Former doubles partners Nao and Ashleigh in singles showdown
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.
Nao Hibino in action in the semi-finals of the Malaysian Open in Bukit Kiara yesterday.