It’s been a long wait, but Joao Sousa has that winning feeling once again.
The Portuguese World No. 137 defeated Finnish sixth seed Emil Ruusuvuori 7-6(9), 4-6, 6-1 to seal his first ATP Tour title since 2018 on Sunday at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune.
It marks a wonderful return to form for Sousa, who had spoken emotionally about his recent struggles with injury and form after his epic semi-final victory over Elias Ymer.
“[It’s] a great week for me,” said Sousa after winning the title. “As I said yesterday, we’ve had a few tough moments in the past two years, and to get the title today is just a dream come true. If you’d asked me six months ago if I would be in a final, I would have said no.”
His determination to make it back to the biggest stage was on full display against 22-year-old Ruusuvuori, one of the most exciting young players on the Tour who recently gave Felix Auger-Aliassime a five-set scare at the Australian Open.[FOLLOW ACTION]
The 32-year-old Portuguese appeared to be feeling the effects of the Ymer battle early on in his first ATP Tour meeting with Ruusuvuori. The World No. 87-ranked Finn fired some powerful ground strokes to break for a 5-3 lead in the first set, but the pressure of edging closer to a maiden ATP title appeared to affect him as he served two double faults to hand Sousa a break back.
A marathon tie-break was then clinched in style by the Portuguese, who showed incredible defence to force Ruusuvuori into an error on a smash and convert his fourth set point.
The momentum was all with former World No. 28 Sousa. He broke early to surge into an early 3-0 lead in the second set and Ruusuvuori looked to be beaten. The Finn had other ideas, however, reeling off a series of searing winners to take five games in a row from 1-4 down and force a decider.
Sousa dug deep and used all of his experience to halt the Finn’s momentum by breaking early in the third set. He held his nerve on serve impressively throughout, saving five out of eight break points he faced to seal victory in two hours and 43 minutes.
“I knew that Emil is a great player so it would be tough to close out the match,” said Sousa after sealing an emotional first title since Estoril in 2018. “He played great tennis at the end of the second set…I knew that I had to be there [in the third set] and get my game into it.”
Sousa has now won four tour-level titles, while Ruusuvuori was competing in his maiden final at this level.