TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - The Tashkent Open has had a slew of former Top 20 players as champions - Anna Smashnova, Iroda Tulyaganova, Nicole Vaidisova, Shahar Peer - and the next star may have been born this year, as unheralded Japanese Nao Hibino went all the way to her first WTA title.
Having reached the second round of the Japan Women's Open Tennis in Tokyo two weeks ago, Hibino was playing just the second WTA main draw of her career in Tashkent this week, but she didn't drop a set the entire week, and that pattern continued in an all-WTA Rising Star final against Donna Vekic.
With the title on the line Hibino was on top from start to finish, ripping her flat, penetrating groundies to perfection against Vekic, drawing one last forehand into the net from the Croat to prevail, 6-2, 6-2.
"The peaceful atmosphere and kind people made my stay in Tashkent great this year," Hibino said after the final. "I'm so happy to win my first WTA title here and I hope I can come back next year!
"I didn't expect this result at the beginning of the week. I can't believe it. I was just focusing on my service games against all of my opponents, and trying not to get broken, playing aggressive and not changing my game from the first round to here - so I'm just really happy with the result."
"I couldn't do anything, she was just playing really well," Vekic commented. "She was very solid and getting all the balls back - I tried to break her rhythm, but I couldn't. She played a great match."
Hibino is the 10th Japanese player ever to win a WTA title after Kazuko Sawamatsu, Etsuko Inoue, Kumiko Okamoto, Naoko Sawamatsu, Kimiko Date-Krumm, Mana Endo, Ai Sugiyama, Akiko Morigami and Kurumi Nara. Date-Krumm has the most WTA titles of them all - she's won eight in her career.
Hibino was named after one of those previous nine Japanese WTA champions: Naoko Sawamatsu.
She was asked what her ranking in Japan was coming into the tournament. "Fourth," Hibino said, "but now I might become No.1 in Japan, so hopefully people back home will know me a little better!"
It was Gasparyan and Panova's second WTA doubles title together - they won another International event in Baku in the summer. Gasparyan now has two WTA doubles titles to her name, Panova six.