Since losing in last year's Bank of the West Classic final, Angelique Kerber has won three Premier-level tournaments on the WTA tour. Sunday, she added the Classic trophy to her growing collection.
The fifth-seeded and 14th-ranked German needed over two hours to beat fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, inside Taube Family Tennis Stadium and earn her seventh career WTA title and fourth of the year.
Kerber fell, 7-6 (1), 6-3, to world No. 1 Serena Williams in last year's championship match. Williams withdrew from this year's event because of an elbow injury, leaving the field wide open.
Kerber took advantage of it, matching Williams for number of titles and number of wins (40) on the year.
'"Of course it was big motivation for me to win the title here, where I lost last year against Serena," Kerber said. "My game is more defense but I can play aggressive. If I can find the middle ground and play both ways, then I know I am playing well."
Kerber has defeated Pliskova in four of their six career matchups, including two of three this year. In Birmingham two months ago, Kerber won in three sets on a grass surface.
Perhaps most satisfying is winning on different surfaces.
Sunday's back-and-forth championship was similar, highlighted by lengthy rallies and numerous service breaks in a match that lasted two hours and seven minutes. Improving to 4-0 in finals this year, Kerber became the first German player to win the Bank of the West Classic crown since Bettina Bunge defeated Sylvia Hanika in an all-German final in 1983 played in Oakland.
Pliskova, appearing in her WTA-best fifth final this year, had declared the tournament a success even before her last two matches. She's set to make her debut in the top 10 on Monday.
Pliskova made her second career tournament appearance and had won all three of her matches this week in straight-sets. Against Kerber, Pliskova hurt herself with 10 double faults and a series of unforced errors.
Trailing 3-2 in the first set, Kerber stormed back to win the next four games and take an early lead. Pliskova led the second frame 3-2 before a sequence of six straight service breaks, only to hold serve for a 7-5 win. In the deciding set, Pliskova held a 3-2 lead before Kerber ripped off four of the final five games.
''It's hard work to get really fit but at the end it takes over on court,'' said Kerber, who takes home the $124,000 prize money.
Kerber improved to 4-0 in finals this year and that includes a win over Pliskova, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (4), in a lengthy match on grass at Birmingham, England, in June, her first title on that surface.
''She's just great moving and a great defender, so it was maybe harder than in the last matches for me,'' Pliskova said. ''That's why I made maybe more mistakes. She's always tough to play. She's one of the fittest girls on the tour.''
Pliskova committed 21 unforced errors in the first set to put herself in a hole, to just one by the steady Kerber. Pliskova is $66,100 richer as the runner-up.
Pliskova, who had trouble with her serve, finished with 52 unforced errors and 52 winners, while the 27-year-old Kerber had 14 unforced errors in all.
''That's probably for me the worst thing,'' Pliskova said. ''It's my best shot. I think that's the point why I lost today.''
Kerber is projected to move up the rankings to No. 11. She's been ranked as high as fifth, in October of 2012.
Top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki dropped a 6-4, 6-2 result in her opening match, in the second round to American Varvara Lepchenko. Pliskova defeated Lepchenko in a straight-set semifinal win Saturday.
"I don't have any set goals," the seventh-ranked Wozniacki said. "I'll go with one tournament at a time. The main thing is to stay healthy."
Pliskova was the first Czech-born woman to reach the final in this event since Martina Navratilova in 1994. Navratilova lost to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario that year in Oakland, but won the last of her five titles of the tournament in 2003.
Yi-Fan Xu and Saisai Zheng of China won the doubles final, 6-1, 6-3 over Anabel Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja of Spain as Sunday's matches drew a tournament high for the week of 2,757 fans