For the many of us gathered around Lagardere Racing Club’s Centre Court on Sunday afternoon, the occasion unfolded as a day of firsts. Shortly after 3:30 PM local time, American Claire Liu defeated Beatriz Haddad Maia to win the inaugural Trophee Lagardere. The tournament, hosted on Lagardere Paris Racing’s sprawling collection of clay courts, marked the first WTA event in Paris since the Open Gaz de France’s departure in 2014. For Liu, however, the sweetest first was undoubtedly her 6-3 6-4 victory over Haddad Maia, representing the first WTA title of her professional career.
Looking back on the week, Trophee Lagardere’s relaxed atmosphere and red clay courts rendered an ideal ecosystem for Liu to claim her first WTA Tour victory. The current World No. 92 does not play fast, “serve-plus-one” tennis. Her game is a mixture of defensive anticipation, forehand-to-forehand body blows, and deceptively versatile backhands. On Centre Court, Liu defended all 27 feet of the baseline, barely registering a noise above the sound of her meticulous footwork while defusing threatening first serves and inside-out forehands.
Despite beating Liu 7-5 3-6 6-2 just last week in the quarterfinal round of the WTA 125 Saint-Malo Open, Liu’s game on Sunday proved too airtight for the Brazilian Maia. Backed by the majority of Centre Court spectators, including a small but vocal Brazilian contingent, the World No. 49 showed periodic moments of dominance, but ultimately lacked the groundstroke consistency to force a third set. Throughout the match, as Liu’s defense began to match Haddad Maia’s pace, the margin of error on the Brazilian’s shots seemed to reach an unstable height. During an early game in the second set, Haddad Maia sprayed three consecutive forehands wide of the sidelines. The tendency to overplay big points continued for the remainder of the match, including a critical 0/13 showing on break point opportunities.
Leaving Centre Court after her 1 hour 37 minute victory, Liu was candid about her title momentum going into the French Open. “It has been a great week. I am super happy to play some good tennis going into the French Open,” she told me as we walked back to Lagardere Paris Racing’s clubhouse. “That was my goal all along.” Liu’s win over Maia marked the fourth top-50 win of her year, and the second of the 2022 Trophee Lagardere, having defeated World No. 46 Kaia Kanepi 6-4 2-6 6-0 in the semifinals. Already, Claire Liu’s success this year makes her an American name to watch at this year’s French Open. Liu will next play in the WTA 250 event in Rabat, Morocco starting Monday.
Main Photo from Getty.