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China's aces enjoy upswing Down Under

By SUN XIAOCHEN | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-02-04 08:38 菲律宾申博太阳城官网
Wang Qiang. [Photo/Xinhua]

Huge wins for Wang and Zhang indicate gap to the world's elite keeps closing

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.

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