Read & Watch: Nishioka Lifts Maiden Trophy In Shenzhen
Yoshihito Nishioka became the sixth qualifier to win a tour-level title this season at the Shenzhen Open, beating Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 on Sunday.
"I believe this is the beginning," said Nishioka. "[Now I will] try to win [ATP World Tour] 500 and [Masters] 1000 events... This is a very happy [moment] and I believe I can win more."
Nishioka, who saved two match points at 7-6(5), 3-6, 4-5 (15/40) against Denis Shapovalov in the second round, won 61 per cent of second-serve return points and withstood 12 aces from Herbert to lift his first tour-level trophy after two hours and 20 minutes. Nishioka, who tore his left ACL just 18 months ago at the 2017 Miami Open presented by Itaú, dropped seven straight games after leading 7-5, 2-0, but recovered well to record the biggest win of his career.
"I don't know what was going on [at 7-5, 2-0]," admitted Nishioka. "Maybe I was tight for the win, I am not sure, but sure I was a little bit nervous because I almost got to the trophy... After I lost the second set I changed my mentality; to fight."
This time last year, Nishioka missed the Asian Swing as he made progress with his rehab. But now, the 23-year-old stands with his first ATP World Tour title after notching seven victories in eight days from qualifying. With the physical, and emotional, challenges of a serious injury in the past, Nishioka is in the best form of his life as he looks set to climb the ATP Rankings.
"To get here, it was seven matches. It is not easy," said Nishioka. "I am very tired right now but my strength is my mentality, my stamina and never giving up. Those are my weapons."
After Herbert's strong fightback in the second set, both men were forced to work hard in their opening service games of the decider to remain level in the score. But Nishioka soon found a breakthrough in the fifth game. The qualifier opened up a 0/40 lead with strong play from the baseline, before earning the break with another aggressive backhand, forcing an error from Herbert at the net.
Three championship-point opportunities passed Nishioka by on Herbert's serve at 5-3, but the Japanese qualifier did not falter on his own serve. Nishioka fell to the ground, after converting his fifth championship point, following Herbert's netted forehand return.
Herbert was also bidding to lift his first tour-level singles title after a runner-up finish in his only previous championship match at the 2015 Winston-Salem Open. The 27-year-old has won 23 of 41 matches at tour-level this year.
"[I am] really disappointed not to lift the trophy, but for sure it has been a great week," said Herbert. " I played five good matches and I came out four times with a win. It has been a great effort, my level was quite high so I am quite happy with that... it is a really positive week."
Nishioka receives 250 ATP Ranking points and collects $130,885 in prize money for lifting the trophy. Herbert earns 150 ATP Ranking points and $68,930.