Emma Navarro has joined a list containing some tennis royalty after winning her maiden WTA title in a titanic battle with Elise Mertens in the Hobart International final.
Featuring in her first final at WTA level, the 22-year-old showed few signs of nerves to deny two-time champion Mertens a three-peat by recording a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 victory in two hours and 48 minutes in front of a record Hobart finals crowd of 2232.
In the process Navarro joined the likes of Kim Clijsters (2000), Petra Kvitova (2009), Garbine Muguruza (2014) and compatriot Sofia Kenin (2019) – who all went on to win Grand Slam titles – to win their first tour title in the Tasmanian capital.
Following a semifinal appearance in Auckland last week, Navarro went one better in the last event before the Australian Open by outlasting Mertens in a showdown which featured everything.
Both battled strong winds at different stages – there were six consecutive breaks of serve in the second set – but the quality of tennis in the conditions was also at times breathtaking as the pair traded blows from the back of the court.
In the ninth game of the third set Navarro was serving to stay in the contest and despite her inexperience on the big stage she didn’t drop a point to level proceedings, before cracking Mertens one last time in the next.
She held two championship points at 40-15 and after framing a ball onto West Court on the first, she ripped a forehand down the line on the next to seal the win.
“Just happy with how I finished it, especially on a forehand winner, a shot that I get in fights with sometimes, so pretty cool to finish it like that,” Navarro said.
“I don’t know if I could put words to the emotions, but it’s been a lot of years in the making, I guess.
“My coach and I, we’ve been together for eight years I think and from where we started, to now, is really crazy to think about.
“Probably six, seven years ago, I was hoping to be a decent college player and that was going to be good enough for me.
“To be here now, it’s really crazy and I guess just a testament to the work we’ve both put in.
“I’m really appreciative for the team I’ve had around me my entire tennis career really, and also just for my family, for their support that I’ve gotten over the years and they’ve been up all hours of the night this week watching me play. Really thankful to have them in my corner.”
The New York native said it will take a while for everything to sink on the honour roll she has now joined at the event.
It has been a big 12 months for Navarro, who has climbed from a ranking of 143 at the end of 2022 to now the cusp of the top 30.
“It’s crazy to think of my name in that list of players. I don’t know, I’m still kind of wrapping my head around, I guess, the ranking I’m at now and just the results I’ve been having.
“As a player you don’t always feel like you’re a top 30 player, even a top 100 player. There are days on the court where you feel like you can’t do anything right and you shouldn’t be ranked what you are or having the results that you’re having.
“That’s definitely something that I and everybody else has to deal with and work through, and just keeping that belief in yourself I think is so important.
“To imagine myself following in their footsteps is really crazy. But obviously, I’d be pretty happy to do that.”
For Mertens behind denied a third crown in five visits to Hobart was tough but despite the disappointment, the Belgian will take plenty of momentum into the Australian Open.
After not dropping serve in her first three matches the tournament top seed was pushed the distance in both her semifinal against Daria Saville and the decider, and but for a few points could have been on the other side of the ledger.
“That’s the game of tennis I guess, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and I gave everything I had today,” the 2017-18 champion said.
“She was playing very well in the key moments. Of course I feel a little bit sad because I lost, but also I feel like had a very decent week again.
“Mixed feelings for sure.” The grandstand clash between the top two seeds capped a record breaking week for the tournament, with new crowd figures set on most days and the total attendance for the week (16,790) an all-time high since records have been counted, surpassing the previous mark by more than 2000.