Match point was the turning point for Joao Sousa today. Sousa fought off a match point in the second set to spark a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over fifth-seeded Julien Benneteau and capture his first ATP title in Kuala Lumpur.
Playing his first Tour-level final, the 77th-ranked Sousa made history as the first player from Portugal to win an ATP title. Frederico Gil, who fell to Albert Montanes, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 5-7, in the Oeiras, Portugal final in May 2010, was the first Portuguese man to reach an ATP final.
“I just feel great. I don't realize, actually, what I just did out there but I just feel great," said the 24-year-old Sousa, who collected a champion's check of $158,000. "I mean, I'm so tired mentally and physically but I just feel amazing. It's just a dream come true, winning my first title here in Malaysia. The crowd was unbelievable, for him and for me, they were chanting every time. I think it was a great final to see, and I'm really happy to win this title. I hope this helps [my] confidence and to try and do better things.”
It was the first final of the year between two players battling to win their first career ATP title.
The loss was a heart-breaker for Benneteau, who came within one point of a breakthrough only to drop to 0-9 in ATP finals. The 33rd-ranked Frenchman, who lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the Rotterdam final in February, is the highest-ranked man yet to win an ATP title.
"I tried everything today, Benneteau said. "I played very well, particularly I was very aggressive and I didn't let him play for two sets almost. I took my chance, it didn't pay off and it's hard, it's hard, it's very hard. But it's sport."
Sousa, who upset top-seeded David Ferrer, 6-2, 7-6 (6) in the quarterfinals before beating fourth-seeded Jurgen Melzer in the semifinals, did not shrink from the match-point moment. Trailing 2-6, 4-5, 30-40, Sousa fought off the match point by cracking a bold forehand down the line. Inspired by that shot and exhorted on by fans, Sousa won three straight games to close the second set and level the match.
"I just gave my best, it was a tough shot there, I just went for it and it went it," Sousa said. "Tennis is like this, if you don't go for it, you'll never make it, so I just went for it. We both played a great match. He had a lot of chances to win."
Sousa broke a disconsolate Benneteau in the first game of the final set and fought off four break points to seal a historic title.