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Nara defeats Zakopalova for 1st singles title

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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Kurumi Nara of Japan won her first WTA singles title on Sunday, defeating top-seeded Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 4-6, 6-1.

The 22-year-old Nara was seeded fifth in the tournament and is Japan’s top-ranked woman at No. 62. She prefers to play on hard courts but has adapted to the heat and clay in Rio.

“I love Rio,” Nara said, cracking a huge smile. “I can’t believe I won the tournament, but I am very happy.”

The victory is likely to push Nara into the top 50 when the WTA publishes its rankings on Monday.

“I don’t want to think too much about being No. 1 in Japan,” Nara said. “I just want to focus on my game – every game.”

Nara said she thrived on the hot, humid weather in Rio and said Japanese players are getting better on clay because a new clay-court facility has been built in the country.

Maria Bueno, Brazil’s greatest female player who won seven Grand Slam singles titles – her last in the US Open in 1966 – helped hand the winning trophy to Nara.

Zakopalova won two WTA titles 10 years ago, but has now lost 12 consecutive singles finals. In parts of the match she seemed unwell, probably bothered by the 32 Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) heat and intense humidity.

“I have an asthma problem so I couldn’t breathe,” Zakopalova said. “But it’s not an excuse. Well done to Kurumi. She deserved it. She played really well.”

In the men’s final, top-seeded and No. 1 Rafael Nadal of Spain faced Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine. Nadal is 297-21 on clay, the best record in the Open Era.

Follow Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP