Latasha Khan captures unprecedented 7th title
It was a record-breaking year in the Women's Open championships. For starters, the women's final was held for the first time on Saturday night, in conjunction with the Hall of Fame induction ceremonies and the cocktail party. With a multitude of Hall of Famers in the crowd, and no other matches scheduled in the championship time slot, the women had a chance to shine.
Most of the betting was on 33-year-old Latasha Khan, undoubtedly a future Hall of Famer, to win in three over Yale senior Michelle Quibell. After all, no one had really challenged the US No. 1 in five years, and she was looking to win a record seventh Open title. Her path to the finals was decisive—she defeated No. 8 seed Dana Betts, 1, 1, 6, and No. 5 seed Lily Lorentzen, 0, 0, 5.
Quibell, seeded sixth, couldn't be counted out. She had the home court advantage on the four walled glass court on which she had played countless matches over the past four years, her Yale schoolmates who were not on spring break cheering wildly for her and possibly the game best suited—among the American women—to give Khan a run for her money. Not to mention that she was motivated to finish on a positive note what had been a difficult injury-plagued season.
The Yalie's path to the final was more challenging than Khan's. After defeating third seed Ivy Pochoda, 9-6, 9-0, 9-1, Quibell faced the US No. 2 player, Meredeth Quick, who is remarkably consistent and rarely loses a match to lower ranked players. Undaunted, Quibell won the match, (3), 4, 2, 5.
Although Khan won the first game of the championship match, 9-4, the tall and athletic Quibell demonstrated her strategic savvy, using all corners of the court, and particularly, the slow two-wall boast to great effect. Jumping out to a 7-3 lead in the second, it was clear that the 21-year-old was not going to be overwhelmed by her opponent or the moment. Although Khan battled back to 6-7, two let points gave Quibell the game, 9-6. Khan came out charging in the third, winning it 9-0, with Quibell earning only two serves in the game. Just as quickly in the fourth, Quibell raced to a 6-0 start, and the crowd was ready for the match to go the distance. The veteran, who wanted badly to break Demer Holleran's record of six national softball championships, was nervous, but not ready to concede the game. “I was panicking a bit,” said Khan,” but I still felt I could win. At 6-0, I decided that I was not going to let her win the game so easily.”
With a few winners and a few tins by Quibell, Khan tied the match at 6-6. A tin return of Quibell's serve gave the younger player a 7-6 lead. But then, as champions are wont to do, Khan ratcheted up her game. Four winners and one tin later, Khan had match ball. A Quibell tin was all Khan needed to get into the record books.
How excited was Khan to win the championship? Clapping her hands together like a little girl in the candy store and beaming from ear to ear, she said, “I really wanted to break the record.” Apparently, more than winning the championship and breaking the record was at stake. There was also a bit of redemption. “This was my first tournament since the Tournament of Champions qualifying where I had one of my worst losses ever,” the seven-time National Champion further explained, “so that's another reason I wanted to win here so bad.”