Cirstea Wins Istanbul With Patience And Maturity

Sorana Cirstea (photo: @TennisChampIst/Twitter)

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON, April 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The wise maxim “patience is a virtue” can be traced back to the 14th century, long before tennis was around. Yet, it’s simplicity is something which Sorana Cirstea can appreciate.

Until Sunday, the 31-year-old Romanian tennis veteran had gone 13 years since her last WTA tour singles title, back when she lifted the champion’s trophy at Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 2008. That changed on a cloudy, windy and chilly (12º Celsius) afternoon at the Turkish Tennis Federation Tennis Center, when the 67th-ranked Cirstea beat No. 1 seed Elise Mertens, 6-1, 7-6 (3), in an hour and 40 minutes, to win the WTA 250 TEB BNP Paribas Tennis Championship Istanbul in Turkey. The title capped a week to remember for Cirstea, who did not drop a set the entire tournament. She won five straight matches to improve her season’s win-loss record to 11-5.

Cirstea, a native of Bucharest, became the second straight Romanian to win the Istanbul singles title following last year’s victory by Patricia Maria Tig, who won the rescheduled event in September, after the WTA tour resumed.

Cirstea hit 30 winners to 43 unforced errors and converted five of 12 break points against the World No. 17 Mertens of Belgium, who mustered just seven winners and committed 38 unforced errors. Cirstea outpointed her opponent 79-57, playing inspiring tennis from first ball to last ball, being aggressive in going after her shots and hitting effectively from both her forehand and backhand sides.

During the trophy ceremony, Cirstea, who was just 18 the last time she won a WTA singles title, once was a French Open quarterfinalist in 2009 and was once ranked as high as No. 21, grinned and thanked her team for “believing” in her and pushing her “every single day”.

She added: “I did not expect it, to be honest. So, probably, I’m twice as glad!”

Later, during a virtual interview with a trio of international tennis writers, including Tennis TourTalk, Cirstea said she was “very, very happy” at winning a title the first time in 13 years.

“Today, I beat a Top 20 player, which gives me a lot of confidence,” said Cirstea, who earlier this season beat Petra Kvitova at the Australian Open for her first Top 10 win since 2017. [Elise] is a very solid player, who doesn’t give you a lot of free points. I’m very happy about this title because I think its one that I deserve. 

“I think I’ve been more disciplined. Everyone knows I’m aggressive, that I hit hard. I can hit forehands and backhands; there’s not much difference in my shots. This week, having the discipline to stay in the rally – not being afraid to stay in the rally – and picking the right shots to hit for winners was the biggest difference.”


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When Cirstea was asked if there was lesson to her title run – finding her joy in tennis, again, and learning the virtue of patience when she plays – she said: “I do believe that life gives you lessons every day. You just have to open your eyes and your mind and be able to learn from them.

“Tennis has always been my life, and once Covid came I realized there are other things that are important, too. Winning or losing a tennis match is not life or death. So, I have been seeing tennis from a different point of view. It’s working much better. I don’t get as stressed or excited anymore.”

Instead, as Cirstea explained, she’s her biggest competitor and enjoys the mental and physical battles on the court – and winning them. “I actually want the matches to be tough ones, I want to show myself that I am strong and I’ve always been one of those people that I am my own biggest competitor. So, today I think I showed that I’m stronger than in the past.”

Cirstea had played in a total of 19 tournaments since reaching her last WTA final, at Tashkent in 2019. Now, after winning Istanbul, she’s projected to rise in the new WTA rankings to No. 58.

Soon, after Cirstea closed out the match by winning the final three points of the second-set tie break, then shook hands with Mertens, she retired to her bench – bundling up in a heavy parka-like coat to stay warm – and pulled out her smartphone to call home. From the moment she won, there seemed to be a permanent smile on the Romanian’s face.

“Tennis is a tough sport, mentally, and I don’t like to complain too much,” said Cirstea, who is now off to ready for the Mutua Madrid Open this week, followed by Rome, Belgrade and the French Open. “I think right now, even if I have a certain age in my passport, I don’t feel that age. Thankfully, I’m healthy and I have a game that doesn’t take its toll on my body. I think maturity matters. Everything is coming together. I’m trying to enjoy day by day. I’ve made peace with my past. I think the moment I did, I was able to move forward.”

Mertens/Kudermetova win Istanbul doubles title

After losing the singles final, Elise Mertens was back on the center court along with Veronika Kudermetova, whom she defeated in her singles semifinal Saturday. Together, the top-seeded Mertens and Kudermetova beat No. 2 seeds Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya, both of Japan, 6-1, 6-1, in only 50 minutes, to win the Istanbul doubles title.

The winners captured 86 percent (19 of 22) of their first-serve points, broke the Japanese duo six times and outpointed their opponents 53-27.

The doubles title was the second this season for Mertens, who teamed with Aryna Sabalenka to win the Australian Open in February. It was the first doubles title for Kudermetova this season, who won the Volvo Open singles title two weeks ago in Charleston, S.C.