Sun Rises to 1st WTA Title at Tashkent

Posted on October 9, 2006

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan -- China's rising star status in women's tennis was given another huge boost on Sunday in Tashkent, as Sun Tiantian won her career-first Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title at the Tashkent Open. She defeated Iroda Tulyaganova, who had lit up her home crowd throughout the week in a near-Cinderella run, 62 64 in the final.

Sun, who went to three sets in her first match of the tournament but cruised through three more rounds in straight sets to reach the final, was again in solid form under sunny Sunday skies, keeping her strokes deep, returning well and rarely giving away any free points in the rallies. Aside from a slight hiccup while serving for the match for the first time, allowing 5-2 to become 5-4, Sun's cool was evident throughout.

"It feels good," said Sun, who had never even been beyond the quarterfinals of a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles event before this week. "It was easier than I expected it to be. But it wasn't as easy as it seemed; Iroda is a very good player and she was playing at home."

Sun is now fourth on a growing list of Chinese players to have won Tour singles titles, following Li Na (2004 Guangzhou), Zheng Jie (2005 Hobart, 2006 Estoril, 2006 Stockholm) and Yan Zi (2005 Guangzhou). The Beijing resident, who turns 25 this Thursday, does own an impressive collection of nine Tour doubles titles, all with compatriot Li Ting, and including a popular win at the 2004 Olympics.

For Tulyaganova, the loss marks an end to what was shaping up to be a resonant return to the winner's circle. Having gone as high as No.16 in the world just a few years ago, her momentum was derailed by an elbow injury that required surgery and financial struggles while working her way back onto the circuit.

But despite not winning her home title, the 24-year-old was cracking forehands and serves during the week like she had never left the game's upper echelon, taking out seeds Anastasiya Yakimova and Olga Poutchkova, and she even showed flashes of former brilliance against Sun, though not at critical junctures.

"She played well, she served well," said Tulyaganova, who won the first of her three career Tour singles titles here in 2000 and was a heavy crowd favorite throughout the week. "It is not a loss for me, it's a win, because I've come back from all of my injuries, and reached the final at the Tashkent Open."

The former Top 20 player was playing her second Tour event of the year, having reached the Tier III Kolkata semis two weeks ago as a 342nd-ranked qualifier, falling to Poutchkova. She came into Tashkent as a wild card ranked No.221.

Aside from Sun's title run and Tulyaganova's continued return to form, several other players made the headlines this past week. Phenom Victoria Azarenka made her first semifinal, routing top seed Maria Elena Camerin en route, while another teenager, Poutchkova, continued her rise up the ranks with her fourth straight later round finish, also reaching the final four. For the second straight week a Bondarenko won big, as Luxembourg winner Alona's younger sister Kateryna beat No.2 seed Elena Vesnina to reach the quarterfinals.

The doubles tournament came to an abbreviated ending on Friday. Azarenka and Tatiana Poutchek were given a walkover in the final, after Camerin pulled out of the event with a right ankle sprain suffered in her singles warm-up (she was partnered with Emmanuelle Gagliardi). The Belarussians were playing together for the second time, having won a $75,000 ITF Women's Circuit event last year in Arizona. The Tashkent title was Azarenka's first of any kind on the Tour; it was Poutchek's third, having also won doubles in the Uzbek capital in 2002 and 2003.
-- WTA