Nicha nails Iijima for maiden crown

Thai qualifier caps dream run with easy victory

Nicha Lertpitaksinchai with the trophy on Saturday. DH Photo / P Samson Victor

Displaying wonderful maturity for an 18-year-old, qualifier Nicha controlled the match from beginning to the end to stun third-seeded Japanese Kumiko Iijima 6-4, 6-3 at the KSLTA stadium.

Ranked 672 in the world and playing in her second final against an opponent placed 429 places above her, Nicha hardly displayed any nerves. While she was cautious at the start, the bubbly Thai teenager slowly switched gears before zooming past a shocked Kumiko. Strong at the baseline, she did show her potency at the net too, mixing up her game nicely and leaving Kumiko constantly searching for answers.

The crucial part of Nicha’s victory was her complete hold on Kumiko. She hardly allowed the 28-year-old veteran to gain a foothold on the match.While her serve gave her a few uncomfortable moments, she backed it up with some stunning winners that made Kumiko a mere spectator.

“I am really excited to win my first title,” said Nicha at the courtside. “I gave my everything today and I am happy it has paid off. Coming through as a qualifier and going on to win a tournament is something special. A wonderful way to end the year and looking forward to the next season with huge hopes,” added Nicha, who pocketed $2,940 and gained 50 ranking points.

Kumiko, perhaps, could be forgiven for the marathon day she endured on Friday. She had to claw back from a set down to defeat Peangthan Pliphuech in the semifinal in the morning before losing the doubles final that went the distance later in the evening. The tired legs affected her movement, and with a lot of running to do, the Japanese finally lost breath.

“Yes, I was a bit tired, but it is no excuse,” said Kumiko, who earned $1,666 and 34 ranking points. “The loss is disappointing but I am happy with the way I played this year, considering I was out completely last year due to injuries.”

Kumiko sneaked to a 2-1 lead in the first set, breaking Nicha’s serve in the third game. However, the Japanese surrendered the advantage immediately as Nicha levelled proceedings at 2-2. Following a long rally, Nicha hit a scorching passing shot to break Kumiko for a 5-3 lead before slamming another winner to grab the opening set.

Nicha made a poor start to the second set when she was broken in the opening game but, as was the case in the first set, she bounced right back to level things at 1-1. Kumiko did show a stomach for fight, but Nicha stepped on the pedal when it mattered most before serving out successfully for the title.

Final result (prefix denotes seeding): Nicha Lertpitaksinchai (Tha) bt 3-Kumiko Iijima (Jpn) 6-4, 6-3.

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