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Tennis: Zheng Saisai to face Monica Puig in WTA Rising Stars final

Zheng Saisai and Monica Puig – pictured in a promotional photo – will face off in the WTA Rising Stars Invitational final in Singapore on Tuesday. Photo: Paul Lakatos / WSG.

Zheng Saisai and Monica Puig – pictured in a promotional photo on Saturday – will face off in the WTA Rising Stars Invitational final at the 10,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium on Tuesday. Photo: Paul Lakatos / WSG.

October 19, 2014: China’s Zheng Saisai saved a match point before edging Kazakhstan No. 1 Zarina Diyas 6-7(4), 7-6(2), 10-5 in the last round-robin matches of the WTA Rising Stars Invitational on Sunday evening, ultimately earning a place in Tuesday’s final at the 10,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium.

 

Monica Puig, the Puerto Rico No. 1, later recorded her third straight win in Singapore by beating American Shelby Rogers 6-3, 6-7(4), 11-9 to confirm a place in the final and also assure Zheng of hers. Like Zheng, Rogers had one win in her first two matches, having beaten Diyas in straight sets on Saturday, while the Chinese beat the American in a match tiebreak on Friday.

 

The Rising Stars final will be held on Tuesday at 5.30pm before Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki face off at 7.30pm in the White Group of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, followed by Petra Kvitova against Agnieszka Radwanska.

 

Zheng’s see-saw match against a frequently frustrated Diyas – one of her training partners in Guangzhou – was initially played in front of packed stands in the three-court OCBC Arena, part of the Singapore Sports Hub and also the practice venue for the WTA Finals singles and doubles stars.

 

Zheng Saisai celebrates beating Kazakhstan No. 1 Zarina Diyas. Action photos: SportAsia.

Zheng Saisai celebrates beating Kazakhstan No. 1 Zarina Diyas on Sunday evening. Action photos: SportAsia.

Zheng was unable to convert a set point in the opener, saved a match point when 5-3 down in the second set and broke Diyas at 6-5 down to force a tiebreak that she won 7-2. The Chinese was then 3-0 down in the match tiebreak before winning seven of the next eight points to lead 7-4 and eventually win 10-5.

 

“I can’t believe I came back and won this match,” said the 20-year-old Zheng, who has practised alongside Diyas for almost three years. “We train together, have the same coach and have played together many times, so it’s really tough for us to play each other. I’m happy I could get through this match.”

 

Zheng held a set point in the first when Diyas was serving at 3-5, 40-40 in the no-advantage format, but hit a forehand long to hand the Kazakh the game. Diyas – who turned 21 on Saturday – then broke Zheng to make it 5-5 before holding her serve to lead 6-5.

 

Zheng was now serving to stay in the match and at 30-30 hit an easy smash into the net when Diyas had given up the point. Although Diyas was unable to convert either of the two set points as Zheng levelled at 6-6, the Kazakh went on to dominate the tiebreak, opening up 4-1 and 6-2 leads before winning 7-4.

 

Diyas frequently let her frustration show as she failed to capitalise on opportunities against Zheng.

Diyas frequently let her frustration show as she failed to capitalise on opportunities against Zheng.

After breaking Zheng in the opening game of the second set, Diyas led 2-1 after both players held their serve before leading 4-3 following four successive breaks. After both players held then their serve to make it 5-4, Diyas held a match point at 40-30, but the Chinese attacked the net to win the point and eventually break the Kazakh’s serve to make it 5-5.

 

Diyas then broke Zheng to lead 6-5 and again serve for the match, but Zheng broke back to force another tiebreak. At 2-2 Diyas missed an overhead smash, as Zheng reeled off five straight points to win 7-2 and force a match tiebreak that again featured huge swings in momentum.

 

“I think the key point was when she had match point, I came into the net and finished the point,” Zheng said. “I felt then I had more of a chance of winning and just kept playing consistently after that.”

 

It has been a breakthrough month and year for Zheng and Diyas, who both train with Alan Ma at Chateau Star River in Guangzhou. Both players recorded their best-ever WTA results ahead of the trip to Singapore, with Diyas reaching the Japan Open final in Osaka after Zheng had reached the Tianjin Open semis in China, knocking out former No. 1 Jelena Jankovic along the way.

 

Zheng held a career-high ranking of 92 before the Rising Stars event, while Diyas was at 34, also a career best. Although Diyas finished bottom of the Rising Stars table after three losses, she has enjoyed a breakthrough season, overtaking Yaroslava Shvedova as Kazakhstan’s top player.

 

In January, Diyas reached the third round of the Australian Open in her first Grand Slam and has since reached the last 16 of Wimbledon and the third round of the US Open.

 

“Since she came training with us, she improved a lot and she has had a really good year this year,” said Zheng, who has won all three of their WTA meetings. “Her world ranking is 34, so I think it’s an amazing year for her. I also have my best ranking now, so I think we should just keep working hard and try our best.”

 

For more information, visit: www.wtafinals.com; www.wtatennis.com

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