Shenzhen - Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka broke through for his maiden
ATP singles title on Sunday, outlasting seasoned Frenchman Pierre-Hugues
Herbert 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a grueling final of the Shenzhen Open.
"This is the dream for tennis players," said Nishioka afterwards. "I believe this is the beginning."
23-year-old Nishioka, ranked 171 in the world, in the end played seven
matches in eight days at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre but his
legs were full of running in a marathon final as he threw himself at
everything Herbert could give.
As the match clock ticked towards
two-and-a-half hours, Nishioka sealed the victory on his fifth match
point - and looked as though he could hardly believe what had just
Twelve months ago, the Japanese player was stuck at home
pondering his future after tearing an ACL. He will now return to the
world's top 100 after that injury had seen his ranking plummet to as low
"It was a very long run to get here, seven matches," said
Nishioka. "It's not easy. I'm very tired right now. I think my strength
is my mentality and stamina and (I) never give up. That's my weapon."
27-year-old Herbert was never going to leave the southern Chinese city
wondering, rattling off 12 aces and helping his opponent's cause with
nine double faults and he poured on the power. But the Nishioka game
plan - waiting out the barrages and keeping his opponent moving -
worked a treat.
Both players came into the final unfancied and
unseeded and both had yet to claim a ATP Tour singles title. Herbert had
only made one final previously (losing in straight sets to South
African Kevin Anderson at the Winston-Salem Open in the US in 2015)
while Nishioka had never before graced the big stage.
final, Nishioka had put his run of form - kick-started by title at the
ATP Challenger Tour stop in Gimcheon, South Korea, four months ago -
down to a change in attitude.
The 1.7-metre (5ft 7in) Nishioka
revealed he had previously been trying to play like "six footers" such
as current world number one Rafael Nadal of Spain but had turned instead
for inspiration to Chile's former world number one Marcelo Rios, who
stands around 1.75 metres (5ft 9in).
"I think I'm the shortest
player in the ATP tour," said Nishioka. "It's very tough. I need to play
many long rallies. I have to run a lot."
It looked like he'd
picked up some of Rios' tenacity, too, fighting his way back to victory
having dropped seven straight games after leading Herbert 7-5, 2-0.
was a little bit nervous because I almost won the trophy," said
Nishioka. I was a little bit tight and a little bit nervous. But after I
lost (the) second set, I changed my mentality."
The odds were
stacked in favour of Herbert, a three-time Grand Slam doubles title
winner with partner and compatriot Nicolas Mahut who has vowed to focus
more on singles in the near future, outside those Major tournaments. But
Nishioka finally fulfilled the promise he had shown as one of Japan's
ATP Shenzhen Open result on Sunday (x denotes seed):
Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) bt Pierre-Hugues Herbert (FRA) 7-5, 2-6, 6-4