Dubai: Six months back Taiwan player Hsieh Su-wei could barely walk due to a series of injuries on both her ankles. On Saturday, the 30-year-old former two-time doubles Grand Slam champion hoisted the crystal trophy after taming teenager Natalia Vikhlyantseva in straight sets at the 19th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge at the Habtoor Grand Resort, Autograph Collection.
Pitted against 19-year-old Russian Vikhlyantseva, Hsieh won 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour. And a little more than an hour later, Hsieh teamed up with yet another Russian, this time her first-time doubles partner Valeria Savinykh, to eventually go down 3-6, 6-3, 4-10 against Mandy Minella of Luxembourg and Nina Stojanovic of Serbia.
“The younger players have a lot of energy and staying concentrated and focused all the time is the only way to counter them,” Hsieh told Gulf News.
“I came here looking for as many matches as possible as part of my preparations for the start of the season so that I can get a direct entry at the Australian Open. And here I am winning this tournament and the 150 points that will go a long way in helping me reach my goal,” she smiled.
Sara Baker, General Secretary, Tennis Emirates, was joined by Nasser Al Marzouqi, Board Member, Tennis Emirates, Kyra Nagy, Tournament Director, Fredrik Reinisch, General Manager, Al Habtoor and Hani Al Khafief, ITF Supervisor at the presentation of trophies to the winners.
A little over six months back Hsieh stopped tennis completely after a series of injuries to both her ankles. There were times when the 2013 Wimbledon and 2014 French Open doubles champion could not even stand properly without support. “I nearly thought of stopping tennis completely. But here I am six months later with this lovely trophy,” Hsieh beamed.
Her comeback was calculated and precise. After starting physiotherapy in October, Hsieh slowly got on to the court and followed this up with her first-ever competition as the fifth seed here earlier this week. “Suddenly I was feeling very good on court and the ball was doing very well too. I grew in confidence after each match,” Hsieh recalled.
In Friday’s semi-final, the Taipei woman was nearly down and out as she trailed Germany’s Mona Barthel by a set and 1-5 down in the second set and just two match points away from certain defeat. But Hsieh just hung in there and turned things around to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in nearly two hours on court.
“That semi-final was something special. I realised that if I wanted to stay here longer then I needed to win. And that is exactly what I did,” Hsieh said.
In Saturday’s final, Hsieh had no such hiccups as she breezed through the opening set 6-2 in just 25 minutes despite surrendering her serve in the sixth game. In the second Hsieh was even more devastating as she took another 34 minutes to replicate Buyukakcay’s double from last year. “There was nothing I could really do against her,” Vikhlyantseva admitted later.
“I tried my best, but she is such a clever player that I found it almost impossible to take some of her returns. I can do nothing much now but just go on with my preparations for some early tournaments in Australia, most probably the Brisbane Open, before the Australian Open,” the 19-year-old added.
(Singles final) Hsieh Su-wei def. Natalia Vikhlyantseva 6-2, 6-2
(Doubles final) Mandy Minella/Nina Stojanovic def. Hsieh Su-wei/Valeria Savinykh 6-3, 3-6, 1-0 (4)