Ekaterina Alexandrova won her first WTA Tour title when she defeated Elena Rybakina, 6-2 6-4, in the Shenzhen Open final in south China on Saturday and, in so doing, became the first tournament winner of the year.
The whole week was pretty good for me, I think, right from the start. It wasn't easy but I did it until the end. I won my first title, and it feels amazing Ekaterina Alexandrova
Alexandrova, who was playing only her second WTA Tour final and the first since Linz in 2018, won the WTA 125K Series event in Limoges last month and maintained the winning momentum to start her season, as she lost just one set this week to extend her winning streak to 10 straight matches.
For Rybakina, it was her third final in 6 months, having lost to Rebecca Peterson in the Nanchang tournament before going down at the last hurdle in Shenzhen on Saturday.
It was also the first match between the two players, although Alexandrova won an exhibition match against Rybakina in the Czech Republic recently.
“The whole week was pretty good for me, I think, right from the start. It wasn’t easy but I did it until the end. I won my first title, and it feels amazing,” Alexandrova said after the match.
“The first one is always special. I was playing my second final, and the first one [at Linz in 2018] wasn’t so good for me, so I was trying to get this one.”
The Russian set about dismantling the serve of her Kazakh opponent in the first set, leaping out in front into a 4-0 lead, then showed a capacity to dig in during the second, in which her 20-year-old opponent struck her best level.
“I just wanted to stay calm through the match today. I didn’t expect the first set would be so easy, because I know she plays so well,” Alexandrova said.
“When it was 4-0 right away, I didn’t expect that. I knew the second set would be so much tougher because it isn’t easy to play her.”
Rybakina’s serve was a potent weapon in her semi-final victory over Kristyna Pliskova, in which she hit 81% of first strikes in and combined that with 9 aces, and yet Alexandrova greedily fired return winners off it throughout the opening set.
The Kazakh was only able to hold once, and that after a lengthy battle on deuce, and while it provided her a toehold in the match, it was insufficient to make genuine inroads into her rival.
The first set disappeared in little over half an hour but the second was to prove a more competitive affair as the 7th-seeded Rybakina started to match Alexandrova with spectacular winners of her own as the Russian’s level briefly dipped.
The 20-year-old made a fight of the match and established a 4-2 advantage, but Alexandrova had other ideas and rallied with impressive persistence to draw within a game once more.
After holding serve, she once again exerted serious pressure on her opponent and, on her third break point, Rybakina buckled, serving a double fault.
“In the second set, I think she played well, and I was lucky when it was 4-4 with a net [cord], and that gave me 3 break points,” Alexandrova said.
“After that, she was nervous, and I think it helped me.”
There were no signs of nerves as Alexandrova impressively served the match out to write a page of history as she became the first WTA champion of the 2020s.
In the doubles final, No 2 seeds, Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic went the distance before defeating local favourites, Yingying Duan & Saisai Zheng, the No 3 seeds from China, 6-3 3-6 [10-4].