Defending champion Elise Mertens needed seven hours to make history. After three rain delays and four match points squandered, the Belgian became the first player to win the title more than once in the 25-year history of the Hobart International. "It's been a tough day, but it's good that people still stayed (through the rain for us)" said Buzarnescu during the trophy ceremony.
The No.2 seed dispatched first-time WTA finalist Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 to seal her second career title. The Belgian drilled 23 winners to 27 unforced while the Romanian hit 39 winners but offered her opponents more than half of her 102 points with 57 errors.
The final started over an hour late and began with three straight breaks of serve. Mertens moved quickly around the court and built a 3-1 lead before the first interruption.
Play was suspended for nearly two hours and, at the restart, a stunning winner wasn't enough for Buzarnescu who lost her serve and three straight games to drop the first set of the tournament.
At the age of 29, the former junior promise lived up her expectations only last months, as she made her Grand Slam debut at Us Open, played her maiden WTA semifinal in Linz and joined the top 100.
Mertens opened the second set with three aces in the first game. Buzarnescu, gradually more aggressive when she tried to hit clean groundstrokes from the deuce side, saved a break point at 2-1 with a sterling crosscourt backhand winner. But, after reaching game point, Buzarnescu’s improvement was thwarted by another rain delay.
The lefty Romanian won a protracted game to clinch the first break of the matrch hitting a dangerous top spin backhand towards the right angle that Mertens returned long and built a 5-4 lead. She then hit a huge wide serve on set point to bring the match to a decider.
Buzarnescu collected 8 comeback wins in 25 matches in the last 52 weeks and at the third chance gifted Mertens the opening break in the third set hitting a backhand volley into the net.
That would prove to be the only break of the set. Buzarnescu saved a couple of break points on serve at 2-5 before a third rain delay started, this time lasting slightly more than an hour.
Mertens had to wait until the fifth match point to collect her 50th overall win in a deciding set and collect the new Angie Cunningham trophy, redesigned and named after the former junior No.2, and later WTA Tour’s Vice-President of Player Relations and On-Site Operations, who lost her long battle with Motor Neurone Disease in 2016.
"I had to defend a title and I'm really happy that I did it too” said Mertens to celebrate her second career title.
“It rained like three of four times so I am really thankful everybody stayed actually,” Mertens told reporters. “It’s been a wonderful week and to come back to Hobart is such a great feeling. My level was there during the whole week, so I‘m really happy with the trophy.”
Buzarnescu, projected to climb to the top 50 for the first time next week, hopes her late-career breakthrough inspires others to never give up on their dreams.
“No matter what happens you can still do it if you really believe,” she said. “If you have the right people next to you, no matter the age and I just hope I can be an example for other people at the same time.”