Noppawan downs former doubles partner to win title
Dubai: Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn won a battle of unseeded players and friends as she brushed aside French teenager and former world junior number one Kristina Mladenovic 7-5, 6-4 to win the 14th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge at the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa yesterday.
Watched by former world number 7 Mario Ancic and Thailand's Consul General Chalotorn Phaovibul, it was the Thai's perseverance that ultimately paid off in a fight involving two unseeded players for the first time in the 14-year-long history of this $75,000 (Dh275,250) ITF Women's Circuit event.
Both girls showed signs of fatigue, but it was Noppawan who proved to be the more worthy of the two — who were doubles partners during their junior career — as she helped herself to her maiden crown, thus becoming only the third Asian winner at Al Habtoor after Indonesia's Angelique Widjaja (2003) and India's Sania Mirza (2010).
Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman, Habtoor Group of Companies, was joined by Ancic, Phaovibul and Sultan Al Habtoor, President, Al Habtoor Motors, in presenting the trophies to the winners after the final.
"This is my first win in a big tournament like this one so it is really special," Noppawan told Gulf News.
"Maybe I got a bit lucky in the end, but this victory is really huge for me," the 22-year-old Thai added. With the exception of the first two games in the first set both players traded breaks continuously until Noppawan nosed ahead with a break in the eleventh and then served out the set 7-5 after nearly one hour on court.
Mladenovic called for ITF trainer Karen Bull on court to treat her tired legs before the start of the second set and that seemed to have worked well as the French teenager broke in the fourth and then held for 4-1. However, Noppawan had other plans as the Thai broke back in the seventh and then held for 4-4.
The drama was not over yet as Noppawan broke another time and then served out a love game to take the set and match 6-4.
"I think she [Noppawan] is more adapted to these conditions. I was suffering out there with the heat and humidity," Mladenovic lamented later.
"But it has been a tremendous week for me where I have beaten three players in the top-100 and I have a lot of positives to take from this event," added the 18-year-old French girl.
"This year we had a top quality field of players and it was a true festival of tennis," Khalaf Al Habtoor said.
Nok won the first quali match in Birmingham against the veteran Lee-Waters, being down a set and 5-6 Lee served for the match but couldn't. Nok did a very great job, hope she can do the same or even better against Karatanchva