China's aces enjoy upswing Down Under

0 777老虎机游戏登入Print E-mail China Daily, February 4, 2020
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Wang Qiang. [Photo/Xinhua]

China's top female players were left to reflect on a highly promising Australian Open campaign after taking down two major winners in Melbourne.

Wang Qiang delivered the upset of the tournament by dumping out 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams in an epic third-round battle, while Zhang Shuai sent 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens packing in a similarly hard-fought contest.

The scalps were offset by the Chinese pair's failure to survive into the second week, with Wang seemingly suffering a hangover from the Williams win in a straight-sets exit to Ons Jabeur, and Zhang losing a close two-set battle in round three to eventual champion Sofia Kenin.

The increasing competitiveness of Wang and Zhang, though, was undeniable, while there were also positives signs for the other four Chinese in the main draw, who all qualified via the rankings.

Not many, if any, observers had seen Wang's 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5 victory over Williams coming on Jan 24(the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year), especially considering the American had steamrollered the world No 27 6-1, 6-0 in just 44 minutes in their last meeting, a US Open quarterfinal just four months ago.

And it wasn't as if Williams was taking the contest lightly. Far from it. The 38-year-old, after all, was seeking to tie Margaret Court's all-time Grand Slam record by claiming her 24th major singles title.

Wang, though, remained remarkably composed throughout against her intimidating opponent to pull off perhaps the biggest win of her career and scupper Williams' history bid in the process.

The 28-year-old Tianjin native credited the stunning triumph to an offseason training program that focused on strength and conditioning.

"I always believed I could do this one day. I just didn't know when exactly," said Wang, who concluded her deepest run at the tournament with a 7-6 (4), 6-1 last-16 loss to unseeded Tunisian Jabeur on Jan 26.

"I am really happy to see it happen. I did really hard work in the offseason, so it has paid off. After a tough program in the gym, I think I have gained more power than last year."

Wang's French coach, Thomas Drouet, believes the Williams victory is an important psychological milestone in his player's development.

Already a consistent deep runner at the Slams, Wang, who reached a career-high ranking of 12th in September last year after the US Open, now has more confidence than ever to go for the coveted crowns, said Drouet.

"What I told her is, welcome to the world of the champion. What she can do, she proved to herself," Drouet told tennis.com.

"I wanted her to be more aggressive and now she's more used to it, to take risks. Before she was quite defensive, waiting for the other player to miss. And as her goal is to win a Grand Slam, it's not possible to win a Grand Slam just waiting that the other one misses."

Wang has declared one of her main goals this season is to qualify for the year-ending WTA Finals in Shenzhen.

The tournament sees the world's eight highest-ranked women vying for the biggest prize pool in tennis-$14 million-in a round-robin format followed by knockout rounds.

"I started off well in Shenzhen and I hope I will see you all here again at the end of the year," Wang told the crowd after reaching the quarterfinals at the Shenzhen Open, her first tournament this season, in early January.

Fighting spirit

World No 32 Zhang also did Chinese fans proud by reprising her 2018 Australian Open come-from-behind victory over Stephens.

The unseeded Zhang again showed what a resilient performer she is to triumph 2-6, 7-5, 6-2 against the 26-year-old American in their first-round clash on Jan 20.

"I've fought against setbacks in my career with a never-say-die spirit for so long and I believe this is my biggest weapon going forward to reach new heights," said Zhang, who turned 31 the next day and was serenaded with a rendition of 'Happy Birthday' from the crowd after the match.

Zhang, who had an eight-year first-round losing streak at Slams from 2008-15, broke through at the 2016 Australian Open, where she advanced to the quarterfinals all the way from qualification.

Now having reached at least the last 32 at all four majors and repeated her record quarterfinal run at Wimbledon last year, Zhang believes she belongs in the top echelon of the sport.

"The poise and confidence that I have facing much higher-ranked opponents nowadays are the biggest differences for me to perform better on the big stage," said Zhang, who later defeated American Caty McNally 6-2, 6-4 before losing 7-5, 7-6 (9) to eventual champ Kenin, also of the US, in round three.

An emerging force in professional tennis, China for the first time saw four women reach the second round at this year's Australian Open and sent a record number of 21 female and male players, including doubles competitors and qualifiers, to the event.

After losing three first-round matches in a row since 2017, 26-year-old Chinese Zhu Lin cracked the opening test on her fourth attempt in Melbourne this year after rallying from a set down to beat Switzerland's Viktorija Golubic in three sets.

It was Zhu's second win at a Grand Slam, having made the second round of last year's US Open.

Wang is hoping to maintain her good start as the WTA circuit now switches to its North American swing, but she also has one eye on the Tokyo Olympics.

"Everybody is paying a lot of attention to the Olympics and obviously won't give up on the rest of the majors," she said. "Hopefully I can carry this momentum with me to prepare myself for the Olympics as the season unfolds."

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