ASHLAND Ellen Perez felt bad for her Australian compatriot but had to be pleased for herself.

Hungry for a singles title after seven runner-up finishes dating back to August of 2016, Perez defeated Zoe Hives 6-2, 3-2 (retired) for the championship of the Braidy Industries $60,000 Women’s Tennis Classic.

It came on a sweltering Sunday afternoon at the Ashland Tennis Center.

Hives took a medical timeout following the third game of the second set. She returned to the court for two more games before bowing out due to illness.

“Zoe’s a really good friend,” Perez said of her sometime training partner. “I never like to win by withdrawal. I feel I was playing good tennis. It was just an unfortunate end.”

Perez, at 23 a year older than Hives, turned in a strong performance in the matchup between the tournament’s seventh and eighth seeds, respectively.

The left-hander from the town of Shellharbour ripped several winners, one of them a bullet down the line to begin her run of four consecutive games to close the first set.

“I felt through the week I got better,” said Perez, a former college All-American at Georgia. “My forehand on the run and cross-court shots really helped.”

She smiled with a sense of relief after ending her dry spell in title matches. Last year, Perez was runner-up in five International Tennis Federation finals in her home country — one coming against Hives.

“This feels really good,” Perez said. “It was a bit of a running joke that I was always the bridesmaid. When will you get to be the bride?”

This time was different.

“I felt prepared, ready” Perez said. “I’m glad to finally get a title.”

Her other ITF singles championship came in 2016 at a $10,000-level event in Belgium. Perez was ranked as high as 175th early this year and came into the Ashland draw at No. 197.       

“Hopefully this will be a good stepping stone for the U.S. Open coming up,” Perez said. “There’s an Australian wild card.”

Hives, a native of Kingston, and Perez prevailed in three-set semifinals Saturday under a glaring sun. The Perez-Katie Swan match was stopped for 10 minutes prior to the third set due to the combination of heat and humidity. After cooling down from her contest, Hives mentioned having “a bit of a bad throat.”

Sunday was another broiler, with the singles championship following closing ceremonies on Court 1.     

“It was very hot out there, obviously,” Perez said.

Hives shook off a couple of double faults in the third game to grab a 2-1 lead before Perez took over.

Hives has battled injuries early in her pro career, but owns four ITF singles titles. Two came toward the end of last year. She was awarded a wild card into the Australian Open in January and defeated American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-1, 6-2 to earn $105,000 for making the second round.

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