Elena Rybakina said she will have two incentives to return to next year’s Launceston International.
One will be to defend her first major tournament title, the other will be to indulge in the pleasures of Festivale, which she has been forced to watch from afar this year.
Moments after being handed the title when Russian fourth seed Irena Khromacheva pulled out with an injured ankle, the 19-year-old Kazakh was extolling the virtues of a fortnight in Tasmania.
“It’s my first time here,” Rybakina said. “Launceston is a beautiful city but I could not get to your festival. I saw it, but maybe I go next year.”
Demonstrating the cosmopolitan nature of the tournament, Rybakina conquered opponents from Australia, Germany, Chinese Taipei, Belgium and Russia to claim her maiden ITF title, having fallen one hurdle short in a final in Istanbul last year.
Having seen off top-seed Laura Siegemund in the second round, the lanky teenager had no easy ride against Khromacheva, dropping serve in the opening games of both sets.
Launceston is a beautiful city but I could not get to your festival. I saw it, but maybe I go next year.Elena Rybakina
Despite being offered several break points, she took until the eighth game to level proceedings in the opener which seemed destined for a tie-break.
However, Khromacheva went to pieces in the 12th game, twice double-faulting to lose the service game to love.
After again making a good start to the second set, courtesy of a Rybakina double fault, the 23-year-old dropped serve in the sixth game and pulled the pin with the score at 7-5, 3-3.
Playing her second final in three months, having won in Mumbai, an emotional Khromacheva congratulated Rybakina before apologising to fans both for pulling out and for defeating four Aussies en route to the final.
Fighting back tears, she said: “With my ankle in the quarter-final I did not know if I was going to be able to play but unfortunately it was not enough today.”
Khromacheva saw off wildcards Kaylah McPhee and Abbie Myers, qualifier Maddison Inglis and the experienced Arina Rodionova to reach the showpiece.
The unseeded Rybakina, who was born in Moscow but changed citizenship to Kazakhstan, said she did not see the sudden retirement coming.
“I was surprised, I did not expect it,” she said, after collecting her $12,433 winnings.
“She’s a good player, even if she felt bad today. She is a fighter and it’s tough to play against her.
“I’m so happy. I lost a final last year so I’m really happy to have won.
“It’s a good result and I hope to get better and better from here.”
Blustery winds which have plagued the tournament all week, were back with a vengeance for the singles finals.
Despite hampering the players, the breeze was welcomed by a good turnout at a sun-drenched Launceston Regional Tennis Centre, many of whom (unlike Rybakina) combined the tennis with a visit to nearby Festivale.