In a match interrupted by multiple rain delays, seventh seed Christina McHale capped off a gruelling week at the Hashimoto Sogyo Japan Women’s Tennis with a comeback 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 over Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic to capture her maiden WTA singles title in the Japanese capital.
Stellar Siniakova Conquers Slow Start to Take Opener
As if the stress of the occasion wasn’t enough, the heavens decided to open up right before the commencement of the final, resulting in a 90-minute rain delay before the first ball was even struck. But once the rain cleared out, it was McHale who settled in the quicker of the two, claiming the early break straight off the bat as she was looking to have a quicker start than she’s had all week, having being forced to play four three-setters just to get to the championship. However, all momentum garnered by the American was soon erased with a couple swings of a racquet as Siniakova hit back in emphatic style a game later to recover the early break.
A similar script appeared to follow suit for the server in the following game as just moments after restoring parity, the Czech was in danger of surrendering a break once more. However, the world number 65’s lethal backhand was beginning to find its mark and it was beginning to prove all the more effective in digging her out of a big hole to claim the first hold of the match.
After a slow start on serve for both women, the next couple of games would go with serve, but it was certainly clear that Siniakova was the one who was creating the angles, dictating the exchanges and consistently taking risks, a similar pattern of the proactive play that earned her a spot in Sunday’s showpiece. As a result, it was only a matter of time until the Czech claimed yet another break, breaking at the first time of asking as McHale’s forehand missed the mark to take a commanding 4-2 lead.
Interestingly, that break of serve began a similar pattern of breaks to the beginning of the match, with both women struggling to even win points behind their first and second deliveries. As Siniakova struggled to consolidate and McHale struggled to draw level with the Czech number five, the following three games would result in breaks of serve before a resilient Siniakova had a chance to serve the set out on her own terms at 5-3. In the end, the 20-year-old proved she needed no second invitation to serve out the set, eventually converting her third set point with another blistering backhand winner down the line to take the opening set off McHale, 6-3, in three-quarters of an hour.
McHale Weathers the Storm, Recovers From Early Break to Draw Level at One-Set-All
Continuing right where she left off, Siniakova continued to attack the McHale backhand while waiting for the right opportunity to go up the line with her own backhand, a pattern of play that has proven devastatingly effective all-day when executed correctly. With the opening break of the second handed to her on a silver platter as McHale double-faulted for a second time, the Czech wasted no time in consolidating, making no mistake this time around to go a set and 2-0 to the good.
Things seemingly went from bad to worse for McHale in a matter of minutes as another forehand miss handed Siniakova a pair of opportunities to extend her lead to a double break in the second. Alas, she was unable to take them, as some inspired tennis from the American dug herself out of a hole getting deeper by the minute to get on the board.
Despite an abrupt 20-minute rain delay midway through the set, the remainder of the set would progress with serve until the eighth game, where McHale made one final push to get back in the match. Despite not converting her first break point since the latter stages of the opener, McHale made no mistake on the second, breaking to recover the early break and restore parity at 4-all.
From there, the American continued to roll along, fighting her way through a tense service game to edge her nose back in front at 5-4 before breaking once more, this time at the first time of asking to claim a dramatic second set, 6-4, in just over an hour. After being forced to go the distance in all four of her matches this week, will the American have enough gas to utilize her experience and claim her first WTA singles crown?
McHale Nearly Blows 4-0 Lead, But Recovers in Time to Claim First WTA Title
After reeling off the last three games to claim the second and draw level at one-set-apiece, it came as no surprise that McHale would pick up right where she left off. But perhaps more impressively, it was the way she was able to stave off the onslaughts of Siniakova, which no longer had the same sting as they did in the first set and a half.
Despite having opportunities in the opening four games of the decider, Siniakova was unable to make her opportunities count, squandering one after another with routine errors that easily frustrated the fiery Czech. But to the credit of McHale, the seventh seed remained calm under pressure, relentlessly fighting her way closer to victory as she came out on top in each of the first four games of the third, quickly resulting in a commanding 4-0 advantage.
Somewhere between the eighth game of the second set and the fifth game of the decider, everything seemed to go wrong for Siniakova, who admittedly let the magnitude of the occasion get to her with the finish line in sight. Now in danger of losing eight games on the trounce and falling 5-0 down in the decider, the 20-year-old decided to swing for the fences, and somehow, it paid off. From 40-15 down, the world number 65 reeled off four points in a row to recover one of the two breaks against her before immediately going on to consolidate, saving a break point in the process, to reduce the deficit to 4-2.
Given a lifeline, Siniakova suddenly came back to life, sensing another opportunity to get back on serve and sure enough, the opportunity came just games later when a tense-looking McHale failed to serve out the match, thus putting the match right back on serve.
With the Czech threatening to push the match past the three-hour mark, McHale rebounded impressively in the following game to set up three championship points and this time, she made no mistake. As Siniakova’s crosscourt backhand sailed into the tramlines, the American had completed the comeback, breaking for a seventh and final time to hold off the resilient Czech, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.