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Gael Monfils, Yanina Wickmayer win in Citi Open finals

Gael Monfils, Yanina Wickmayer win in Citi Open finals
Gael Monfils of France returns a shot during his 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 win against Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the men's singles final of the Citi Open at Rock Creek Tennis Center on July 24, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Grant Halverson)

Things were looking bleak for Gael Monfils, a man with a long history of losing tournament finals.

Monfils' opponent in the Citi Open title match, Ivo Karlovic, was about to serve for the championship and had not been broken all week.

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Down but not quite out, Monfils came through, breaking Karlovic twice in a span of four service games and erasing a match point while coming back for a 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory Sunday at the Citi Open to earn his first trophy in 2 1/2 years.

"To be honest," Monfils said, "today was pure luck."

Well, maybe, but he deserves credit for figuring out a way to do enough to neutralize the big serve of the 6-foot-11 Karlovic, who was trying to become, at age 37, the oldest man since 1973 to win ATP singles tournaments in consecutive weeks.

"Normally I should have (won). I was better in the first two sets, and I didn't use my opportunity," Karlovic said. "And then after that, I was dead. I couldn't move anymore."

Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium holds the trophy after her 6-4, 6-2 win over Lauren Davis of the United States in the women's singles final of the Citi Open.
Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium holds the trophy after her 6-4, 6-2 win over Lauren Davis of the United States in the women's singles final of the Citi Open. (Grant Halverson)

In the women's final, No. 7-seeded Yanina Wickmayer of Belgium won her fifth WTA singles title, beating 122nd-ranked Lauren Davis of the U.S. 6-4, 6-2. Wickmayer became the third woman to win the singles and doubles championships at the same event in 2016.

Wickmayer, a 26-year-old Belgian who was seeded No. 7 at the hard-court tournament, is the third woman to win both the singles and doubles championships at the same event this season.

She teamed with Monica Niculescu to win the doubles at the Citi Open on Saturday.

"It's such a great feeling to win titles and to hold that trophy at the end of the week," said Wickmayer, who entered with a ranking of 44th. "Being able to hold two trophies this week has been great."

In her only other appearance in Washington, in 2013, Wickmayer lost in the first round.

This was the first singles title of the season for Wickmayer, whose best Grand Slam showing was a run to the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 2009.

Davis is a 22-year-old American who is ranked 122nd and was playing in her first WTA final. She had won only three main-draw, tour-level matches all year until winning four in a row on the way to reaching the title match at the Citi Open.

"I know how it felt being out there the first time in my career, playing a final," Wickmayer said. "It's not easy."

Monfils, a Frenchman seeded No. 2, had lost 19 of 24 career finals, and 8 of his last 9. But this time he earned $348,200 in prize money for his first title since February 2014 at Montpellier, France, and the most important of his career — his first at an ATP 500 tournament, which refers to the ranking points the champion collects.

He noted that he was proud to join Arthur Ashe and Yannick Noah as winners in the U.S. capital whose names are etched on the blue awnings around the main stadium.

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"They've been an inspiration for me," Monfils said. "I grew up with those names. Definitely to have my name next to them, it's priceless."

Didn't look as if he'd get that honor.

Up until 5-4 in the second set, when Karlovic served for the victory, the 13th-seeded Croatian had won all 53 service games in the hard-court tournament.

"I still had this little hope. `Maybe he will get tight a little bit.' And obviously, he got tight a little bit," Monfils said.

He converted his seventh break point of the match when Karlovic pushed a forehand volley long. Karlovic put his hands on his hips, knowing he'd come so close to ending things right then and there.

Karlovic then was a single point from victory at 6-5 in the ensuing tiebreaker, but a 116 mph serve by Monfils produced a backhand return that sailed long. A couple of points later, Monfils owned that set, and he broke again to lead 2-1 in the third.

Soon enough, Monfils ended Karlovic's eight-match winning streak, which included a title last week on grass at Newport, Rhode Island.

Not since 43 years ago, when Ken Rosewall won back-to-back events a month shy of his 39th birthday, has a man older than Karlovic won two ATP titles in a row.

Karlovic's intimidating serve can take over a match. With the temperature nearing 100 degrees Sunday, it made for even tougher conditions for Monfils to try to deal with those high-bouncing serves.

Monfils, who is 29, tried a bit of everything.

At the outset, he stood way back to return, to no avail, dropping 18 of the first 19 points Karlovic served (the lone exception was a double-fault).

Occasionally, Monfils would shuffle back and forth behind the baseline while awaiting serves.

And later, he moved much closer to the baseline while receiving, a tactic that seemed to help.

But the real secret to Monfils' success might simply have been that Karlovic wore himself out with his net-rushing tactics.

"At the end," Monfils said, "I knew a little bit that it's tough to serve-and-volley for 2 hours in the heat."

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