The first title of the new WTA Tour season was decided at the Shenzhen Open as Aryna Sabalenka came from behind to fight off an inspired performance from Alison Riske to record a 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 victory.
The 20-year old Belarussian took home her third career title and will rise to 11th when the new rankings are released on Monday. The American endures more heartbreak in Shenzhen, losing her third final here in the last four years.
Riske claims first set in a surprise
Sabalenka was nearly off to the perfect start, a quick hold to and created a break point on Riske's serve, but the American fought it off. That gave her momentum that she carried into the next game, holding two break points.
After saving the first, the top seed double-faulted on the second, handing the American the early advantage at 2-1. Ahead 4-2, Riske got to deuce on the Sabalenka serve, but the Belarussian used her power game to keep touch.
After each woman held to love, Riske stepped up to serve out the set and got to 40-0. On her first set point, the world number 62 fired a wide serve that Sabalenka was unable to return, the underdog a set ahead in 37 minutes.
Sabalenka takes the second set in a tiebreak
The American kept pace with her favored opponent, but in the fourth game, Sabalenka finally made the breakthrough. At 30-30, Riske committed a pair of unforced errors to give the top seed a 3-1 edge, a hold stretching it to 4-1.
The world number 62 valiantly fought in the eighth game, sqaving two set points to hold. She shockingly broke to love as Sabalenka served for the set, an accurate backhand drawing an error. on break point. The set would ultimately be decided in a tiebreak.
A minibreak on the second point, courtesy of the top seed's fearsome groundstrokes, gave her a 2-0 lead. Although Riske stayed in contact, she was unable to make the breakthrough she needed and a second minibreak gave the world number 13 a second minibreak for a 5-2 lead and she closed out the set two points later.
Top seed rides early break in deciding set to clinch title
Sabalenka opened the third set with a quick break after blasting a forehand straight at Riske. She went up a double break at 3-0 before the American was able to pull one of the breaks back. A hold to 30 put the pressure straight back on the Belarussian.
Both players had chances late on with Riske saving a pair of break points in the seventh game and Sabalenka fighting off a break point in the eighth game for a 5-3 lead. The top seed held 215-40 looking to seal the title, but the American saved both.
After bludgeoning a forehand to set up a third chance, Riske sailed one final backhand long to give Sabalenka the championship and send a stern warning to her rivals for the upcoming Australian Open.