Daniel Does It! Taro Lifts Maiden Trophy
Taro Daniel was on top of the world when he defeated five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Novak Djokovic at Indian Wells this year. But just as quickly as he climbed into the spotlight, losses in four of five matches at all levels sent the Japanese back to reality.
That was until the World No. 114 completed the best week of his career on Sunday, capping off his first ATP World Tour triumph with a 7-6(4), 6-4 win against another first-time tour-level finalist, Malek Jaziri, at the TEB BNP Paribas Istanbul Open.
"Obviously really happy. I think today was a great match, a lot of long rallies from the beginning until the end," Daniel said. "Very happy. I'm obviously pretty surprised that I suddenly won an ATP [World Tour title]. But I guess things like this happen."
While Daniel was rightfully praised for his impressive victory against Djokovic in the Coachella Valley, some may not have realised that the win was his first against a Top 20 player in the ATP Rankings and that he had only reached a career-best of World No. 85 himself. In fact, the Japanese had never advanced to an ATP World Tour semi-final before this week. He had been just 6-15 at all levels since October.
"I was feeling pretty nervous before the match," Daniel said. "I was nervous, but I told myself, 'I'm sure he's more nervous than me.' So that helped. When I started not badly... I started to calm down a bit more."
But after coming from within a point of going down 5-0 in the third set of his quarter-final against Brazilian Rogerio Dutra Silva, Daniel has found his best tennis, clinching the title against Jaziri in two hours, 22 minutes.
Fittingly, the 25-year-old Daniel — who was born in New York, grew up in Japan and trained as a teenager in Spain — was made to wait for his special moment. While leading 5-3 in the second set on the Tunisian’s serve, Daniel held two match points. The first one, he barely clipped the net with a forehand squash shot. On the second, he took matters into his own hands and laced a backhand down the line that just missed.
Understandably, he showed nerves after letting slip those chances, double-faulting on his third match point. But finally, on the 19th ball of a slow-paced rally on the very next point, Daniel found his triumph, hitting a backhand winner down the line and dropping to one knee.
For his efforts, the Tokyo resident earns 250 ATP Rankings points, which is projected to send him to a career-best World No. 82 on Monday. He also takes home €76,020.
While Jaziri fell short, getting broken three times in the championship match, he still had a strong week in advancing to his maiden final, for which he captures 150 points and €40,040. The Tunisian is in strong form, finishing runner-up just a week after making the third round in Barcelona, where he held match point against reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov.
"Still a good result. I wanted to win. I gave everything today on the court," Jaziri said. "Today was not my day, so congratulations to Daniel and tomorrow I'll go back to practice."
Did You Know?
Taro Daniel earned more tour-level victories this week (5) than he did all of last season (4). He also is the third player outside the Top 100 of the ATP Rankings to triumph at tour-level this campaign (No. 129 Mirza Basic (Sofia), No. 355 Pablo Andujar (Marrakech)).