FORT WORH, Texas (AFP) — France’s Caroline Garcia scored the biggest victory of her career with a straight-sets defeat of Aryna Sabalenka to win the season-ending WTA Finals on Monday.
Garcia relied on a superb service game to overpower her Belarusian opponent 7-6 (7/4), 6-4 at Fort Worth, Texas.
The 29-year-old from Lyon is only the second French player to win the WTA title after Amelie Mauresmo in 2005.
“It’s definitely a lot of giant happiness,” Garcia said after a win that will see her pocket $1.57 million in prize money and 1,375 rankings points.
“A crazy final, a lot of intensity on every point. Just really proud of the work we did throughout the year. It was a great match — I really went for it. I’m really happy to win my biggest title.”
With both sixth-seeded Garcia and seventh-seeded Sabalenka serving beautifully throughout, Monday’s final was settled by the finest of margins.
Garcia seized the initiative in the first set tie-break after both women had held to get it 6-6.
Remarkably, neither player conceded a break point during a hard-fought first set.
But the question of who would blink first was answered in the breaker as Sabalenka’s composure suddenly deserted her.
A wayward Sabalenka backhand return plopped into the net to give Garcia a 4/2 lead in the tie-break.
On the next point, Sabalenka double-faulted to hand the Frenchwoman a 5/2 lead.
Garcia brought up four set points with an ace for a 6/2 lead.
Although Sabalenka recovered to win the next two points, she double-faulted again to hand Garcia the set.
A clearly rattled Sabalenka was soon in trouble in the second set, suffering a break on the first game after Garcia drilled a winner up the line.
That break proved decisive as Garcia never looked like surrendering the initiative, holding for the remainder of the set before serving for the match at 5-4.
She earned her first match point when Sabalenka yanked a backhand return wide for a 40-30 lead.
Although Sabalenka saved that match point with a backhand down the line, Garcia regained match point with a booming serve before converting on the next point.
Garcia said she was pleased with how she handled the pressure at key moments to set up her win.
“Sometimes you are emotional or things don’t go your way,” Garcia said.
“Sometimes there is a big fight, so you have to find your way through it and that was one of the biggest points I improved. Today one of the most important things was to stay calm and jump on every opportunity.”
Sabalenka, meanwhile, said momentary lapses had cost her dearly.
“I just dropped my level for a little bit — on the tiebreak and in the first game of the second set,” Sabalenka said.
“The key moments, I dropped my level. That’s it.”
Nevertheless, the 24-year-old from Minsk was able to look back with satisfaction on a season that included a semi-final appearance at the US Open in September.