Greece's Eleni Daniiliduo won the US$145,000 Korean Open in Seoul yesterday in heroic fashion by beating fourth seed Ai Sugiyama of Japan 6-3, 2-6, 7-6.
The 24-year-old defeated the world No. 27 despite finishing the match in obvious pain and collapsed to the ground in agony as Sugiyama's return hit the net after 236 minutes of thrilling entertainment at Seoul Olympic Park.
With the game balanced finely at 2-2 in the tie-break in the final set, Daniiliduo twisted her knee while hitting a fine winner down the line.
Despite getting back to her feet after receiving lengthy treatment, the Cretan-born player was in obvious pain.
The world No. 58 battled on to win the tie-break 7-3 to bring the crowd to their feet in delight.
"I tried to play the tie-breaker as aggressively as I could. The key was to go for it," Daniilidou said. "It was my mistake not calling the physio [earlier]. Ai is a fighter, I had to play very precise."
That wasn't the only obstacle the athletic Daniiliduo overcame. She was down 4-5 and 0-40 in the final set but came back to take the match into the tie-break.
It was a dramatic end to an absorbing contest.
There had been little to separate the two with the European serving better but the Japanese star looking fresher after a gruelling week in the South Korean capital.
At the beginning of the final set it was anybody's game. Chances were few and far between.
At 5-4, the experienced Sugiyama had her opportunity.
"I'm a little disappointed. It was tough to lose in that kind of situation. I was leading 5-4 and had three matchpoints -- that was the key," Sugiyama explained after the game.
"In the tie-break, it is not easy to play a normal game when the other player is injured. I was just pushing the ball back in the court as I thought she couldn't move but she was still hitting the ball really well," she said.
Subsequently, the momentum was with Daniiliduo whose injured knee couldn't prevent her lifting the trophy and being saluted by a sizeable and admiring crowd.
Martina Hingis was the top seed but the world No. 8 was eliminated in the second round.