The Shenzhen Open was symbolic for Alison Riske as she had made the final there two other times, in 2016 against now retired Aga Radwanska and then in 2017 with Katerina Siniakova. But it was just as difficult then as now to win the tournament this year in 2019 opposite Aryna Sabalenka.
Alison Riske ended her 2018 season with only making it into two finals: The Nuremberg Cup with Johanna Larsson where she did get the title in straight sets and a Challenger title - ITF of Great Britain 03A opposite Conny Perrin.
But this tournament was different and the first set at Shenzhen against Sabalenka was dynamic. The first set rallies were furious but Alison Riske from the start had back-to-back forehand blasting winner one down the line and the other cross court, sending Aryna Sabalenka off balanced trying to retrieve the return.
The Belarusian wasn't at first able to get her rhythm and mantra going because Riske consistently kept the pressure on, slicing and passing her in open court spaces. The movement on covering the court for Alison Riske was impeccable and she earned her 6-4 set victory in grand style.
"There is an upset brewing", the commentator said as the players sat down for a much needed break. But the only thing brewing in the second set was an exchange of talents and Sabalenka was dominating her shots clipping the corners and down the lines, much of where Riske couldn't predict the ball to go.
The Belarusian quickly exploded shots and strategies to lead 4 games to 1. Both had grunts that were deafening, showing their strength and endurance for not only blasting the ball on offense, but also in returns. Sabalenka sliced and came up to net but it was Riske who was already waiting at net to punch a return winner in the opening court.
Riske fought hard and the score soon became a tiebreak but Sabalenka was just too strong for Riske and the Belarusian had won the second set 7-6. "We have a decider here", a commentator loudly remarked and the two players started off with jst as much power and energy as when they first came on court.
Sabalenka was blasting away from her forehand to backhand slicing shots while Riske was keeping the rallies going but at times seem to be off balanced. Both kept the fans excited with suspense on who would win each point and rally, but the American had misjudged her forehand balsty down the line and it went sailing into the alley giving the match and title to Sabalenka.
While other players get down on their knees in exaltation, the Belarusian could only hold both of her arms up in the air and look up towards the sky. This was Sabalenka's third career title. She won her first at the Connecticut Open and then the second at Wuhan, but now it's her second Asian title well fought for.
The Belarusian was beyond happy and feeling accomplished says that "To start the season with a title, it gives you more belief in yourself...hopefully I can do well at the Australian Open" Sabalenka was willing to go through the channels to play and admitted she had a few rain delays that took out the consistency of her game a bit.
She was determined to come out victorious despite it all and says that "if I need to play two matches in one day, I'm going to do that" But she gave all the credit to Riske for having a good game and a bit scary at times giving her doubts if she could overpower her.
"..I'm so happy that I found a way how to win", Sabalenka put on a big grin, knowing that Riske is a big hitting player that at times can be intimidating. Riske has been on tour for nearly 10 years often playing a dogged and feisty bunch of matches sometimes with a big team and sometimes not but upon winning her first title four years ago at the Tianjin Open was an eye opener as she'd said "It's a huge accomplishment for me to win my first WTA title...even more special...that I was able to do it by myself..."
This runner-up status will have elevated her rankings to the top 50, giving her a renewed confidence on perhaps how the rest of the season should be going. It is all that a player can wish for to make it to the final of their tournaments despite being a runner-up or winner as Alison Riske had just done.
It not only means a lot to their ranking and financial tennis stability, but to their confidence knowing that every tournament they have a chance to go hard, deep and perhaps win.