A study in contrast as Hartono and Tikhonova take different routes to singles final

Hartono says she had to fight for every point to get past Watson as Tikhonova waltzed past Abduraimova in the second semifinal

By Team KT

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Arianne Hartono from the Netherlands in action during the semifinals. - Supplied photo
Arianne Hartono from the Netherlands in action during the semifinals. - Supplied photo

Published: Sat 9 Dec 2023, 9:31 PM

Arianne Hartono played some of the “best tennis” of her career to get past a gutsy Heather Watson 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5 to reach the singles final at the 26th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, on Sunday.

Nearly down and out and staring at defeat at 4-5 and 0-40 in the third set, former British No.1 Watson clawed back to push the set into a deciding tie-breaker that Hartono eventually went on to win and land into her first-ever career W100 final.

Her opponent in the title match will be Anastasia Tikhonova, who surprisingly had it easy while brushing off big-serving Nigina Abduraimova in straight sets 6-0, 6-4 in exactly 90 minutes.

The match was close. Hartono was quick off the blocks with a couple of breaks and serving for the opening set at 5-2. But Watson came right back and broke back a couple of times to eventually take the tie-breaker 7-2.

Hartono was not one to give up as she came roaring back to take the second set quite easily 6-3 to set up a deciding and entertaining third set.

Russia's Anastasia Sergeyevna had an easy path to the final. - Supplied photo
Russia's Anastasia Sergeyevna had an easy path to the final. - Supplied photo

The onus of having such a culmination lay on Hartono as she was 5-4 and 40-0 serving for the set and match. However, the pressure seemingly got to her and Hartono suddenly was pegged against the wall by a resolute Watson.

The 27-year-old Dutch player once again moved clear 6-5, only to see Watson break back and draw level at 6-6 to send the match into the tie-breaker that she went on to win 7-5 in three hours and six minutes.

“I knew I had to play my best tennis-ever if I wanted to get past her,” Hartono told reporters later.

“This match has been tiring, but certainly an amazing experience of playing and beating one of the best players on the WTA. I always knew this one was going to be rough, but I just decided no matter what I am going to fight for each and every point. We spent more than three hours on court and that is a testament that neither of us was willing to give up,” Hartono added.

Asked about her near meltdown while serving for the set and match at 5-4, 40-0, Hartono admitted that her nerves got the better of her. “Of course, it was all mental then. Imagine I am serving to be in my first-ever 100K final. What more could I think of?” she asked.

“But luckily, I was able to re-focus again and just keep going point by point. I am a tough person mentally, and there was no way I was going to give in so easily,” Hartono added.

Hartono’s opponent for Sunday’s final will be Tikhonova after the Russian brushed aside big-serving Uzbek girl, Abduraimova in straight sets.

“My key tonight was just switching off my emotions. It works really for me especially now that I have been on the circuit for some time. At first I used to try and stay aggressive and all that sort of stuff, but then I had no control over the actual points,” Tikhonova related.

“We have played each other twice earlier this year and I have won on both occasions. Maybe that was at the back of her mind,” she guessed.

Tikhonova did not have too many expectations heading into a final against another tricky player like Hartono. “We have played once before, maybe a couple of years back. But things are different now and I will see how I need to tackle her tomorrow,” Tikhonova said.

“For sure, it is going to be an interesting and hard-fought final,” she predicted.

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Meanwhile, Heather Watson overcame her disappointment of missing out on the singles as she teamed up with Olivia Nicholls for an emphatic 6-0, 6-1 win over second seeds Viktoria Hruncakova and Dalila Jakupovic.

Watson and Nicholls will meet top-seeded pair of Timea Babos and Vera Zvonareva in Sunday’s final, while Tikhonova will be up against Hartono to decide the singles champion.

Results

Singles semi-finals: Arianne Hartono bt Heather Watson 6-7 (2), 6-3, 7-6 (5); Anastasia Tikhonova v Nigina Abduraimova 6-0, 6-4.

Doubles semi-finals: Olivia Nicholls/Heather Watson bt Viktoria Hruncakova/Dalila Jakupovic 6-0, 6-1.


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