Tamira Paszek fought-off five match points against Angelique Kerber to claim her first Premier-Level title during the AEGON International final at Devonshire Park.
It took two-hours and 45 minutes of tennis, eight match-points and treatment to an injured right ankle but it was Paszek, the Austrian world-number 59, who showed the greater desire to lift the trophy and bank $107,000 prize money.
Speaking after the match she said, “I just gave everything and thankfully I just had enough. I always knew I was a fighter and I always believe in myself and it all fitted together this week.
“I just tried to focus on my game and to be honest I didn’t even realise they were match points against me. I was just on court enjoying the atmosphere of the crowd it was just unbelievable.”
The victory was particularly sweet for the 21-year-old as it came in front of her god parents who live in Eastbourne. “My godfather was joking saying ‘you are going to bring this cup home’ and I thought oh my god, that’s a lot of pressure, but I just took it match by match. I haven’t seen him yet but I know he’s going to be over the moon. I love Eastbourne and I’m already looking forward to coming back next year.”
Of her on-court treatment in the third set for the injured right ankle, she added, “The tape was getting bigger and bigger and it was so tight and felt weird on court but you just have to get on with it and hang in there.”
German left-hander Kerber made it to the final at Devonshire Park in her first appearance at Eastbourne and soon powered into a 3-0 lead in the first. The world number-eight looked far too strong for her Austrian opponent who was competing in her first Premier-Level WTA tournament final.
However, Paszek demonstrated her fighting spirit in the previous round when she fought back in the semi-final against Marion Bartoli having been a set and 4-0 down.
Kerber was 3-0 love up and had Paszek on break point to take a 4-0 lead but, despite being the lowest ranked player to make a WTA final this season, Paszek held her nerve and forced her way back into the set.
The 24-year-old German then faltered on serve and Paszek, the 2011 Wimbledon quarter-finalist, clawed her way back to 3-3. Kerber got her service game back on track and only lost one more point on serve for the remainder of the set. At 6-5 in the German’s favour, Paszek had to hold to force a tie-break but Kerber picked her off to take the first set.
Paszek’s god-parents and her father offered vocal support from the south stand as the Austrian battled for the second set. At 3-5 up she had her chance to strike when a forehand by Kerber was called long to set-up two break points. The German held her nerve on both points to bring the game to deuce but two quick fire points from Paszek clinched her third break of serve and the second set.
The third was a test of nerve and stamina for both players. At 5-4 and 0-30 up Kerber was on the cusp of victory as Paszek flicked a deep return into the net. Three match points for the German but all were lost as Paszek played some of her best tennis under the utmost of pressure.
Back to deuce and a long backhand from the Austrian brought another match-point for Kerber which once again was duly saved. A fifth title-winning point came and went and Paszek eventually served out the game.
The trainer was called on to heavily strap the right ankle and the delay seemed to distract Kerber the most. The German has two WTA titles under her belt already this year after winning the Paris Indoor and the Copenhagen but she couldn’t serve out the match in Eastbourne.
A rejuvenated Paszek looked more energetic and broke the Kerber serve and after two-hours and 40 minutes of play she brought up two match points of her own. Both were saved but a wide forehand from Kerber delivered a third and this time, with Kerber struggling to find her range, another wayward forehand gave Peszak her maiden Premier-Level title.
Kerber remained gracious in defeat, she added, “I got to the final and I can go into Wimbledon full of confidence. It was a tough game today and she played well on the big points. Well done to her.”
Paszek faces former world number-one Caroline Wozniacki in the first round at Wimbledon.