She was the second-choice women's singles player for the Japan Warriors, but Kurumi Nara became their unlikely hero at the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) yesterday.
Even though they lost three out of five rubbers against the UAE Royals, the Warriors were still able to beat their opponents 23-20 for their second consecutive win in the Singapore leg on the final day at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
The third and final leg of the IPTL starts today in Hyderabad, India.
Nara, the Japanese world No. 78, demolished not one, but two former world No. 1 players, without even surrendering a game.
First, she shut out Serbia's Ana Ivanovic 3-0. Then, when the former French Open winner was replaced by five-time Grand Slam singles winner Martina Hingis in hopes of a reversal in scores, it was to no avail as Nara dished out the tournament's first bagel set, 6-0.
Nara's team-mates heaped praise on her, with Marat Safin calling her "a real warrior and Samurai", and adding: "Thanks to Kurumi, she saved the match."
Hingis gave her props too, as the Swiss interrupted Nara's interview backstage and joked: "I don't like her backhand down the line. It's the worst shot."
Perhaps it was the worst time to be facing the Japanese last night. She struck 11 winners, and she said afterwards that she "played the best match of this year".
A beaming Nara, 24, the third-highest ranked female Japanese singles player behind Misaki Doi (world No. 40) and Naomi Osaka (No. 48), added: "I played too well. I knew that Ana is a powerful player so I wanted to be aggressive."
For most of the tournament, she had played second fiddle to another former world No. 1, Serbia's Jelena Jankovic, in the Warriors side. The 1.55m-tall Nara played just one singles tie - in the opening match last Friday in Tokyo - in their previous five matches.
But when she was selected to come on after Jankovic was rested to allow her to recover from fatigue, the Japanese grabbed the chance.
Nara said: "I like to play and I hope to be able to continue to play more matches because I didn't play for the past few days."
Jankovic was happy to sit by the sidelines to let Nara shine. She said: "She was a great choice. She was on fire and eager to go out there, she played unbelievably well at such a high level. We all love her very much."
The Indian Aces edged out the Singapore Slammers 23-22 in the late match.
IPTL HYDERABAD, INDIA
Day 1: StarHub Ch201, 6.30pm & 10pm