Andrea Petkovic ended a surprising week at the Family Circle Cup by winning her first WTA tournament in three years, outlasting Jana Cepelova for a 7-5, 6-2 victory on Sunday.
Petkovic was once ranked ninth in the world before several injuries slowed her progress and cost her much of the 2012 season. She entered this one seeded 14th, ranked 40th in the world and with few expectations about her first clay-court event of the season.
Instead, Petkovic's powerful forehand and grind-it-out mindset helped her oust three straight top 10 seeds in No. 4 Sabine Lisicki, No. 9 Lucie Safarova and No. 6 Eugenie Bouchard on the way to the finals.
The 26-year-old German used that same formula against Cepelova, a rising 20-year-old from Slovakia competing in her first WTA final.
"I still have a long way to go for me and I have a lot of potential," Petkovic said. "But I feel I'm on the right track."
Cepelova led 5-4 and was a point away from capturing the first set. But Petkovic rallied to win that game and begin a run of eight in a row to take control of the match.
"I have to let loose and play like I can," she told herself.
Petkovic was energized after winning the crucial game and quickly broke serve to move in front. She took the set a game later and continued her run to build a 5-0 lead that Cepelova could not overcome.
For Petkovic, the victory was more gratifying than her two other career WTA wins because of all her struggles. She was 177th in the world in March 2013 and was beaten in the second round of French Open qualifying, a loss that had her contemplating giving up the game.
This "is a different feeling," she said. "Now, I'm much more grateful. It's more rewarding."
Petkovic dropped to the ground when Cepelova's final shot landed out of play. She jogged to the net to hug her opponent, waved to the crowd and did a celebration dance as fans applauded.
Petkovic earned $120,000 for her third career WTA victory, which was her first since winning in Strasbourg in 2011.
Petkovic's victory closed a week of surprises at the Family Circle Tennis Center. Only one of the tournament's top 10 seeds made it through to the final four and it was the first time a WTA tournament included three semifinalists 20 years old or younger since Amelia Island in 2008.
Cepelova had a stunning run of her own, topping world No. 1 Serena Williams on Tuesday night to set the stage for plenty more unexpected results. Cepelova became the Family Circle Cup's first unseeded finalist since Elena Vesnina in 2011.
Cepelova didn't expect a long visit here, arriving without her coach, trainers and hitting partners. She typically ordered room service at the hotel and had to scrape around to find hitting partners to warm up before matches.
"Before the tournament, if somebody told me you'll be in the tournament finals I would not believe them," Cepelova said with a smile. "But it was a really nice week.
Cepelova is also projected to move up some 30 spots in the rankings to around 50th in the world when the new list comes out next week, the WTA said.
Petkovic won the title in her second appearance here. She had reached the round of 16 last year, but had to withdraw from a match against Caroline Wozniacki. She was on the phone with her father, Zoran, after the win. Father and daughter now have Palmetto State success in common.
Zoran Petkovic was one of the leading singles players at the University of South Carolina in the early 1980s. He told his daughter stories of how Americans on campus loved wearing "cowboy boots and blue jeans," she recalled, laughing.
"He was very happy, very emotional," Andrea Petkovic said of their phone call. "I don't know if he was tearing up, though."