GUANGDONG, CHINA - Yoshihito Nishioka broke through for his maiden ATP singles title Sunday, outlasting seasoned Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a gruelling final at the Shenzhen Open.
The 23-year-old Nishioka, ranked 171st in the world, played seven matches across eight days at the Shenzhen Longgang Sports Centre but still had plenty of energy in a marathon final as he threw himself at everything Herbert could offer.
As the match clock ticked towards two-and-a-half hours in the southern Chinese city, Nishioka sealed the victory on his fifth match point, and looked as though he could hardly believe what had just happened.
Twelve months ago, he was stuck at home pondering his future after suffering an ACL injury. He will now return to the Top 100 after that injury caused his ranking plummet as low as No. 362.
The 27-year-old Herbert rattled off 12 aces and helped his opponent’s cause with nine double faults as he poured on the power. But the Nishioka game plan — waiting out the barrages and keeping his opponent moving — worked like a charm.
Both players came into the final unheralded and unseeded and both looking for their first ATP Tour singles title. Herbert had only made one final previously, losing in straight sets to South African Kevin Anderson at the Winston-Salem Open in the U.S. in 2015. Nishioka had never reached an ATP final.
Nishioka attributed his run of form — kick-started by a title at the ATP Challenger Tour stop in Gimcheon, South Korea, four months ago — to a change in attitude.
The 170-cm Nishioka revealed he had previously been trying to play like “six footers” such as current world number No. 1 Rafael Nadal of Spain. He’s since turned to Marcelo Rios, the former world No. 1 from Chile who stands about 175 cm, for inspiration.
While the odds were stacked in favor of Herbert, a three-time Grand Slam doubles title winner with partner and compatriot Nicolas Mahut, Nishioka was finally able to fulfil the promise he had shown as one of Japan’s top juniors.