CHARLESTON, S.C. — Andrea Petkovic remembered why she started playing tennis and along the way gave everyone else a reminder about how talented she is when she’s at her best.
The 26-year-old from Germany, who fell from ninth in the world in 2011 to 177th two years later, capped a stunning run to the Family Circle Cup title on Sunday, Petkovic’s first win in three years.
She outlasted Jana Cepelova 7-5, 6-2 in the finals.
“I just wanted to get back to why I started playing tennis, because I had fun playing it and because I love the sport,” said Petkovic, whose progresses was slowed by several injuries that cost her much of 2012.
The climb back was painful at times. Petkovic wanted to quit the game after falling in French Open qualifying last year and wondered if she’d ever feel success at the sport again. So she decided to play for fun and not for the wins.
“I just needed to remind myself and it came together this week, and I’m very thrilled about that,” she said.
Petkovic entered this one seeded 14th, ranked 40th in the world and with few expectations about her first clay-court event of the season.
Instead, Petkovic’s powerful forehand and grind-it-out mindset helped her oust three straight top 10 seeds in No. 4 Sabine Lisicki, No. 9 Lucie Safarova and No. 6 Eugenie Bouchard on the way to the finals.
Petkovic used that same formula against Cepelova, a rising 20-year-old from Slovakia competing in her first WTA final.
Cepelova led 5-4 and was a point away from capturing the first set. But Petkovic rallied to win that game and begin a run of eight in a row to take control of the match.
“I have to let loose and play like I can,” she told herself.
Petkovic was energized after winning the crucial game and quickly broke serve to move in front. She took the set a game later and continued her run to build a 5-0 lead that Cepelova could not overcome.
For Petkovic, the victory was more gratifying than her two other career WTA wins because of all her struggles. This “is a different feeling,” she said. “Now, I’m much more grateful. It’s more rewarding.”
Petkovic dropped to the ground when Cepelova’s final shot landed out of play. She jogged to the net to hug her opponent, waved to the crowd and did a celebration dance as fans applauded.
She let her fun side shine through all week. She joked in postgame comments she might get a bit crazy on the flight back home, dancing with flight attendants and drinking champagne from her latest trophy.
“I’m going to have champagne and I don’t even drink champagne,” she said. “But I’m going to have it for the heck of it.”
Petkovic earned $120,000 for her third career WTA victory, which was her first since winning in Strasbourg in 2011.
Petkovic’s victory closed a week of surprises at the Family Circle Tennis Center. Only one of the tournament’s top 10 seeds made it through to the final four and it was the first time a WTA tournament included three semifinalists 20 years old or younger since Amelia Island in 2008.
Cepelova had a stunning run of her own, topping world No. 1 Serena Williams on Tuesday night to set the stage for plenty more unexpected results. Cepelova became the Family Circle Cup’s first unseeded finalist since Elena Vesnina in 2011.
Cepelova didn’t expect a long visit here, arriving without her coach, trainers and hitting partners. She typically ordered room service at the hotel and had to scrape around to find hitting partners to warm up before matches.
“Before the tournament, if somebody told me you’ll be in the tournament finals I would not believe them,” Cepelova said with a smile. “But it was a really nice week.”
Cepelova is also projected to move up some 30 spots in the rankings to around 50th in the world when the new list comes out next week, the WTA said.
Petkovic won the title in her second appearance here. She had reached the round of 16 last year, but had to withdraw from a match against Caroline Wozniacki. She was on the phone with her father, Zoran, after the win. Father and daughter now have Palmetto State success in common.
Zoran Petkovic was one of the leading singles players at the University of South Carolina in the early 1980s. He told his daughter stories of how Americans on campus loved wearing “cowboy boots and blue jeans,” she recalled, laughing.
“He was very happy, very emotional,” Andrea Petkovic said of their phone call. “I don’t know if he was tearing up, though.”