Sorana Cirstea finished at No. 86 on the 2020 year-end rankings, but she’ll head into 2021 just outside the Top 70 after winning the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, a $100,000 ITF event in Dubai.

Unseeded, the Romanian took out four seeds in five matches—No. 4 Anna Blinkova, No. 6 Barbora Krejcikova, No. 2 Polona Hercog and finally No. 5 Katerina Siniakova—en route to the title.

“It’s been an absolute privilege to play tennis in such tough and testing times,” she told Gulf News after battling for more than two hours for a 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory over Siniakova in Saturday’s final. “It’s been a great week for me, and hopefully I will be back to defend my title here next year.”

It was Cirstea’s first title since triumphing at a $25,000 ITF event in Bertioga, Brazil in 2016, and her biggest trophy since capturing another $100,000 ITF event in Saint Malo, France in 2011. She has one tour-level title to her name, winning the International-level hardcourt event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 2008.

Cirstea is projected to rise from No. 86 to No. 71 on the new WTA rankings on Monday.

The Romanian reached a career-high of No. 21 in 2013, after what was arguably the best tournament of her career—a runner-up effort at the Premier 5 event in Toronto. There she took out three Top 10 players, Caroline Wozniacki, Petra Kvitova and Li Na, before ultimately falling to Serena Williams.

Cirstea wins biggest title since 2011 at $100,000 ITF event in Dubai

Cirstea wins biggest title since 2011 at $100,000 ITF event in Dubai


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The unseeded Cirstea going all the way to the title wasn’t the only surprise in Dubai this past week, with Ekaterine Gorgodze and Ankita Raina—who were also unseeded—taking the doubles title.

There was major star power in the doubles draw, with Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic the top seeds. But the Hungarian-French duo, who’ve captured four Grand Slam doubles titles together—including the Australian Open and Roland Garros this year—were forced to withdraw from the event prior to their quarterfinal match due to a Mladenovic back injury. The Frenchwoman, who was the No. 1 seed in the singles, too, also retired from her second-round match as a result of the injury.

The $100,000 ITF event in Dubai was the last notable tournament on the tennis calendar this year. There are still a few more weeks of ITF events for men and women, but none have a bigger prize purse than $25,000, and there are no more tour-level events or Challengers the rest of the year, either.

ATP and WTA calendar announcements pertaining to the start of the 2021 season are expected in the coming week.