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First Time Winner Spotlight: Joao Sousa

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sousa© ATPJoao Sousa won his first career ATP World Tour title at the 2013 Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur.

Joao Sousa earned his first career ATP World Tour singles title with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over fifth seed Julien Benneteau at the Malaysian Open in Kuala Lumpur. Sousa saved a match point while serving at 30-40, training 2-6, 4-5.

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This achievement makes Sousa the first Portuguese player to win an ATP World Tour title. The 24-year-old will also become the highest ranked Portuguese player ever as he is projected to climb from No. 77 to a career-high No. 51 when the Emirates ATP Rankings are released on Monday. caught up with the new champion following his victory.

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What did it feel like to be holding your first ATP World Tour trophy? How does it feel to be the first Portuguese player to win an ATP World Tour title?

It’s just a dream come true. It’s just amazing winning. Winning an ATP World Tour title is one of my dreams. Actually I’m the first Portuguese player to win one. It’s good for me and good for my country. People can start to know Portuguese tennis and I think that’s great.

I know that I’ll reach the best ranking of a Portuguese player [after this result]. That’s a good goal that I’ve made it. It’s very important for all the upcoming players, the young players. It’s good for Portuguese tennis.

How many text messages have you received since after the final? And any special ones?

I think there will be a lot of Facebook requests and a lot of messages from people who support me. My parents, they have to be so happy and proud of me, as I am of them. My girlfriend also; she is a big support for me.

Were you nervous going into your first final against a player who had been in eight previous finals?

I knew that [about Benneteau's previous finals]. I feel bad for [him]. I know it’s tough when you reach many finals. I know it’s not easy to reach finals. In the end, today by one point he just lost. I feel bad for him.

When I entered the match, I was not very nervous. I did good with the situation. I spoke with my coach about the tactics. I stayed calm and tried to do my best. My coach is the best of my career. I have been working with him two years and I have made good results with the support of my friend, girlfriend, and him.

Talk about the last two weeks, getting a special exempt into Kuala Lumpur after reaching your first ATP semi-final in St. Petersburg last week. How are you feeling after nine matches?

After the Davis Cup tie [against Moldova], I was so, so tired. I played over five hours and I just lost that match. When I arrived in St. Petersburg, I tried to stay focused and play the first round as good as I could. I started to play really good after the US Open. I had been working on a few things and I now see the results of those few things.

I feel great to come [to Kuala Lumpur] via special exempt. Otherwise I could not play this tournament. So it’s a cherry on top of the mountain that I won [the tournament]. It's just amazing.

In your last three matches, you beat three seeds and experienced players over 30 years old: No. 4 David Ferrer in the quarter-finals, Jurgen Melzer in the semi-finals, and Benneteau in the final. What did you do well to put five match wins together during the week?

[With] Ferrer, I just went for it. I played an amazing match and he did not play his best. [Playing] tennis like that I was really happy to beat David. He’s the number one of the humans [laughter].

With Melzer, I already beat him once in Acapulco and I took advantage of that. With Julien, I had never played against him. I knew he was a great player and made a lot of finals. I just went for it and tried to give my best and tried to win. I think I made very good results.

When I was match point down [against Benneteau], he hit an amazing backhand approach down the line. It's so good and so humbling that [my forehand] went in. It's just amazing that I made it. I don't know how it went in. But I went for it. It could have been out and I could have lost the match.

What were your goals at the beginning of the season and now that you’re the first Portuguese player in the Top 50 of the Emirates ATP Rankings? How does that feel?

My goal at the start of the season was to keep in the Top 100 by just playing in ATP events. I reached the Top 100 last year playing in Challenger events. It's much tougher and I was trying to play ATP events and try to make good results and keep my Top 100 ranking.

What are your favorite surfaces and what do you consider your strength in your game?

My favourite surface was clay court but after seeing these results I don't know what to tell you [laughter]. I just feel like I have a great forehand and I try to dominate the point and attack. Physically I have been working very good for the last five years and I am physically very good. Mentally I worked a lot in the past two years with Fred and that's why I start to have some results.

Who has been instrumental in your development and assisting you with your career?

I practise in the BTT Academy (Barcelona Total Tennis). Francis Roig is one of the owners of the academy. Since I was 16 he has been one of my mentors. He's always kept one eye on me. Frederico Marques is the one doing most of the work. But Frances works with us a lot because he's good and an experienced coach.

When you’re not playing tennis, what are some of your hobbies and interests?

When I'm home I try to be with my friends, relax a little bit, and disconnect from tennis. I try to go to the cinema with my girlfriend and read. I like soccer as everyone does. I support Real Madrid and in my city I support Vitória. I feel proud when they win.

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