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Tennis: Zhang conquers King to claim first WTA crown at Guangzhou Open

Zhang Shuai, 24, is expected to move into the top 100 after becoming only the fifth Chinese player to win a WTA singles title. Photo: Guangzhou Open.

Zhang Shuai, 24, is expected to move into the top 100 after becoming only the fifth Chinese player to win a WTA singles title. Photos: Guangzhou Open.

September 22, 2013: Zhang Shuai became only the fifth Chinese player to win a WTA singles title when she beat American Vania King 7-6, 6-1 in the final of the US$500,000 Guangzhou Open in China – nine years after Li Na won her first WTA title at the inaugural edition of the event. Wimbledon champions Peng Shuai of China and Taiwan No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei won the doubles for their fourth WTA title of the year.

 

Zhang, 24, edged a tight first set and then cruised through the second to claim her first WTA singles title, joining compatriots Li (seven), Zheng Jie (four), Yan Zi and Sun Tiantian (one each). The 24-year-old also became the third Chinese winner of the Guangzhou Open after Li (2004) and Yan (2005).

 

Zhang, a wildcard into the singles draw, didn’t drop a set all week and continued that streak by winning a 65-minute first set on a tie-break (7-1) before rolling through a 32-minute second set.

 

The Tianjin-born Zhang won 16 of the last 17 points of the match – and the last 13 – to secure a dominant victory in front of delighted Chinese fans.

 

“I’m not a person who often gets excited, but today I feel really happy. This is the biggest moment of my career, although I look at this like a new starting point, not a final destination,” said the 1.77-metre Zhang, whose father was a professional footballer and mother was a basketball player.

 

Zhang’s previous best WTA result was reaching the Guangzhou Open semi-finals in 2010, when she lost to compatriot Zheng Saisai.

 

Now China’s fourth-ranked player, Zhang is expected to move into the top 100 for the first time since September 2011 and join 31-year-old Li (World No. 5), 27-year-old Peng Shuai (38) and 30-year-old Zheng Jie (58). She feels she belongs in such esteemed company.

 

“I saw the tournament listed out the previous nine champions on the giant promotional adverts on centre court. I saw them every day when I was going to the practice court, since the first day I got here,” said Zhang, who last year won the doubles competition with Thailand’s Tamarine Tanasugarn.

 

“I asked myself, ‘Could I be one of them? Could I be the 10th champion here?’ At that time, I didn’t think it was possible, but I’ve beaten some of those nine champions before and that gave me a lot of confidence.

 

“All those days, every time I passed by that big poster, I told myself I wanted to be the 10th champion at the Guangzhou Open. Having faith is so powerful, as it can really make your dream come true.”

 

Zhang had routed Austrian Yvonne Meusburger 6-1, 6-1 in the semis, while King came from behind to beat China’s Zheng 3-6, 7-5, 6-3.

 

Wimbledon champions Peng Shuai (left) and Hsieh Su-wei won their fourth WTA doubles title of 2013.

Wimbledon champions Peng Shuai (left) and Hsieh Su-wei won their fourth WTA doubles title of 2013.

China also enjoyed success in the doubles when top seeds Peng and Hsieh beat the busy King and Kazakhstan’s Galina Voskoboeva 6-3, 4-6, 12-10, two months after the East Asian pair won Wimbledon for the first time.

 

Peng and Hsieh, last year’s singles champion, needed six match points in the match tie-break to finish it off. They missed out on four from 9-5 and one at 10-9, but converted at 11-10.

 

Peng and Hsieh now have eight WTA doubles titles, one in 2008 (Bali), three in 2009 (Sydney, Rome and Beijing) and a WTA-leading four in 2013 (Rome, Wimbledon, Cincinnati and Guangzhou), having won all of the finals they’ve reached. Hsieh now has 13 WTA doubles titles to her name and Peng has 11.

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