Courtesy of WTA Staff
Alison Riske of the United States finished off a tremendous week by fighting off five championship points on her way to an upset of top seed and home favorite Kiki Bertens, 0-6, 7-6(3), 7-5, to win her second career WTA singles title at the Libéma Open on Sunday.
World No.61 Riske won her first title in her first final appearance at Tianjin in 2014, but had lost her next six singles finals since that point, including at Shenzhen earlier this year.
At last, the American added to her singles trophy tally with her two-hour and 19-minute comeback win over the No.1 seed.
By defeating the World No.4, Riske earned her second victory over a Top 5 player, with her previous victory over a member of that echelon coming in Shenzhen in 2017, when she defeated then-World No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska.
Riske had also pulled off an epic fightback in her semifinal win over Veronika Kudermetova, and she continued her steely ways on Sunday, withstanding not just the five match points, but also a barrage of 14 aces from big-serving Bertens, as well as a 30-minute rain delay in the decider.
“I’m just really proud of myself. I looked at the clock, and it was 6-0, 1-0 at 32 minutes in, and I thought, ‘I can’t possibly be bageled in a final,'” Riske said.
“I had faith that things would turn around at some point, I just wasn’t sure when. I thought maybe it was too late, even when I broke back to make it 4-3, but I stayed in there and I fought for every point.”
The American was more solid on second serve during the tilt, winning 65 percent of those points compared to Bertens’s 47 percent effectiveness after that shot.
Bertens also missed seven of her 12 break points — which included the five championship points in the latter stages of the second set.
Bertens was commanding in the first set, although the Dutchwoman had to get through some tricky service games at the start of the encounter. A double fault in the first game gave Riske an early break point, but Bertens’s stellar serving got her out of that jam, en route to an initial hold. The top seed then used a fierce forehand to force an error and earn a service break for 2-0.
Bertens once again stared down break point in her next service game, but Riske let a backhand fly long on that chance. The World No.4 again used her vaunted delivery to blast herself out of trouble, holding for a 3-0 lead with back-to-back aces at the end of that game.
Having survived those tests, the Dutchwoman took control of the set from there. After breaking Riske again, Bertens held at love for 5-0 with a screaming forehand passing winner down the line. In the next game, Bertens reached set point with another down-the-line passing winner, this time off the backhand, and converted for the one-set lead after a long volley by Riske.
Despite a tense moment in the second game of the second set where Bertens took an immediate mid-game medical time-out after a slip and fall, the Dutchwoman seemed to be cruising to a straight-set victory, breaking Riske via another pinpoint forehand passing shot on break point to lead 3-1.
As the second set progressed, however, the American started to minimize her miscues, and her net-rushing tactics began to pay off. Bertens missed a backhand pass to drop serve for the first time, and Riske, back on serve at 4-3, was into the contest.
Still, Bertens had numerous chances to take a straight-set victory. The World No.4 had three match points at 5-4, but Riske came through with more clutch volleying to hold for 5-5.
Bertens then had two more match points at 6-5, but Riske saved the fourth with another winning volley, then smashed away a lob on the fifth, eventually holding for 6-6.
“I really respect Kiki and her coach, to be honest. I think they’ve done amazing things. When I was down the match points, I saved them all by winning volleys, and it was my only choice to come forward and try to finish it off,” said Riske.
“If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, but I truly believed it was my only chance. I’m proud that I took that risk, and in the end, it worked to my advantage.”
In the second-set tiebreak, Riske raced ahead 3-0, and Bertens was never able to pull back despite regaining her strong serving.
The American polished off a rally with one more volley winner to reach triple set point at 6-3, and after a wide Bertens backhand on the subsequent point, Riske had completed her second-set comeback from the brink of defeat.
Bertens regrouped to take an early lead in the decisive third set, using an error-forcing backhand dropshot to break the Riske serve at love and lead 2-1, but Riske pulled back level shortly thereafter, converting a break point to reach 3-3.
During that point, rain started to pour down, necessitating a rain delay of about half an hour.
“When I broke back to make it 3-3 in the third and the rain came, I felt like I had some momentum at that point,” Riske said.
“I felt like I was in control of what I was trying to do, finally. I thought that if I stayed on it, I would probably be able to pull it out.”
Upon resumption, Riske won the first five points, although Bertens stayed with the American en route to a 5-5 tie. But Riske was zoning on serve at this juncture, holding at love for 6-5 after a forehand dropshot winner.
At long last, the American got her shot to clutch another WTA singles trophy, as a winning volley in that game brought her to double championship point. On the first, a wide forehand error by Bertens sent Riske into the winner’s circle for the first time in five years.
“Not only to have won that type of a match, but that it was a title match, I think that’s really awesome,” Riske said.
“I’ve been in a few finals since the last one that I won, and I wasn’t able to pull it out. To do that today in such a fashion, was extra special.”