said Cirstea afterwards. “But then I was a lot more passive and she played a lot better than her ranking. I think she should be a Top 100 player.
“As soon as I went back a bit, she started to step in, and play good. I had to be smart today to win the match.
“I didn’t expect to walk away with the trophy at the start of the week. I knew it would be a tough field for a 125, but, at the same time, I had confidence, I knew I was playing well, I’m the second seed, so I was expecting a good run, but a win is the best.
“Match-wise, I think I played my best against Caty McNally this week. But it’s special to come from match point down to win.”
Cirstea has credited her new outlook on tennis on a fresh coaching partnership with former Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson, and she reiterated her optimism about her career ambitions.
“I still have a lot of goals,” she added. “I can still improve my ranking and do big results, and this is what motivates me.
“I always felt I could be much better, and as long as I feel this, I will still play.”
A spectacular American summer last year launched Mandlik into the spotlight, including a memorable WTA debut in San Jose and culminating in her first Grand Slam win at the US Open.
She then retreated, though, compiling just a 7-19 record between Flushing Meadows and the start of this week when she turned her form around in style, notching the 6th and 7th Top 100 wins of her career by defeating No 6 seed Jasmine Paolini from Italy. 4-6 7-5 6-2, in the 2nd-round and then home hope Nuria Parrizas Diaz, 6-4 2-6 6-1, in the quarter-finals.
A high-octane semi-final thriller featuring plenty of hard baseline hitting followed as she edged Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska, 7-5 4-6 6-4, to make the biggest final of her career to date.
Despite the loss, it was also a positive week for Yastremska, the 22-year-old Ukrainian having notched up 3 main-draw wins for the first time since her emotional run to last year’s Lyon final, a week after she was forced to flee her homeland following the Russian invasion.
The former World No 21 opened with an impressive 7-6(5) 6-3 defeat of Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo, and went on to upset No.1 seed Jil Teichmann from Switzerland, 7-5 7-6(1), in the quarter-finals for her first Top 30 victory since beating Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko in Birmingham last June.
American No 3 seed Lauren Davis also had a strong week, defeating Colombia’s Camila Osorio, 6-4 6-3, on her way to the semi-finals, where she fell 6-4 7-5 to Cirstea.
Davis started 2023 superbly, collecting her second Hologic WTA Tour title in Hobart, but was set back by an abdominal injury that ruled her out of Indian Wells and Miami.
In the doubles, Australia’s top seeds Storm Hunter & Ellen Perez won their first title above ITF level as a team with a 6-1 7-6(8) win over the No.2 seeds, Chilean Alexa Guarachi & Erin Routliffe from New Zealand
Hunter & Perez have both won 5 WTA titles with 5 different partners, while, together, the Australians were previously runners-up at Istanbul 2020 to Guarachi & Desirae Krawczyk, and 250 Charleston 2021 to Hailey Baptiste & Caty McNally, while Perez was also the Houston 2019 doubles champion at WTA 125 level alongside Brazilian Luisa Stefani.