FRIENDLY FIRE

For­mer dou­bles part­ners Nao and Ash­leigh in sin­gles show­down

New Straits Times - - Sport - AJITPAL SINGH ajit­pals­ingh@nst.com.my

JA­PAN’S Nao Hib­ino ar­rived in Kuala Lumpur early this week with a poor record of not hav­ing won a sin­gle main draw match in six tour­na­ments this sea­son.

Yes­ter­day, the World No 106 reached the fi­nal of the WTA Malaysian Open by edg­ing 93rd-ranked Magda Linette of Poland 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 in 166 minutes at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

The 23-year-old will play qual­i­fier Ash­leigh Barty to­day for the ti­tle.

World No 156 Ash­leigh over­came China’s Han Xinyun 6-3, 7-5 to make her first ever tour fi­nal.

It will be a fi­nal be­tween good friends as Nao and Ash­leigh were dou­bles part­ners in their ju­nior days.

“We have been friends since our ju­nior days and this will make it dif­fi­cult for us to play each other in the fi­nal,” said Nao, who is the first Asian to play in the fi­nal since even­tual cham­pion Hsieh Su Wei of Tai­wan in 2012, yes­ter­day.

“I have to pre­pare well for the match. I have not seen Ash­leigh play here. I want to win the ti­tle, of course, and I will come up with a good strat­egy to achieve my goal.”

Nao, whose only tour win was Tashkent in 2015, and Ash­leigh have met once on the se­nior tour with the for­mer win­ning the match in Tokyo in 2013.

On the win yes­ter­day, Nao paid trib­ute to the Ja­panese fans at the stands for her achieve­ment.

“Frankly, I felt tired in the first set as I played my quar­ter-fi­nals re­ally late yes­ter­day. But the fans here sup­ported me and ral­lied me on.

“From there, I gained con­fi­dence and won the sec­ond set and got the de­ci­sive break in the sev­enth game of the third set to close the match. I played deep balls and made Magda run a lot on court for points,” said Nao, who will be mak­ing her third ever tour fi­nal to­day.

For Ash­leigh, the 21-year-old will be out to be­come the first player to achieve a sweet double in the tour­na­ment.

Ash­leigh will part­ner Casey Del­lac­qua in the dou­bles fi­nal to­day.

“It feels great to reach my first ca­reer sin­gles fi­nal… my body feels great and I am ready to go for an­other day,” said the Aus­tralian.

Ash­leigh, who hopes to break into the top 100 this year, said she will give equal at­ten­tion to the sin­gles and dou­bles fi­nals to­mor­row.

“I will fo­cus on both…will get back and re­cover be­fore I pre­pare for to­mor­row. I have the lux­ury of hav­ing a dou­bles part­ner in Casey who is happy to help me with any­thing.

“Ob­vi­ously, I will warm up with Casey to­mor­row morn­ing and then pre­pare the same way for both fi­nals,” Ash­leigh added.

PIC BY OS­MAN AD­NAN

Nao Hib­ino in ac­tion in the semi-fi­nals of the Malaysian Open in Bukit Kiara yes­ter­day.

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