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Yuichi Sugita and Magdalena Rybarikova won the men’s and women’s singles titles respectively on finals day at the Aegon Surbiton Trophy.
Following a scorching day of action on Saturday, the sun stayed out for the majority of play on Sunday, giving the crowd two enthralling finals.
First up was British number two Heather Watson, the sixth seed at Surbiton this week, up against Slovak Rybarikova, who claimed the scalp of top-seeded Oceane Dodin in the semifinals.
With the home crowd behind her, Watson started brightly, as the early games went with serve. Yet a sloppy Watson game at 3-3 handed Rybarikova the break, and despite Watson having her chances to break back, the Slovak saved them efficiently, with her powerful serve and big forehand proving difficult to counter on the grass.
It was, frustratingly for the crowd, similar in the second. Although Watson got an early break and went 3-0 up, she then lost five games on the trot, with her usual consistent groundstrokes deserting her in windy conditions.
Despite this, Rybarikova crumbled when serving for the match at 5-4, and on her fourth break point opportunity, Watson was given a route back into the match via a double fault.
It wasn’t to be for the Brit however, as Rybarikova immediately broke back comfortably, and the Slovak coming out on top during some lengthy points in the final game – points which summed up the entire match.
It finished 6-4, 7-5, with the winner (who didn’t drop a set all week) paying tribute to her coaching team following her return from two surgeries in March.
“I hadn’t played in seven months and I think I’m doing amazingly well,” Rybarikova said. “This is my third title this year and I won a round at Roland Garros against Coco Vandeweghe and she’s top 20 so I’ve done much better than I expected.”
Watson on the other hand was refreshingly upbeat when looking at her week overall, her first appearance at Surbiton.
“If someone told me I could make the final during my first week on grass at Surbiton I would have signed and taken it! It’s been a good week, I’ve really enjoyed it.”
Watson also confirmed that she would defend her mixed doubles title at Wimbledon with Henri Kontinen following their exceptional run last year.
The men’s final between Sugita of Japan and seventh-seeded Jordan Thompson of Australia saw a contest between two similar and evenly matched players. Sugita, the sixth seed at Surbiton this week, is ranked No. 78 in the world, while Thompson is No. 92.
With neither player having dropped a set all week, and both evidently thriving in their first tournament on grass this season, it all pointed towards an incredibly tight affair. And so it proved. With neither player able to break the other in a tense opening set, it went to a tie-break, with Sugita prevailing 9-7.
The second set saw the two exchange breaks early on, before our old nemesis the rain halted play temporarily for ten minutes at 4-4. Sugita won an incredible point to break Thompson at 5-5, yet serving for the match seemed to unsettle him, with a few sloppy errors and some inspired Thompson volleying taking the set to another tie-break.
Despite Thompson building up a 5-2 lead, Sugita fought back and eventually took his second championship point at 9-8, coming through a titanic battle 7-6 (7), 7-6 (8). Like his fellow champion in the women’s singles, Sugita remarkably didn’t drop a set all week.
Following the match, both players talked of their pride at the week they had both had, with it being perfect preparation for the Ricoh Open in Holland next week and the rest of the grass court season, with Sugita in particular ecstatic and emotional at becoming the champion.
“I’m 28 years old and I will have my highest ranking ever now so this is a big big win for me this week, and I will keep working on the grass in order to improve my ranking,” he said.
And so there we have it. It’s been a fantastic week here at Surbiton, with high quality tennis in show despite the tricky and challenging conditions the players, and organisers alike, have had to deal with.
An excellent British showing was a highlight, alongside a stellar Saturday line-up across the club, part of an engrossing weekend’s conclusion as the sun decided to come out.
The Aegon Open in Nottingham is next week’s British tournament, with the women’s event being a WTA event and the men’s event an ATP Challenger. Following that is Queens, the Aegon Classic in Birmingham and the Aegon International in Eastbourne, as we build up towards Wimbledon at the All England Club in July.
Freelance journalist Kieran Jackson is covering the British grass court summer in the lead up to Wimbledon for Tennis Now.