Dubai: The fifth-seeded Japanese pairing of Shuko Aoyama and Ena Shibahara turned their attention to winning a Grand Slam and the Tokyo Olympics after beating eighth-seeded Hayley Carter of the US and Luisa Stefani of Brazil 7-6, 6-4 for the doubles title at the inaugural Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open on Wednesday.
Shuko and Ena took a little over an hour and a half to win the final in straight sets against close friends Carter and Stefani at the Zayed Sports City’s International Tennis Centre to next turn their attention to winning at least a Grand Slam and doing well at their home Olympics.
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“Oh yeah, Tokyo is definitely on our mind. But our first goal is to win some titles and that will be our focus to start with before turning our attention to the Tokyo Olympics,” Shuko said.
The Japanese opened by saving a couple of match points before winning in a close super tiebreaker in their first round 4-6, 7-5, 12-10 win against Andreja Klepac and Marta Kostyuk. Perhaps, one of their biggest tests this week came during the quarter-finals, but the Japanese worked out a solid combination to better top seeds Hsieh Su-Wei and Barbora Krejcikova.
“I think that as we progressed, we got better, not just in our play but also in our communication with each other. In the first round, we couldn’t do our best but we improved as we went on. In the final too, we spoke to each other and we kept fighting and never gave up. That was the secret this week,” she added.
Skuko and Ena started Wednesday’s final on the front foot, breaking immediately to earn a 2-0 lead in the opening set thanks to a smart poach at the net from Shibahara on a deciding point.
But the American-Brazilian pair responded with a run of four consecutive games, which began with a break of serve to get on the board. Down 0-30 on her serve, Aoyama struck a double-fault to give Carter and Stefani a chance to break, which they did two points later.
“It was difficult to finish the points against them [Stefani and Carter]. They have really good court movement, but we didn’t give up until the end. We complement each other well on court. Ena is good with her serve and groundstrokes and I am quick at the net. This game works out well for us,” Shuko observed.
This was the fourth title together for the Japanese combination after their debut together at their home event in 2019. The duo have previously won at 2019 Tianjin, 2019 Moscow and 2020 St. Petersburg.
“Winning a Grand Slam is pretty much the most wanted thing that both of us would like to have together. But what is more important right now is to take one match at a time,” Ena related.
“I am really excited for the Olympic Games, and that would be a close second one on the wish list,” she added.
“This tournament has definitely been a roller-coaster right from that first round. Every match we had we just had to fight through it. I had we had some amazing points. It’s good we kept things going and didn’t let our guard down,” Ena observed.
 Shuko Aoyama (JPN)/Ena Shibahara (JPN) bt  Hayley Carter (USA)/Luisa Stefani (BRA) 7-6 (5), 6-4