Zhuhai | Doubles recap – Anna Smith falls in group stage
Alongside singles play in Zhuhai, a doubles competition is also being contested to determine honours at the 2017 Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy in China, including Britain’s Anna Smith who was competing with her Polish partner, Alicja Rosolska.
Six pairs have been playing out two round robin groups, Lotus and Orchid, over the past three days for Sunday’s final slots.
Playing in the Orchid group and seeded 2 for the title, Smith and Rosolska were first upset by Lu Jing-Jing and Zhang Shuai on Wednesday, 6-3 6-1, and then narrowly lost to Chinese teens Jiang Xinyu and Tang Qianhui to end their hopes of reaching the final.
On Friday, Jiang and Tang knocked them out of contention to advance by winning in a match tiebreak, 6-3 4-6 [10-6].
Playing their first match of the week while the second seeds were looking to even their record at 1-1, the wildcard pairing managed to triumph in the deciding match tiebreak despite losing the second set from a break up.
The 17-year-old Tang and 18-year-old Jiang surprised the field in Nanchang earlier this autumn, winning their biggest title to date at the Jiangxi International Women’s Tennis Open, a WTA International event.
Along the way in Nanchang, the duo upset the No 3 seeds Kotomi Takahata and Makoto Ninomiya, before defeating No 4 seeds Alla Kudryavtseva and Arina Rodionova to win their first career title.
The teenaged duo will face their compatriots Lu and Zhang in the final match of the day on Saturday to determine the winner of the Orchid Group who go through to Sunday’s title match.
In the Lotus group, the top seeds, Roumania’s Raluca Olaru and Olga Savchuk from the Ukraine, outlasted the Chinese pair of Liang Chen and Yang Zhaoxuan, 6-3 7-6(3) in their opening match.
Olaru and Savchuk were one of the hottest pairs at the start of 2017, finishing as runners-up at the Shenzhen Open in the first week of the season, before winning the Hobart International the very next week.
Liang and Yang have also had success as a team, finishing as runners-up at the Toray Pan Pacific Open in 2016.
The top-seeded tandem fought off a late fightback by the all-Chinese pair to claim the first round-robin win in the Lotus Group in one hour and 50 minutes.
The Ukrainian/Romanian duo won 65 percent of points on their first serve, and over half the points on their second serve as well.
After exchanging breaks early in the first set, Olaru and Savchuk claimed a lead at 4-3 which they would not relinquish, breaking Liang with a volley winner by the Romanian.
The Chinese pair was broken a second consecutive time at 5-3, though not before saving two set points, the second with a Liang smash, but the No 1 seeds took the third opportunity to break for the set when a protracted point ended with Liang missing a routine volley.
The second set was much more competitive, as both teams tightened their play.
Savchuk dodged two break points on her serve at 1-1, and in the next game, Yang had to fend off two of her own, but the first seven games of the second set went with serve in a stunning turnaround from the break-laden opening set.
A long game at 4-3 on Yang’s serve went the way of Olaru and Savchuk, as the top seeds converted on their third break point to lead 5-3 and serve for the match.
After a pristine set on serve, however, Olaru could not hold on, and a Yang volley clinched the break to put the set back on track.
Those were the only breaks of the set, and the teams progressed to the tiebreak where the top seeds quickly asserted their dominance, racing to a 5-2 lead.
A strong Olaru serve at 5-3 set up triple match point, and, on the next point, a Savchuk smash was too much for the Chinese players to handle, sealing the victory for the Hobart champions.
Duan Ying-Ying and Han Xinyun thrilled the raucous fans on Thursday, as the all-Chinese pair outlasted the Olaru and Savchuk, triumphing in a match tiebreak, 6-3 5-7 [10-7].
The lowest-seeded team in the doubles competition in Zhuhai, Duan and Han were broken as the top seeds raced to an early lead, breaking the Chinese pair for 3-1 with a Savchuk smash on break point.
Duan and Han broke Savchuk’s serve in the very next game to get the set back on serve at 3-2, starting a rich vein of form for the Chinese players, with excellent volleys and powerful smashes claiming them the first set.
In the opening frame, Duan and Han were 3-for-3 on break points, while Olaru and Savchuk only won 20 percent of their second serve points.
Duan and Han won the first game of the second set, extending their run to six consecutive games, before Olaru broke the streak by holding for 1-1.
The set went with serve until 5-5, the only break point in that stretch coming on Savchuk’s serve at 4-3.
The Roumanian/Ukrainian duo finally clinched the only break of the second set to lead 6-5 when Duan mis-timed a volley into the net after an extended rally on break point.
Savchuk then quickly held serve to close out the second set, sending the match into a decisive match tiebreak which was tight through the first two changeovers, as neither team could garner more than a two-point lead on the other pairing up to that point.
Leading 7-5, Savchuk hit a backhand into the net, which started a run of points for the Chinese team.
A forehand winner by an increasingly aggressive Han deadlocked the match tiebreak at 7-7, and an unforced error off the forehand by Savchuk gave Duan and Han an 8-7 lead, with the match on Duan’s racquet.
A put-away by Han gave the duo their first match point, which she and Duan converted on the next point when a hard backhand barely clipped the racquet of Savchuk.
Duan and Han won the final five points of the match to get their first victory in Zhuhai.
The sixth seeds Duan Ying-Ying and Han Xinyun went on to overcome the No 3 seeds Liang Chen and Yang Zhaoxuan in a fluctuating contest 7-6(2) 6-4 to complete the round robin stage of the Lotus Group and advance to the final of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai.
An epic second game saw 28-year-old Duan fend off four break points to hold and, thereafter, her team seized the momentum with gusto.
Duan’s power, particularly behind the serve, and Han’s left-handed topspin groundstrokes proved to be a dominant combination, and the duo permitted their compatriots just four points in the next four games to storm to a 5-1 lead.
Some improved serving and determined net play saw Liang and Yang, who reached the third round of the Australian Open in January together, chip away at the lead to draw level at 5-5, only for Liang to be broken once again to fall behind 5-6.
With Han unable to serve out the set for a second time, the see-saw set would be decided by a tiebreak, in which Duan and Han once more found their best form to take 7-2 on their first set point.
The dramatic momentum swings continued into the second set.
This time, it was Liang and Yang who stamped their authority early on, taking a sequence of 14 out of 17 points to leap out to a 4-1 lead with a double break.
A huge return down the line from Han saw the sixth seeds retrieve one of the breaks, though, and this proved to be the key in turning the set around as Duan and Han reeled off five consecutive games to take the match, which ended on a Yang double fault.
Duan and Han are playing just their second tournament at WTA level together, having reached the Kuala Lumpur quarter-finals in February.
The partnership have made a final before, back in their ITF days in 2012 when they were runners-up in the Sydney $25,000 event to Arina Rodionova and Melanie South.
On Sunday they will face either Lu Jing-Jing and Zhang Shuai or Jiang Xinyu and Tang Qianhui for their first ever title.