By DAN IMHOFF
Daria Gavrilova’s quest for a maiden tour title has finally come to fruition.
The Australian denied No.2 seed Dominika Cibulkova in a two-hour, 45-minute shoot-out to claim the Connecticut Open on Saturday.
It was her third career final.
After dethroning defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the semi-finals, the world No.26 took down the top two seeds in succession with her 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory.
"It's even more special to win it that way, against such a tough competitor, the semi-final, beating a top-10 player," Gavrilova said. "I think I've beaten some great players to win my first title.
"I always believed in myself that I could still win. I just managed to stay calm, managed to just be focused on the task rather than getting all emotional, going elsewhere.
It was billed as a battle of two of the most fleet-footed competitors on tour, both unafraid of wearing their hearts on their sleeves.
And neither player disappointed with cheap points few and far between.
Gavrilova pounced on the Slovak’s serves early, with Cibulkova managing to claim just one first-serve point in her first three service games.
The No.2 seed rose as high as world No.4 in April, but until this week in New Haven had not won three consecutive matches since February.
It was a dry spell she admitted came about as a result of too much self-imposed pressure to build on a career-defining triumph in last year’s WTA Finals in Singapore.
"Of course I'm a little bit disappointed I didn't win this match today, the finals," Cibulkova said.
"But it was very good match. I gave my all today. Of course, I knew I could win. I was really close to it ... There is just very little I can tell myself I did wrong.
"She was playing really good today. Maybe one, two points would go my way, it would be different."
In her first final of 2017, she took the initiative at 5-4 in the opening set and began to swing freely, bringing up three set points on the Aussie’s serve, before taking it when Gavrilova’s forehand clipped the net.
An almighty struggle for Cibulkova on serve finally went the way of her opponent and a love hold from Gavrilova pushed her to 4-2.
"I told myself when it was, like, third-time deuce, I said that it might be the turning point, to fight for every point," Gavrilova said of the battle to break Cibulkova at 2-2.
And it proved to be just that. The 23-year-old broke again to level the match on her third set point with a brilliant drop-volley on the stretch and a forehand into the corner back-to-back.
Cibulkova had not resurrected her season only to fade in a deciding set of a final. Her grit again shone when she broke for 4-3 in the third but the advantage was short-lived.
Gavrilova raised her aggression to reel off the last three games in a high-quality decider, whipping one last forehand winner down the line and leaping into the air in jubilation.
The monkey was lifted. Her breakthrough was complete.