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Sabalenka powers past Kontaveit to Wuhan Open victory
By sportswriters Spencer Musick and Michael Butterworth
WUHAN, Sept. 29 -- World No. 20 Arnya Sabalenka walked away from the just-concluded 2018 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open with the first Premier-5 title of her career, besting No. 27 Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in straight sets 6-3, 6-3.
The entire match was a battle of sheer strength of shooting from the baseline, and Sabalenka shot terrifically, winning a solid 78 percent of her first service points.
Both players held serve for the first three games, but Sabalenka stumbled out of the gate with six unforced errors in the first two services.
But she eventually found her rhythm, shooting a series of spectacular forehands from the baseline, and even peppering some dropshots when it could help her catch her opponent off balance.
A Sabalenka error at 4-1 saw her fire off a backhand volley directly into the net. She placed her racket on the ground and appeared visibly shaken, but turned it around quickly after that.
Sabalenka served spectacularly, never facing break point during the match and keeping her opponent searching for her returns.
Both players held serve in the second set to level it three-all, but a perfect break for Sabalenka saw her tilt the match decisively toward her end of the court.
Sabalenka has shown a spectacular run of form in recent weeks, snagging her first-ever title in New Haven last month.
"It was a great tennis [match] today, a great level," she said.
"I'm just in the game, just fight for every point. [There are] no easy matches here."
Last year's champion in Tianjin added that the China swing is always a good one for her.
"This is one of my favorite places to play. I really enjoy to be here. Always play well here. I don't know why, but I really play well here.
Yeah, always waiting for this part of the season. I always want to be here. I always want to play matches. I'm always so happy that I play well.
After the match, Kontaveit commended her opponent for the strength she displayed on court.
"She played really, really strong," Kontaveit said. "From the beginning she put me under a lot of pressure. I think obviously my first-serve percentage was really low. That gave me I think a lot of trouble."
"Her game was really aggressive. I felt the pressure straightaway," she added.
In the doubles final earlier in the day, Elise Mertens of Belgium and Demi Schuurs of the Netherlands took the spoils, defeating the Czech pairing of Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova 6-3, 6-3.
Mertens/Schuurs began strongly, with Schuurs in particular playing some impressive returns at the net on the way to sealing the first set.
Sentini Hlavackova/Strycova appeared unable to match their opponents' consistency, making several unforced errors at the net, with Strycova becoming increasingly frustrated as the match wore on.
Mertens/Schuurs were notably strong on serve, losing only one service game to their opponents' four, and duly wrapped up the match in one hour 19 minutes.
Speaking after the match, Mertens emphasized the positive relationship the two players have. "We're a very good team. We're friends on and off the court so that makes it easier. We work hard every day. I'm happy to have her by my side and of course to win the Wuhan Open is a really big bonus for us."
Despite losing, Sentini Hlavackova was magnanimous in defeat and praised the Wuhan Open. "It's been a very nice tournament for us. We always enjoy our time in Wuhan. Thanks to all the fans who came for the doubles final."
This year marked five years of the WTA Premier 5 event being held here in Wuhan, the hometown of Chinese tennis superstar and former world No. 2 Li Na.