Photo: Akio Matsumoto$25,000 Karuizawa - singles champion Natsumi Hamamura
Natsumi Hamamura, 25, from Japan is our featured player for May. During the month Hamamura competed in four tournaments on the ITF Pro Circuit in three countries where she was looking to bring to an end a long run without a singles title.
The opening tournament of the month for Hamamura took place in the Australian state of Queensland for a $25,000 tournament in the city of Bundaberg. In the first round, No. 6 seed Hamamura needed three sets to see off Australian qualifier Renee Binnie and she then followed this up with a second round win over another Australian qualifier, Jade Hopper, this time in straight sets. The quarterfinals saw the only two Japanese players in an otherwise all-Australian quarterfinal draw face off for a place in the semifinals. Hamamura’s opponent was Mari Inoue and following a comfortable 62 62 victory, Hamamura was left as the only non-Australian competitor left in the competition. Fifth seeded Jessica Moore failed to make it an all-Australian final as Hamamura secured a 62 46 62 win to take her place in a first singles final since May 2007. Only the fourth seeded Sally Peers now stood in her way of a first singles title since winning her first career title back in November 2004. Having waited three years for another title shot, Hamamura started the match like a bat of hell as she raced through the opening set without loss of a game. The second set was more closely fought and Hamamura just edged it to take it 64 and with it a long awaited singles title.
In the doubles event, Hamamura teamed up with fellow Japanese player Yurika Sema but as No. 1 seeds they had to pull out ahead of their semifinal against the Australian No. 3 seeds and eventual champions Marija Mirkovic & Jessica Moore due to Sema being unable to take part due to an injury sustained whilst playing in the singles event.
Upon leaving Australia, Hamamura headed to her native Japan for her next two tournaments. The first was a $50,000 tournament held in Kurume. Following her title winning performance the previous week, her participation in this tournament, as an unseeded player, was a surprisingly short lived one. In the opening round she was narrowly defeated 76(6) 64 by Qiang Wang, a Chinese player who had come into the main draw via the qualifying event. The doubles saw her and partner Ayumi Oka lose in the second round to the tournament’s second seeds and eventual champions from China, Sheng-Nan Sun & Yi-Fan Xu, on a deciding set match tiebreak.
Her early exits from the events in Kurume did however leave her with plenty of time for rest and practice ahead of the third tournament of the month, a $25,000 tournament in Karuizawa where she was again unseeded.
Hamamura came through the first three rounds without losing a set, a run of matches that included a 64 64 quarterfinal triumph over the No. 1 seed Jin-A Lee from Korea. She seemed to be on her way to another straight sets victory but having taken the first set 63, her semifinal opponent, Japanese qualifier Kumiko Iljima, struck back to level the match by winning the second set 61. This set up a tense deciding set which, eventually, finished 75 in Hamamura’s favour. Having previously gone three years without making it into a singles final, Hamamura was now making a second final appearance this month. Hoping to stop her claiming another title was Chinese sixth seed Yi-Fan Xu but in the end she offered little resistance as Hamamura powered her way to the title with a 61 62 triumph.
This third tournament also brought about a third change of doubles partner for Hamamura. In Karuizawa she partnered Wen-Hsin Hsu from Chinese Taipei but, as third seeds, they fell at the first hurdle, losing in a match tie break.
To end the month, Hamamura entered into another $25,000 ITF Pro Circuit tournament, this time in the South Korean city of Goyang. Having been seeded third, Hamamura followed the pattern of play for this month as for the second time she made an early exit from her first tournament after having won the title the previous week. In Goyang, her tournament came to an end at the hands of a Korean Wild Card entrant who ran out a 60 61 winner in their second round encounter. In keeping with the previous weeks, this tournament saw another change of doubles partner for Hamamura. Japan’s Mari Tanaka now partnered her and as third seeds they were eliminated in the semifinals following a defeat on a match tie break to the eventual champions.
Following her performances in May, Hamamura is now closing in on her career high WTA singles ranking of 203, set in the early part of 2008, largely due to her singles titles won in Australia and Japan. These, coming in her only final appearances in 2010, were her first titles since her debut title win back in 2004. In both singles and doubles she now has a 50% career success rate when competing in finals.