9:52 pm
20 May 2024

Satomi Watanabe & Paul Coll Win Optasia Titles

18 Mar 2024

In a dramatic conclusion to the 2024 Optasia Championships at The Wimbledon Club in London, No.2 seed Paul Coll battled back from 2/0 down to upset world No.1 Ali Farag, and Japan's world No.19 Satomi Watanabe earned her first World Tour title with a shock straight games triumph over world No.4 Nele Gilis.

Watanabe produced the performance of her life to beat top seed Gilis for the first time in her career - not only claiming her first PSA World Tour title but also winning the biggest ever Tour title by a Japanese player.

Gilis came into the match having won two titles this season and with a 4-0 Head-to-Head record over her fourth-seeded opponent - and started well enough as she established a 4-1 lead in the opening game. Watanabe wasn't deterred and made her way back, levelling at 4-4 and keeping a point ahead as the scores edged up to 9-9. The Roehampton-based Japanese athlete had been hitting winning shots all game, and two more gave her the lead 11-9 after 15 minutes.

The second was more of the same, Gilis led 3-2 but Watanabe forged ahead again, 8-6, 10-8 and another winner to double her advantage.

Watanabe's delayed crosscourt flicks were causing her opponent all sorts of trouble, an she utilised them again in the third, taking a 5-0 lead, all on winning shots. The only sticky patch came as Watanabe clipped the tin in three successive rallies for Gilis to recover to 5-6 - but that was the end of it, and with the help of two successive back-wall nick to reach match ball at 10-6, just one final winner was needed for Watanabe to claim her breakthrough World Tour title.

"To win one of my biggest titles, I'm so speechless," said Watanabe after the match. "To beat Nele in the final, when I've lost to her four times in a row. It was almost like I was doubting myself all the time when I play her.

"It was so great to have my sister and my coach in the corner who believes in what I can do more than myself.

"It was part of my game plan that I just have to be really really patient and wait until the right time when I could actually see anticipating where ever I was trying to hit."

In the men's final, one of the contestants was set to claim their second Optasia Championships title. With the pair competing in their fourth final (and fifth match) of the season, the had-to-head record was tied at two apiece.

It was New Zealander Coll who started the better, moving from 3-3 in the first game to take a 7-3 lead, but Farag struck back, delighting the packed crowd with some wonderful recoveries and winning shots as he fought back to level at 7-7, taking the lead 11-8 after 18 minutes.

The Egyptian dominated the second game, continuing his form from the first and taking a lead at 5-2 before reeling off the next six points to win 11-2 after 9 minutes.

As the World Champion moved ahead in the third game to 5-2 and 7-4, Coll was looking dispirited at times, but as Farag finally started to make some errors, Coll's interest and energy levels rose and playing as fast as possible, he levelled at 9-9. The New Zealander earned and lost a game ball but worked for another one and a deep crosscourt gave him the game 12-10 after 20 minutes.

Farag was observing the Ramadan fast, and was just minutes short of the 18:13 time slot when he could start taking on fluids. It didn't seem to make much difference; he had the upper hand from the outset of the fourth game, leading 4-2, 6-4 and 8-5 finding winners like he had in the opening games. But then he started clipping the tin, and Coll was back at 8-8 then 9-9. Farag would get one match ball at 10-9 on a stroke, but Coll saved that with a crunching drive and two Farag tin hits later the match pushed into a deciding game.

Now hydrated, Farag recovered from a 2-4 deficit in the fifth. He then found four winners in a row from 5-5 to move two points from the title. For the third game in a row, Coll fought back, throwing in a massive dive at 8-9 which kept Farag off a championship ball.

As Coll levelled at 9-9, Farag looked to be cramping up. Two more rallies and two more winners from the No.2 seed and Coll claimed the 2024 Optasia Championships title!

"It was a massive battle out there tonight," said Coll after the match. "I just want to say I've got the utmost respect for Ali for what he's doing. Not just for the athlete he is, but for the person he is. I think that's why he's so dominant this season. Thank you for all the battles.

"I put lot of work in the off-season to get back to my fighting best. I didn't feel like I had that last season. I was doing all my breathing techniques, all my mental things because it was a real battle.

"I had to come back several times. I had my coach come down today which really helped me. Seeing my childhood friends in the front row was something special, and hearing my girlfriend who had a tough loss come and support me. All these people around me really got me up today.

"I'm proud of the fight I put in. Another just really enjoyable battle with Ali out there. I've enjoyed every match this season and I'm happy to get another win."