Read & Watch: Portugal's Crowning Moment: Sousa Reigns In Estoril
For 29 years, the ATP World Tour has descended on the European nation of Portugal. For nearly three decades, the proud country with a rich tennis culture has eagerly waited for one of its own to lift the trophy in front of the home faithful.
On Sunday, Joao Sousa finally ended the drought. The Guimarães native had his moment in the spotlight, becoming the first Portuguese-born player to celebrate an ATP World Tour title on home soil.
Sousa downed Frances Tiafoe 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 19 minutes to take the Millennium Estoril Open title, dismissing the #NextGenATP American behind four breaks of serve on the red clay. He claimed his third tour-level crown and first since 2015, when he prevailed in Valencia.
"It's just amazing. It's a dream come true," Sousa said. "It is very special for a Portuguese player to win here on home soil. I know how hard the organisation worked to make this tournament one of the best in the world and it's just amazing. The crowd was unbelievable."
Energised by the partisan home crowd, an impassioned Sousa gave the Estoril fans plenty to cheer for. With the sun beating down on a sold out Estadio Millennium, he fired his forehand with aplomb and made Tiafoe work for every point.
The competitors traded early breaks in the opener, but it was Sousa who neutralised Tiafoe's shotmaking arsenal as the match wore on. He would grab the decisive break for 4-3 and escaped from a 0/40 deficit when serving for the first set.
"That game I think gave me a lot of confidence," Sousa said. "Frances was not able to make that break [and] I was winning a lot of confidence... I was able to play great tennis today."
A blasted ace sealed the set after 40 minutes and Sousa would not relinquish the lead, pulling away with a pair of immediate breaks in the second. Buoyed by the home crowd, the fist-pumping Portuguese sprinted to a 4-0 advantage as Tiafoe struggled to find his range and rhythm from the baseline.
Tiafoe did well to deny Sousa in his first attempt to serve out the title, but the 29-year-old would not be stopped two games later. He would collapse to the clay after firing a forehand into the open court, as tears streamed down his face. With the emotions of the moment coming to the surface, Sousa celebrated Portuguese history.
The three-time ATP World Tour titlist was made to work throughout the week, having saved a pair of match points against countryman Pedro Sousa in the second round and having survived consecutive three-set marathons against an in-form Kyle Edmund and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarters and semis. But he saved his best tennis for the championship clash, firing 12 winners, including four aces, while benefiting from 24 unforced errors off Tiafoe's racquet to take the title.
Sousa earns €89,435 in prize money and 250 ATP Rankings points for his successful week. The former World No. 28 is charging towards his career-high, projected to soar 20 spots to a Top 50 return on Monday.
Tiafoe, meanwhile, enjoyed another strong week on the ATP World Tour, as he continues to add signature victories to his 2018 campaign. Up to third in the ATP Race To Milan, he was featuring in his second final of the year, after clinching his maiden crown on the hard courts of Delray Beach in February. Tiafoe continues to show that his game translates to all surfaces, highlighted by a dominant win over second seed Pablo Carreno Busta on Saturday, dropping just five games.
"I know how big this is for him. The whole country is behind him," said Tiafoe. "He's felt that since the beginning of the week. There are billboards with him here. I bet he's wanted to win this event for all the years of his career. It's huge. He played too good and the crowd was definitely for him. It was tough for me. I couldn't get my feet wet today. He's one of the nicest guys on tour too, so I have a lot of respect for him.
"I didn't feel great today. I just got outplayed. I left a lot of balls short and didn't play near as well as I was playing this week. He took advantage and was able to play how he wanted to. It was tough. I couldn't get anything going."
The 20-year-old American notches €47,105 in prize money and 150 ATP Rankings points, rising eight spots to match his career-high of No. 56.
Did You Know?
Tiafoe is one of five players from the #NextGenATP contingent to reach an ATP World Tour final this year, with Munich champion and Miami runner-up Alexander Zverev and fellow finalists Andrey Rublev (Doha), Alex de Minaur (Sydney) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (Barcelona).