ITF $50K Toronto: Catherine Bellis battles past Jesika Maleckova for biggest-ever title

Top seed Catherine “CiCi” Bellis capped off another stunning week on Canadian soil in victorious fashion Sunday afternoon, battling past fourth seed Jesika Maleckova in a titanic three-set battle to capture the 2016 Tevlin Challenger title.

ITF $50K Toronto: Catherine Bellis battles past Jesika Maleckova for biggest-ever title
Catherine Bellis poses with the winner’s trophy after defeating Jesika Maleckova in the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Catherine Bellis
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Jesika Maleckova

Top seed Catherine Bellis capped off another stunning week on Canadian soil at the Tevlin Challenger Sunday afternoon, overcoming a second-set letdown to edge out fourth seed Jesika Maleckova, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3, in a thrilling contest on the indoor courts of the Aviva Centre.

Brilliant Bellis Blasts Through Opener

Beginning the match on the front foot, it appeared that Maleckova was going to be the first to make a move, but it was Bellis, the younger of the two, who was able to show just why she is often regarded as one of the brightest prospects in the women’s game today, playing her best tennis right when it mattered most. Impressively, the top seed was able to stave off a stern test in her opening two service games before finally making the breakthrough in the fourth game, right when Maleckova began to come undone. Putting ruthless pressure on the Czech right from the return, Bellis took advantage of the fourth seed’s undoing to draw first blood and take a 3-1 lead.

Catherine Bellis hits a backhand against Jesika Maleckova during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Catherine Bellis hits a backhand against Jesika Maleckova during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
 

Maleckova, however, refused to go down quietly and soon rebounded with a break of her own as the American ultimately succumbed to the pressure with an untimely third double fault. But despite her best efforts, the Czech couldn’t seem to hold her nerve as Bellis quickly surged ahead and never looked back. After reclaiming the single break advantage, the 17-year-old quickly reasserted her authority on the final, powering to an easy hold with some stunning defence before going on the offensive to break Maleckova for a third and final time to claim the opener in 29 minutes, 6-2.

Maleckova Fights Back Valiantly After Lengthy Medical Timeout

After taking an off-court medical timeout to treat what appeared to be a left hip injury, Maleckova began the second set with a new sense of purpose, looking to get on the front foot and finish points as quickly as possible. Remarkably, the shots she was missing in the first set began to find their mark as the Czech began to grow in confidence. Winning 16 of the first 17 points of the second frame, the fourth seed raced out to a 4-0 lead in a matter of minutes, with the top seed seeming at a loss for answers.

Jesika Maleckova prepares to return a serve against Catherine Bellis during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Jesika Maleckova prepares to return a serve against Catherine Bellis during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao

Bellis did what she could to stop the bleeding with a commanding hold to get on the board, but there was no stopping Maleckova, who quickly responded with an emphatic hold of her own before breaking for a third and final time to wrap up the set in just 26 minutes.

With the match now heading to a third and final set, would the Czech be able to carry this momentum into the decider or would the American be able to summon up the strength to claim her second title in three weeks?

Jesika Maleckova celebrates after winning a point against Catherine Bellis during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Jesika Maleckova celebrates after winning a point against Catherine Bellis during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao

Bellis Holds Her Nerve, Solves Maleckova for Biggest-Ever Title

After failing to find any answers to Maleckova’s second wind, Bellis was keen to get off to a strong start. Making her intentions clear right from the off, the American teenager quickly raced out to a 2-0 lead, showcasing some of the play that saw her dominate the majority of the opening set. But right when Bellis was beginning to find her footing, Maleckova began to raise her level, resulting in some extraordinary exchanges from all parts of the court.

As the points grew longer, so did the games, forcing the momentum shift from one player to the other. After the top seed raced out to an early advantage in the decider, Maleckova appeared to be on course for getting back on level terms after getting on the board in the third game. But remarkably, Bellis staved off the challenge, toughing out a hold for a crucial 3-1 lead. From there, the American quickly reestablished her authority from the receiving end to break once more to go within two games of her second title in three weeks on Canadian soil.

Catherine Bellis celebrates after claiming the early break of the final set in the first game against Jesika Maleckova during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Catherine Bellis celebrates after claiming the early break of the final set in the first game against Jesika Maleckova during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao

But right when the match seemingly appeared to have been decided, the ever so common momentum shift began to rear its ugly head for the top seed. Playing her best tennis from behind, the fourth-seeded Czech immediately recovered in the following game to cut the double-break deficit in half. But perhaps even more impressively, she was able to save a trio of break points en route to a hold that would keep her in touch with the world number 101.

With the pressure firmly back on her shoulders, the 17-year-old needed to find a second wind when she soon found herself in danger of being 4-1 and a double break up in the decider to 4-all and back on level terms in a matter of minutes. Impressively, however, the top seed was able to maintain and play with a composure beyond her years as she held her nerve to stop the rot and go within one game of victory.

Catherine Bellis celebrates after winning a point against Jesika Maleckova during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Catherine Bellis celebrates after winning a point against Jesika Maleckova during the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao

Determined to secure the victory right then and there, the American saw one opportunity come and go in the game that followed suit, but made no such mistake the second time around, crushing an inside-out forehand return to claim her third ITF Pro Circuit title of 2016 in an hour and 36 minutes.

“I’d like to thank the sponsors, all the ball kids, tournament director, stringers, everyone who made the tournament possible,” Bellis said in her speech. “It was really an unbelievable week for me and I had so much fun, and everyone was so nice, and I had a great time, so thank you so much, everyone.”

Catherine Bellis addresses the crowd during the trophy ceremony after defeating Jesika Maleckova in the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao
Catherine Bellis addresses the crowd during the trophy ceremony after defeating Jesika Maleckova in the final of the 2016 Tevlin Challenger. | Photo: Max Gao