Nao Hibino snapped a four-year title drought to lift her third career Hologic WTA Tour trophy at the Livesport Prague Open with a 6-4, 6-1 defeat of No.4 seed Linda Noskova in a rain-delayed final.
The No.136-ranked Japanese player had needed to complete her 6-4, 6-7(2), 6-3 semifinal win over Jaqueline Cristian earlier in the morning. That match had already involved three separate rain delays on Sunday, and was suspended overnight with Hibino leading 5-2 in the third set.
In the final against Noskova, Hibino had to weather one more rain delay while up 4-1 in the second set, but once again was sharp on resumption to deny the Czech teenager a maiden title on home soil.
Šampionkou Livesport Prague Open 2023 se stává 🇯🇵 Nao Hibino.🏆— Livesport Prague Open (@livesportprague) August 7, 2023
🇬🇧 Livesport Prague Open 2023 champion is Nao Hibino.🏆 pic.twitter.com/tTxKLcUzNA
All three of Hibino's titles have come on hard courts, but this result marks her first triumph outside Asia. Previously, she had been champion at Tashkent 2015 and Hiroshima 2019. The 28-year-old, who hit her career high of No.56 in January 2016, will return to the Top 100 for the first time since August 2021.
Hibino becomes the fifth lucky loser in history to win a WTA tournament -- and the second in the past three weeks. In Budapest a fortnight ago, 19-year-old Maria Timofeeva claimed the title on her WTA main-draw debut. This week, Hibino rebounded after falling 3-6, 6-1, 6-0 to Emiliana Arango in the final round of qualifying, and becomes the first Japanese titlist since Naomi Osaka at the 2021 Australian Open.
The final was a rematch of last year's quarterfinal at the same tournament. In their only previous meeting, Noskova had advanced to her first WTA semifinal after Hibino retired trailing 6-3, 4-2.
How the match was won: Noskova had dropped just two games in her own semifinal win over Tamara Korpatsch, and got off to a similar quick start. Firing powerful winners with ease, she leapt out to a 3-0 lead.
But when Hibino settled, she was able to draw her younger opponent into error thanks to smart anticipation and shot selection. Once she was able to withstand Noskova's first strike, Hibino was able to redirect her pace around the court.
Noskova had been able to use her drop shot to augment her power to excellent effect this week, but that weapon was absent in the final as almost all her attempts went into the net. By contrast, Hibino used it superbly as part of her strategy of pulling Noskova to every corner of the court.
As the match drew on, Hibino proved to have the answers to everything Noskova tried to throw at her, ultimately reeling off 12 of the last 14 games to complete victory in 71 minutes.
Hibino, Kalashnikova take doubles title: Hibino was also victorious in her third match of the day, winning the doubles final with Oksana Kalashnikova 6-7(7), 7-5, [10-3] over Quinn Gleason and Elixane Lechemia in 2 hours and 3 minutes. It was Hibino's third WTA doubles title, and the second time she has swept both singles and doubles tournaments following Hiroshima 2019, where she partnered Misaki Doi to lift the doubles trophy. Meanwhile, it was Kalashnikova's sixth WTA doubles title.
Hibino and Kalashnikova lifted a trophy for the first time as a team, having lost their two previous finals together at Tashkent 2017 and Taipei 2018. The Japanese-Georgian duo missed two set points in the first set, but battled back to dominate the match tiebreak.
In Hibino's words: "Coming back to Top 100 was my biggest goal of the year. It feels amazing. I'm very happy with my performance in singles and doubles.
"I was very tired, I was very nervous because I'd never stopped with the score 5-2 like this. It was difficult to stay focused. My leg is heavy, but I was telling myself, One point at a time. I tried to hit back as much as I can."