By Derren Howard
Solid and consistent tennis triumphed over raw power as Caroline Wozniacki triumphed in two sets against Aryna Sabalenka to claim her second Eastbourne title.
Wozniacki, who last won at Devonshire Park in 2009, beat Sabalenka 7-5 7-6 (7-5) to lift the trophy on centre court and bank the £158,000 prize money.
“It feels good. Yeah, it’s been a good week. Played some good tennis. I’m happy to be here and having won,” said Wozniacki, who beat 2016 Wimbledon finalist Angelique Kerber and Nottingham Open champion Ashleigh Barty en route to the final in Eastbourne. “It does not feel like 10 years. But I also think because I have played well here and the years in between, I have played a lot of semifinals and the final, and it just feels like I have played well every time I have come here.
“I watched her (Sabalenka) a little bit during the week and knew she was going to come out and play aggressive, so I was ready for it.
“I knew she was going to try and keep it up. Whether she was missing or hitting it in the court and hitting some great shots, I knew she was going to just go for it, because that was her way. And she’s not going to win the match just by hitting the ball back. So I knew that she was going to try and do this the whole match through.”
Sabalenka, 20, from Belarus has impressed at Devonshire Park this week as the World No 45 has beaten former champions Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova along with Elise Mertens, Julia Goerges and Sachia Vickery to reach the final showdown. She was aiming to land her first title and once again displayed the talent and power to trouble the top players. The Belarusian’s ground strokes are huge and her shots down the line often whipped beyond Wozniacki in a flash but the flip side is her accuracy. If she can find that elusive mix, Sabalenka, who was ranked 135th in the world last year, could be a force on the women’s tour for years to come.
Wozniacki was up against it from the start and saved four break points in a marathon opening game. Sabalenka served for the set at 5-4 but an untimely double-fault saw Wozniacki reel off three consecutive games to take the first set.
The second set was an engaging tussle with Wozniacki defending well but also pinging accurate winners at key moments. Despite playing 17 sets of tennis at Eastbourne this week (including doubles), Sabalenka refused to tire and forced a tie-break. “I thought how does she keep going,” said the 27-year-old Wozniacki after the match. “But then I remembered she’s much younger than me.”
The first four points of the shoot-out went Sabalenka’s way but Wozniacki remained calm. Sabalenka fired a few more loose shots and when the chance at match point arrived Wozniacki, true to form, didn’t miss her big moment. Her forehand winner arrowed down the line, the arms went up in celebration and the Dane added the Eastbourne title to the Australian Open she won earlier the year. Wozniacki will look to add to her career earnings of almost £30m at Wimbledon on Monday as she takes on Varvara Lepchenko. Sabalenka could well make her first million at Sw19 after her extended run on the south coast. She plays Romanian Mihaela Buzărnescu in the first round.