The hype that accompanied Alisa Kleybanova, who has beaten Venus Williams and Kim Clijsters, held a No. 20 world ranking and made a comeback from cancer, was understandable.
Few at the $10,000 Sargent & Collins, LLP Women’s Tennis Championships were talking about Alexandra Mueller, but that didn’t matter to her.
With a sweep of the singles and doubles titles, capped off with a straight-set win over Kleybanova in the finale Sunday, it was the sixth-seeded Mueller who stole the show.
As temperatures reached the mid-80s at Williamsville’s Miller Tennis Center, Mueller and Kleybanova dazzled the crowd, which responded with shouts, gasps and raucous applause. The 25-year-old Mueller, who lives in Philadelphia, bested Kleybanova, 7-5, 6-4, a day after claiming the doubles title.
Kleybanova, 23, from Moscow and two years removed from a cancer diagnosis, is fighting to get back to the level at which she played when she was ranked No. 20.
And for most of the week, she appeared to be at that level once again, rattling off four consecutive wins, including a straight-set knockout of second-seeded Jessica Moore, before Mueller bested her Sunday.
“She’s an amazing player,” Mueller said. “I knew I had to play my best or close to it to have a chance against her.”
Kleybanova was in good spirits after the loss as she reflected on a week that included some of her best tennis in a long time and trips to Niagara Falls and Duff’s Wings. She said that though she won the United States Tennis Association Pro Circuit $10,000 event in Landisville, Pa., in her return to competition in May, she felt better this week as she continues to recover from Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
“Things are going well physically,” Kleybanova said. “I’m improving week by week. I know it’s definitely not my top level yet. I need to improve more, but I’m really happy that I started to compete, started to play tournaments. It’s really hard for me to get a feel for my game; it’s still very inconsistent.
“When I play these tournaments, no matter if it’s my good day or bad day, I just try to win the match. Obviously it’s not every day that everything is working. Some days I’m playing very well and some days I’m off. It’s still very unstable.”
Unfortunately for the unseeded Kleybanova, she had an off day against a red-hot opponent.
Mueller, who won the doubles title with Emily Harman on Saturday, took a tough road to the singles crown. Before defeating Kleybanova, she had to get past the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Sachie Ishizu of Tokyo, in the semifinals.
Mueller had swept the singles and doubles titles in the same tournament only once before. That and Kleybanova’s history as a worldwide contender made the weekend memorable.
“It’s really special,” Mueller said. “To be able to do it against such a tough player today, it means a lot. I tried not to think about it too much going into the match and during it, but I know what she’s accomplished. You’ll probably never see another player at a $10,000 tournament with that record. It’s unreal. I’m sure later on tonight I’ll be really feeling that it was a special win.”
The first set between Mueller and Kleybanova was a back-and-forth battle as the sides traded games. There didn’t appear to be much separation between them, but it was Mueller who won the first and final games to claim the set, 7-5.
Kleybanova bounced back to go up 2-0 in the second set, but Mueller hastily regained command, winning three straight games and never looking back en route to a 6-4 set victory and straight-set match win.
“I just relaxed a little bit knowing the worst thing that could happen is it goes three sets, which isn’t really that bad,” said Mueller, who is 5-foot-11 and ranked No. 536 by the Women’s Tennis Association. “When I got down, I just loosened up a bit and started going for my shots more.”
Mueller was effusive in her praise of the Miller Tennis Center.
“I loved my time here,” she said. “This facility is unbelievable. I had a great experience.”
Todd Miller, the tournament director, said it was the strongest field he has had in the tournament’s three years, and the high-octane finale was the perfect conclusion.
“This year was just incredible,” Miller said. “For a 10K tournament, the field was just incredible.”