NEW HAVEN — Aryna Sabalenka has added her name to a growing list of tennis players who have earned breakthrough wins at The Connecticut Open.
The 20-year-old from Belarus beat Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 6-1, 6-4 on Saturday to win the final WTA tuneup before the U.S. Open.
Sabalenka, whose ranking goes from 25th to 20th in the world, becomes the second straight player to earn her first premier title in New Haven, following Daria Gavrilova, who won her first WTA tournament here last year. Simona Halep, the currently No. 1 player in the world, broke through here in 2013, and Caroline Wozniacki took home her first premier trophy from the Connecticut Tennis Center in 2008.
"I was thinking about it, I would like to put my name there," Sabalenka said. "I am so happy. It's always nice to see your name, like a winner."
Sabalenka was overpowering at the start of the match, winning the first five games and needing just 24 minutes to capture the first set.
After talking to her coach, Suarez Navarro played better in the second set. She answered a service break in the seventh game with one of her own in the eighth. But Sabalenka responded in the ninth, forcing five deuces and earning the key break on the game's 16th point.
"In the first set, my first service didn't work good," Suarez Navarro said. "I tried to move her, but it was difficult. I don't know if you saw the match or not, but she was playing good. I was trying. Sometimes you lost because you play bad, but today, I don't think so."
It was just the second full match that the 29-year-old Suarez Navarro played this week. After winning in straight sets against Barbora Strycova in the first round, she advanced to the quarterfinals when second-round opponent Johanna Konta withdrew with an illness. She moved on again when third-seeded Petra Kvitova bowed out with a shoulder injury after one set in the quarterfinals, and Monica Puig retired with an abdominal strain eight games into their semifinal match.
But she said the lack of match play was not much of a factor in her loss.
"She's (playing) with a lot of confidence," Suarez Navarro said. "She has more rhythm."
The was the first time since the tournament moved to New Haven over two decades ago the final did not include a seeded player.
Top-seeded Halep withdrew with a right Achilles tendon injury just before the start of the tournament. Illness forced out sixth-seeded Ashleigh Barty and seventh-seeded Kiki Bertens.
Sabalenka becomes the youngest winner in New Haven since Wozniacki took the third of her four titles in 2010.
"Our brand for 21 years has been that New Haven is the launch pad for the stars of tomorrow," said Anne Worcester, the tournament's director.
Sabalenka takes home just over $136,000 for the win and plans to celebrate with ice cream, french fries and perhaps a hamburger at McDonald's. The trophy, she said, will go to the two women she credits with her success.
"I think it will be some fight at home between my grandma and my mom who will get this one," she said. "I think I will leave it with my grandma's house because it's more space there."