Vesnina’s week qualifies as success at Volvo Car Open

American Sloane Stephens (right) shakes hands with Elena Vesnina after defeating her 7-6, 6-2 to win the Volvo Car Open Sunday. (Brad Nettles/Staff)

Elena Vesnina has been on Daniel Island for the better part of 10 days, but until Sunday, the 29-year-old Russian had yet to find a window to explore downtown Charleston with her friends.

That’s what happens when you win as frequently as Vesnina did this week in the Volvo Car Open, which came to a conclusion Sunday when Sloane Stephens defeated Vesnina 7-6 (4), 6-2 in the tournament’s final.

Dating back to April 2, Vesnina rattled off seven straight singles victories, including two in the qualifying round, before Stephens beat her in Vesnina’s eighth and final singles match of the tournament. The 85th-ranked Vesnina became the first qualifier to ever reach the championship, and she also played two doubles matches, bringing her grand total of matches played to 10.

“Finally, I have a chance to go downtown because I was playing every day,” she said. “And I was finishing so late, so I was having dinner on Daniel Island.”

Vesnina’s flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until Monday, which gives her some much-deserved rest time before she heads to the Fed Cup next week in Europe. But as exhausted as her body was after so many consecutive days of tennis, Vesnina didn’t give Stephens the title easily Sunday afternoon.

After No. 25 Stephens took an early 5-2 lead in the first set of play, Vesnina rattled off four straight games to take a 6-5 lead. Stephens eventually won the next game to make it 6-6 and force a tiebreaker, where Vesnina kept it close before she eventually fell 7-4.

Stephens cruised through the second set, 6-2, though it took her five match points to finally seal the deal.

“It was not easy for me, and playing a lot of matches, maybe my body wasn’t that — say — fast, like at the beginning of the week,” Vesnina said. “But still, it’s not about that. It’s just about tennis, and somebody was just a little bit better today. And that’s why she won.”

Vesnina joked that had tournament director Bob Moran told her the winner would walk away as the proud new owner of an electric blue Volvo V60 Polestar, she might have played better.

But jokes aside, Vesnina still feels like she’s leaving Charleston on a high note, both mentally and physically, playing some of her best tennis.

“For me, actually this final is like a win I feel a little bit. I know that there’s only one winner and for us, for all the athletes, there’s only one place, No.1,” she said. “But here, today, I feel like I’m a winner … I’m just really happy about my run here. Let’s see how it’s going to be the rest of the year.”

Frenchwomen Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic have decided to join forces for the 2016 Olympics, and if Sunday’s Volvo Car Open doubles finals is any indication of the future, the two could be a dominant duo in Rio.

Garcia and Mladenovic won the doubles championship after they defeated Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova 6-2, 7-5 on Sunday afternoon.

“It’s not only about Olympics. It’s true that it’s a great coincidence that we are in 2016 and there’s Olympics coming up. But for me, there was no doubt of the quality player that Caroline is, and I guess it was just a matter of time,” Mladenovic said. “We never had before an opportunity to play together … I mean it was a great call and idea to join our forces together.”

The attendance for Sunday’s final on a brisk Daniel Island afternoon came in at 7,478. The total attendance for the entire Volvo Car Open was 92,266 — up 6,090 from 2015.

Grace is the Post and Courier's Clemson reporter. She graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in journalism.