Both playing as ‘neutrals’, Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova upset Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka in the s’Hertogenbosch final to lift the Libema Open trophy on Sunday, and win her first grass court title.
I played good on the clay, which I thought never would happen because I hated the clay so much," Alexandrova said. "But I played semi-finals of Madrid on clay. For me, it was, like, if I can play good on clay, I can play on any surface. It helps a lot, it's a good confidence boost. I just want to keep it like it was this week and hope for the best. Ekaterina Alexandrova
After a sluggish start, the No 7 seed produced a fine performance to stun the top seed, 7-5 6-0, in an hour 17 minutes.
“Grass is a difficult surface for everyone because the bounce is unpredictable,” Alexandrova said. “You just need to try to do your best in every single shot because you don’t know what’s going to come next.
“When I played the first match here, I would never expect to play finals here and win the title.
“It was so bad, I couldn’t hit anything inside the court, but match after match, it was easier to find the rhythm and find the game.
“In the last match, I found it, and I just tried to keep it during the whole match.”
Sabalenka, who also has been finding her feet on the surface, dropped just one set on her way to the final and claimed the first break of the match in the 6th game to open up a 4-2 lead after the longest game of the contest.
Down by a break, Alexandrova responded by breaking the Sabalenka serve in the 7th and 11th games to overturn the deficit, and capture the first set.
After failing to close out the opener, the World No 6 effectively derailed herself and she could not find the court with her power game, at times missing spectacularly and allowing Alexandrova to claim 3 breaks in the second set to pocket a bagel.
Having rallied from a break down, the World No 30 ran away with her first grass-court title at the WTA 250 tournament, winning 11 of the last 12 games to seal her first title of the season.
The 25-year came into ‘s-Hertogenbosch amid a strong 2022 campaign, while her win over Sabalenka was her 2nd Top 10 win of the season, and her 20th victory of the year.
She leaves The Netherlands with her first grass title, her first since winning 2017 Shenzhen, and a strong 20-11 record for the year.
Alexandrova lost just one set en route to her first final of the season, and dropped a total of just 5 games in her last 2 matches heading into Sunday’s showdown.
Although Sabalenka began the final well, building a 4-2 lead, she won just one more game and could only conjure up a single break point for the remainder of the match.
In the end, Alexandrova hit just 3 more winners than Sabalenka in the match, 16 to 13, but she also kept a clean sheet, hitting 18 unforced errors to Sabalenka’s 31 miscues.
Sabalenka was contesting her 2nd final of the last 2 months, but is still looking for her first grass-court title and her first title of the season.
A finalist at 2018 Eastbourne and semi-finalist at Wimbledon last summer, Sabalenka struggled Alexandrova’s formidable serve and will be disappointed about how her game buckled in the second set against the onslaught.
Alexandrova, the 7th seed here, came into the tournament ranked No 2 on tour in aces, 151, is No 4 in first serve points won with 71.4%, and No 8 with overall service points won on 60.9%.
These trends continued against Sabalenka, as Alexandrova won 74.4% of her first-serve points, 52.2% of her second-serve points, and 66.1% of her service points overall.
“I played good on the clay, which I thought never would happen because I hated the clay so much,” Alexandrova said. “But I played semi-finals of Madrid on clay.
“For me, it was, like, if I can play good on clay, I can play on any surface. It helps a lot, it’s a good confidence boost.
“I just want to keep it like it was this week and hope for the best.”