By DAN IMHOFF
It is fourth time lucky for Aryna Sabalenka with the Belarusian sweeping to her maiden career title at the Connecticut Open on Saturday.
Surging in confidence and composure with each victory this week, the 20-year-old was in full flight in the final, dismissing former world No.6 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-4.
The 74-minute victory ensures the 20-year-old will crack the top 20 for the first time next week, rising to No.20.
She becomes the youngest champion in New Haven since a 20-year-old Caroline Wozniacki triumphed in 2010.
Three times before Sabalenka had fallen in a WTA final, twice already this year.
Despite letting a second-set break slip, she would not be denied in her fourth, breaking the Spaniard again and serving out the final on her third match point.
One commentator couldn’t help but ponder if this was the start of something special.
“This is a great feeling,” Sabalenka said. “In the first second you are so happy, then you understand, I have to work more because the next year I have to do it again.
“I was thinking about it, I would like to put my name there on the right. Well, I am so happy. It's always nice to see your name, like a winner.”
Sabalenka was striking the ball with barely a hint of nerves early on.
Ripping three straight winners off both wings, she looked more composed than she had in any of her four prior matches as she landed the double break in the opening set for 4-0.
An ace and overhead winner quickly followed.
This was the full array of shot-making on display from a rising talent making a relentless charge for the silverware.
Suarez Navarro was undoubtedly the fresher of the two coming in, having had to play just one complete match, her first-round victory over Barbora Strycova. But the lack of match-play could well have contributed to her slow start as she struggled to find any rhythm against the free-swinging 20-year-old.
“Well, I tried to play a little bit more aggressive, the balls that I can,” Suarez Navarro said. “In the first set, I don't think that I played bad. I have some balls that I wasn't solid… She didn't give me opportunities to play a little bit, so the point was too fast.
“Sometimes you lost because you played bad, but today I don't think so. I think she play a really good match.”
There was little doubt in Suarez Navarro’s mind she had come up against a start of the future.
“She's really a complete player,” she said. “She's young. With more experience [she] will be a really difficult player, for sure. I think she will have a lot of success in the future.”
The Belarusian was raising the bar another notch in this final.
She swatted away a short reply to secure the opening set in 25 minutes, dropping just three points on her first serve.
It had all come a little too easy in the opening set and Suarez Navarro began to settle in set No.2.
The former world No.6 knew she had to step into the court more if she was to shake things up and take time away from her opponent.
Down a break she did just that. Suarez Navarro capitalized on her younger opponent’s first sign of nerves with the finish line in sight.
The fightback was fleeting. Sabalenka had found her best when it mattered all week and did so again to close out the final two games.
Arms raised, she pointed to her family and coach, Russian former player, Dmitry Tursunov.
“I think it will be some fight at home between my grandma and my mom who will get this one,” Sabalenka said of the trophy. “I think I will… leave it at my grandma’s house because it's more space there.”
From a young woman ranked outside the top 100 only a year ago, this performance was the beginning of something special.
And true to her word, there’d be time now for a quick detour to satisfy that sweet tooth at McDonald’s.
“Yeah, I was thinking about it,” Sabalenka said. “Probably, yeah, will go and say some ice cream, … French fries, burger. I think I will go there.”