Heather Watson revealed her pride that her years of hard work had finally paid off as she became the first Briton to win a WTA Tour singles title in 24 years with success in the HP Open in Osaka.
The 20-year-old from Guernsey saved four match points in a marathon match against Chang Kai-chen of Chinese Taipei to rescue a match she looked to have thrown away.
She served for the match at 5-3 in the second set, double-faulting on match point, and then appeared on the brink of defeat in the decider before showing plenty of fighting spirit to finally clinch a 7-5 5-7 7-6 (7/4) win in three hours and 11 minutes.
Watson’s win means she has followed in the footsteps of Sara Gomer, the last British winner of a singles title on the WTA Tour in California in 1988.
“I was in the changing room afterwards, changing my clothes, and I thought to myself, ‘Did I really win?’ So it’s just starting to settle in,” Watson said.
“I’ve worked so hard for this moment my whole career – that’s why I practised so hard, ran all those miles and lifted all those weights, for moments like this.
“Britain has been breaking quite a few records recently, so I’m happy I could break another one today. I’m proud to do this for my country.”
Yesterday’s final was a topsy-turvy encounter between two unseeded players, who carved out a total of 33 break points and breaking seven times each.
Watson took the first set by four breaks to three, but dropped her serve three times again in the second to let her 21-year-old opponent back into the match.
Chang served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but, despite four match points, could not see off the battling Briton, who broke back before holding her nerve in the tie-break.
“She’s an amazing returner, so I wanted to go for it,” Watson added.
“What I’ve learned from my coaches is to go for it and not hope they miss. As you get better and play the top girls, you’ve got to go for it because they won’t give it to you.”
On the four match points she faced, Watson joked: “I was already thinking about how I was going to cry in the locker room.
“But after I saved the first one, I just took it point by point. I’m really proud of myself for getting through that.”
Watson’s win will also move her back above compatriot Laura Robson in the world rankings, making her British number one again.
Her success came just a month after Robson reached the final of a WTA event in China, the first time since Jo Durie at Newport in 1990 that had happened.
“Laura and I have come through the rankings together – juniors and seniors – and we’re both very competitive, so when we see the other doing well, it pushes us,” Watson added.
“Knowing Laura did so well in China a few weeks ago definitely motivated me this week. But I think it’s great we’re really good friends off the court as well.”
Watson was on court again for the doubles final alongside Kimiko Date-Krumm, but they lost 6-1 6-4 to Raquel Kops-Jones and Abigail Spears.
Watson added: “I’ve been working to be more aggressive lately. When I got to the point when I was three match points down and she was serving for the match at 5-4 40-0 I just thought ‘oh no, I had this, I was so close’, but I just took it point by point, I don’t know how I did it but I did.
“Now I’ve got the title and I am so happy, this ranks as one of the best days of my life.”
Watson also hoped to add the doubles title in Osaka but admitted fatigue got the better of her.
“After the singles I had one hour to get ready for the doubles final. I wanted to go and win that as well. It was unfortunate and I think my legs did give out a bit and my reactions were quite slow but our opponents played really well,” she said.
“This was my last tournament of the year and I couldn’t have ended it any better, I’m just so happy.”
Watson’s victory yesterday continued a memorable year for British tennis and the 20-year-old admits the success enjoyed by the likes of Murray and Robson has helped motivate her.
“When I see somebody doing well I always want to do better so I think that’s really pushed me,” she said.