HIROSHIMA, Japan - Experience triumphed emphatically over youth in the final of the Hana-Cupid Japan Women's Open as No.2 seed Hsieh Su-Wei dissected qualifier Amanda Anisimova 6-2, 6-2 in 58 minutes to capture her third career title.
"I gave my best today, so I'm a happy champion!" she grinned afterwards.
It was the Chinese Taipei No.1's first final in six years, and she maintained the perfect record in title rounds that she originally set with her brace of trophies in 2012, in Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou. Hsieh will also return to the Top 30 for the first time since February 2013 with the win, which continues a resurgent season that has also seen her notch up her most high-profile, big-name victories - over Garbiñe Muguruza at the Australian Open and Simona Halep at Wimbledon.
Afterwards, Hsieh opened up about the ankle injury that had derailed her results for over a year. "I twisted my ankle, then I had a problem with my ankle - it was very bad and I could not even walk on the ground," she revealed. "Last year in the clay court season, every match I played, it was kind of like a torture." This year, though, that cloud was lifted, with the tape finally coming off in Miami.
But Hsieh attributes her success to a mental shift as well as a physical improvement. "Maybe because I did not put too much pressure this year," she said. "I was more enjoying it - trying to run [down] every ball, trying to do this and that and lob, trying to run and hit a big one and sometimes I made it - I was enjoying doing all the shots and playing without pressure."
— WTA (@WTA) September 16, 2018
The 32-year-old took a few minutes to settle, losing seven of the first nine points as she started by going for low-percentage shots unusually early - and missing. But Anisimova spurned two break points with loose forehand errors, and a quintessential Hsieh dropshot-drop volley combination would save a third - and from there on in, the veteran would be in full flow as she out-thought and out-manoeuvred her 17-year-old opponent. It was an emphatic revenge for their previous encounter, in the first round of Honolulu last year, won by the American 6-0, 6-1.
As Anisimova had carved her way through the draw this week, she had thrived on the pace thrown at her by rivals such as No.1 seed Zhang Shuai, over whom she had won a top-quality semifinal yesterday. Hsieh, however, gave her none. Instead, the Auckland and Rabat semifinalist responded with canny defence and ensnared Anisimova in a web of geometric court placement and fiendishly disguised variety.
Not that Hsieh considered it a masterful strategy afterwards. "Don't have any idea!" she said cheerfully when asked about her tactics. "[Anisimova] can serve very well, she can hit forehands and backhands down the line and crosscourt, she can do anything, and she also did a very good dropshot today, which was surprising to me - so I just tried to catch every ball," Hsieh expanded.
And counter to the conventional narrative of the younger player learning from the more experienced competitor, Hsieh declared that it had, in fact, been the other way round. "It's always good to play against a young girl, because they all play different than the time I was playing," she mused. "They try to be more aggressive, try to volley more, try to open court, they try to improve better and better - it's always good to play against them to learn something. You learn what to improve, what to do better. I'm happy that I'm still hanging there and playing my best tennis!"
Another crafty dropshot in the next game set up a pass that left the World No.134 stranded at net, paving the way for Hsieh to break for the first time; a sequence of brilliant angles ending with a cool-headed backhand winner would seal a second break and a 4-1 lead.
By now, Anisimova's tactics had been scrambled as Hsieh had taken her favored game apart. The teenager responded by resorting to variety herself, and in fact displayed some impressive skill there - a forehand slice and a pair of dropshots halted a run of five games against her as she held for 2-5. But it was also an illustration of how Hsieh had forced the match to be played on her terms, with Anisimova dragged out of her comfort zone - and in a battle of cat-and-mouse tennis, there would only be one victor.
— WTA (@WTA) September 16, 2018
The pattern continued in the second set as Hsieh broke twice more to leap into a 4-1 lead, conjuring up moments of magic such as a scooped, improvised dropshot in the fifth game. Anisimova, at a loss in trying to find her game, was plagued by both an increasing number of unforced errors - she would rack up 23 to just 11 winners today - as well as five double faults.
Hsieh, whose own game was watertight as she conceded only six unforced errors while coming up with 14 winners, would encounter only one bump in the road as she dropped serve for the only time in the match in the sixth game of the second set. But the one-way traffic was swiftly resumed with delicate net play and some more wicked angles as Hsieh broke Anisimova for a fifth time and served the match out to 15, taking her second championship point on a smash that was probably the hardest shot she had hit all day.
Next stop for Hsieh is the KEB Hana Bank Korea Open in Seoul - where a tantalizing projected quarterfinal against defending champion Jelena Ostapenko could be in the cards. (Click here for the full Seoul draw.) First, though, she intends to celebrate her latest trophy with a local pancake treat. "Hiroshima yaki!" she told reporters. "I haven't tried it yet - only Osaka yaki."