Morigami Wins First Tour Title in Prague
Published May 13, 2007 12:00
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - It may have taken her almost a decade, but Akiko Morigami finally fulfilled one of her dreams: to win a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title. The 28-year-old from Tokyo didn't drop a set all week and then hoisted the ECM Prague Open trophy Sunday following a 61 63 defeat of No.1 seed Marion Bartoli.
Morigami, seeded No.6, used an array of spins and angles to offset the Frenchwoman, whose movement was hampered after straining her right hip in practice prior to the match. The first set was over in just 25 minutes and although the second set was a closer affair the Japanese still managed to close it out comfortably in 35 minutes.
In their last meeting, in the quarterfinals of Seoul last October, Morigami earned the second set using the same strategy but was unable to prevail in the third.
"Marion hits really well and is very consistent, so today my game plan was to move her around," Morigami said. "Unlike in Seoul last year I executed my game plan all the way. from beginning to the end. Today I'm glad to say it went my way. But it's very unfortunate for Marion; hopefully she'll be healthy again soon."
"I wasn't moving well because of my injury but sometimes this is how it goes," Bartoli said. "But Akiko played well, and definitely deserved to win. And although I lost the final, I'm happy with my week and reaching my first final of the year."
For Bartoli, the run to the final marked somewhat of a season turnaround; she made the quarterfinal round just one time in her first 11 events of the year, just last week in Estoril; a startling change from 2006, where she won three titles and made her way into the Top 20 by year's end. She came into Prague ranked No.24.
"It's never good to see your ranking drop; I began the year at No.17 and went down to No.24," said Bartoli, who is projected to rise back to No.21 on Monday. "But it is good to see your ranking go back up. I don't think I was missing confidence in my other tournaments; I just wasn't winning matches that I was supposed to. I was close so many times. Now my game is back where I want it."
On her five straight set wins en route to the trophy, Morigami said her experience in the Fed Cup first round a few weeks ago, where she went 0-2, drove her.
"I got killed there; but I learned some things about playing on clay. I hadn't had any good results on clay before either, and nobody really believed I could do this, but I started using more shot variety and with my movement I think that's why I've been playing well. I'm also comfortable in Prague; I'll be back for sure."
Beforehand, Morigami's biggest successes were finishing runner-up at Cincinnati and reaching the semifinals of San Diego, both in the summer of 2005, as well as notching a mammoth upset over Nadia Petrova at Roland Garros a year ago; those wins helped her into the Top 50. Now, she hits both her season goals at once.
"My goals this year were to be in the Top 50 again and win a title; now I got both of them together!" an elated Morigami added. "I was in the Top 50 last year, but I couldn't keep it up. So this year I really have to keep playing like this, through the French Open and more. Now I've reset my goals; I want to be in the second week of a Grand Slam and reach the Top 30."
Saturday's doubles final saw Petra Cetkovska and Andrea Hlavackova beat Ji Chunmei and Sun Shengnan, 76(7) 62. Cetkovska and Hlavackova saved five set points in the first set tie-break, four from 6-2 down and one more whilst behind 7-6. The Czechs captured back-to-back ITF Women's Circuit doubles titles in Spain together in April, but had never played a Tour event until now. Both women claimed their first career Tour titles with the ECM Prague Open doubles victory.
But the veteran Morigami was clearly the story of the week and like many before her has truly begun to blossom at an age where others may have given up hope.
"I've been waiting for this for almost 10 years! It's so awesome."