WUHAN   -    Aryna Sabalenka slashed her 18th ace on championship point seizing her second straight Wuhan Open championship with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory over American Alison Riske on Saturday. An assertive Sabalenka raised her Wuhan record to 12-0—including a 7-5, 6-4 semifinal conquest of world No. 1 Ash Barty. Sabalenka surrendered just two sets in six tournament victories this week making history as the first woman to complete a back-to-back Wuhan title run. China is the explosive baseliner’s comfort zone. The 14th-ranked Belarusian has won 29 of her last 35 matches in China powering to three of her four Tour-level titles in the nation. Today’s final was a rematch of the Shenzhen final in January when Sabalenka rallied past Riske 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-3. There’s clarity in Sabalenka’s game in Wuhan and she showed it scoring successive service breaks in streaking out to a 5-1 lead today. A fluttering drop shot set up volley winner as Sabalenka converted her third set point to seal a 35-minute opening set. Sabalenka served 75 percent and smacked 17 winners compared to six for Riske in the opening set. Riding out the Sabalenka shot-making storm in the first set, Riske was quicker to the ball, made more first serves and kept calm in the second. Draining errors out of the increasingly erratic Belarusian, Riske secured the first break of the second set for 4-2. Quality exchanges popped throughout the latter stages of the second set.

 

Stepping into the court, Riske drew successive errors snatching the second set, 6-3, to force a decider. The defending champion left the court to regroup after a second set that saw Riske play cleaner tennis. The flat-hitting American committed just six unforced errors—11 fewer than her opponent—in the 42-minute second set. Following a near flawless second set, Riske stumbled at the start of the third. Failing to hit up and out on a second serve, Riske dumped a double fault into net then flipped her Wilson Blade in frustration gifting the break and a 2-0 third-set lead to Sabalenka. Turning her hips and shoulders into her shots, Sabalenka was striking with menacing intent. Banging a backhand off the baseline helped Sabalenka score her second straight break for 4-0. Sabalenka was in full flight stretching her lead to 5-0. Slashing her 16th ace down the middle, Sabalenka closed in one hour, 54 minutes. The ninth seed took a brief break before returning to partner Elise Mertens in the doubles final. “I can’t believe that I defend this title. I couldn’t even imagine that I will be able to do this. Right now I’m just happy. I don’t know. I can’t believe it’s happened,” Sabalenka said. “This means a lot. This year been really tough for everyone. I was really afraid that I will be not able to defend this title. I was already saving my points on the beginning of this year. This was my problem. That’s why I couldn’t work well, couldn’t play well, couldn’t fight actually. Finally to defend this title, I couldn’t even imagine it’s going to happened. Right now, it’s so many thoughts going through my mind. I’m really thankful to my team because they keep staying with me.” “She played a really solid first set. I knew going into the second, I was going to have to push back somehow. I wasn’t very forgiving of myself in the third. It kind of worked on my head a little bit. I really lost it. It was really tough,” Riske said in defeat.