Caroline Wozniacki wrapped up an incredible Asia swing after fighting off a brave comeback from surprise finalist Kristina Mladenovic to secure the 25th WTA title of her career at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open on Sunday evening.
The Dane, who also won the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo last month, saw off her spirited French opponent 6-1, 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 on a balmy Centre Court at Victoria Park.
A hamstrung Mladenovic had looked down and out at several points in the match as she battled on with a heavily strapped right thigh looking for her first WTA singles title, but in the end couldn’t live with the in-form Wozniacki.
Watch: Highlights of the Hong Kong Open final at Victoria Park
The final looked like being a total mismatch after a hugely one-sided opening set. Mladenovic looked outclassed in every department and couldn’t lay a glove on the determined Wozniacki. The 23-year-old’s own game let her down at times as she miscued routine returns and failed to take advantage of good chances to land a blow.
As the opening set wore on, it became clear that the Frenchwoman was being hampered by injury and she re-emerged for the second set after a medical timeout with a bandage around her right thigh.
“Yesterday after my semi-final, I was already struggling. I had cramps everywhere in my legs,” said the world number 54. “I had some very tough matches this week. I’ve been fighting a lot and struggling just trying to recover to be ready for the next day, so I was not coming out today fresh and if you’re playing someone like Caroline and just running down every single ball, it takes a lot more out of you.”
Wozniacki, however, later suggested there was an element of gamesmanship to her opponent’s injury claims.
“It wasn’t easy mentally because sometimes she would look like she couldn’t play and then she would run like Speedy Gonzales, so clearly it’s not that bad if you can run from side to side. It was definitely a mental game. I was just happy to win it even though it had to be three sets.”
Mladenovic may have struggled to get into the match during the opener, but she was far more effective in the second set and appeared to have figured out a successful gameplan. Demonstrating an incredibly deft touch, she continuously drew the former world number one to the net with inch perfect drop shots before flashing returns past the Dane. The strategy put her clear at 3-1 in the second set, and suddenly it was Wozniacki’s turn to chase.
Mladenovic then blew a chance to go 5-2 up when executing a sloppy return. Wozniacki capitalised to claim the game and extend the set.
The set went to a tie-beaker and when a particularly sparking rally came down on the Frechwoman’s side, she managed to see it out to extend the clash into a third stanza.
An increasingly struggling Mladenovic began to go down her haunches after every exchange and was notably hobbling around the court between points as the drop shot that had served her so well to that point began to misfire.
As the match drew closer to a conclusion, she was becoming increasingly emotional but seemed determined to see out the match and go out on her sword.
“I have no idea how I made it to three sets against Caroline – a top player,” she said. “I never pulled out or retired from any match in my career so far. I would have to have something really, really bad to make me retire from any match and even more a final.”
A brief comeback sparked excitement around the court – especially among a vocal French contingent, but it was to be short-lived and the Dane quickly saw out the win to claim her second title of the Asian swing.
Afterwards, Wozniacki took time to set the record straight on the ankle injury that derailed much of her 2016 season and was rumoured to be the reason she was considering retirement at just 26.
“You know your body and I knew that it was going to take a while for me to be back at 100 per cent,” she said. “I never really doubted that I could come back and make it here. I knew it was gonna be okay whether it was a month, two months, four months, I knew eventually I was gonna be back. I’m strapping up my foot and making sure it’s stable. I’m managing it fine.”
For Mladenovic it was a third runners-up trophy in her third final on the WTA Tour. Despite the injury that affected her performance, she reveled she is set to line up in Moscow this week, where she will end her singles season.