The Apia International Sydney is a unique fusion of old and new. Dating back to 1885 and hence one of the oldest tournaments in the world, it is now a vibrant and popular stop on the WTA tour where the top players warm up for the Australian Open and the 2015 tournament should be the best yet.
The $710,000 Premier WTA tournament always attracts a packed field and 2014 was no exception with five of the top ten women in action at the Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki all took to the courts but it was an unheralded qualifier, Tsvetana Pironkova, who made a stunning run through the draw to lift the trophy, defeating world no. 9 Angelique Kerber in the final.
It was the first career final for Pironkova and the ninth for Kerber, but although the Bulgarian was relatively inexperienced at this level, she is a former Wimbledon semi-finalist and despite some swings of momentum, dominated the final.
It was a fitting end to a sensational tournament for the Bulgarian, who defeated top ten players Sara Errani and Petra Kvitova en route to her defeat of Kerber, all without dropping a set.
'When I think about what I've been through, not only last season but throughout my career, it hasn't been easy for me,' Pironkova said. 'Winning a WTA title is something I've been waiting for so long and something that I've missed so much. Now that I finally have it, it's all surreal. I still cannot believe it, honestly.'
The last WTA player to win a Premier title as a qualifier was Ekaterina Makarova back in Eastbourne in 2010.
‘After last year,’ Pironkova said, ‘I discovered you just have to live every moment. Now I won the title. I'm not going to take it for granted. I'm going to be happy for as much as I can. I'm going to enjoy this moment as much as I can and take everything from it that I can.
‘It can only give me good things. Now I know that I'm capable of beating everyone. I'm just going to try to repeat it.’
Since 1997, 17 of the 20 Sydney champions have reached at least the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Recent champions at the Apia International include Li Na (2011), Victoria Azarenka (2012) and Agnieszka Radwanska (2013).
With a record like that, it’s no wonder that the Apia International attracts so many of the game’s best to play – and with off-court activities including clinics, autograph sessions and Volkswagen functions, it’s no wonder that over 80,000 people attended the tournament, which has won awards for its commitment to providing an excellent fan experience and is sure to reach new heights in 2015.