Danielle Collins got the better of the tricky Zheng Saisai, 7-6(5) 6-1, to set up a meeting with the World No 1 and defending champion Ash Barty at the Adelaide International on Monday in what will be a rematch of last year’s semi-final here.
She's a really challenging player to play against. She has a really versatile game and it can be tricky at times. I knew I had to be patient. I said to my team coming into this, you might have another long three-set match - so buckle up! Danielle Collins
It took the American an hour and 37 minutes to score her first win in 3 meetings over the Chinese No 3.
“She’s a really challenging player to play against,” said Collins afterwards. “She has a really versatile game and it can be tricky at times.”
This assessment was borne out by two previous losses to Zheng, including a heavy 6-2 6-0 defeat in the 2019 San Jose second round.
That week, Zheng went on to win the biggest title of her career, but this time round it was Collins who was in form, who is now 8-3 in Australia over the past month, including a quarter-final at the Yarra Valley Classic and a semi-final last week at the Phillip Island Trophy.
“I knew I had to be patient,” said Collins. “I said to my team coming into this, you might have another long three-set match – so buckle up!”
Collins’ patience was fully tested in a fluctuating opening set in which she established a 5-2 lead, but Zheng’s defence and net play orchestrated a comeback to forced it into a tiebreak, in which the American, again, saw a 4-1 lead chipped to 5-5.
The 27-year-old, however, found a strong return and serve to take the last 2 points to pocket the set.
She then held Zheng off in the second with dominating play as she accelerated towards the finishing line, repeatedly teeing off on the Chinese serve to break 3 times and sealing her 2nd match point with a booming backhand return.
Collins has a 0-3 against the top-seeded Barty, including a 3-6 6-1 7-6(5) loss in the semis here last year.
“[That was] one of the most enjoyable matches I’ve played,” recalled Collins. “Even though I lost a heartbreaking match, it was such good tennis and a really fun challenge.”
Elsewhere, the first day of main draw play also saw No 8 seed Wang Qiang from China post her second win of the season, defeating 18-year-old wild card Olivia Gadecki from Australia, 6-4 6-3.
A clash of unseeded in-form players saw America’s Shelby Rogers, fresh off a run to the Australian Open 4th round, take out Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 6-3 7-6(4), the Abu Dhabi finalist.
Meanwhile, former US Open semi-finalist Anastasija Sevastova from Latvia was a 6-2 6-4 over France’s Caroline Garcia.
The final round of qualifying saw No 1 seed Coco Gauff come from a set and 0-3 down to defeat No 8 seed Kaja Juvan, 3-6 7-5 6-3, avenging the American’s loss to the Slovenian in 2019 Roland Garros qualifying.
Gauff’s doubles partner Caty McNally was unable to join her in the main draw, though, losing 6-2 6-3 to Australian World No 292 Storm Sanders, but the No.6 seed Jasmine Paolini from Italy did make it through, coming from a set down to beat Aussie No 11 seed Astra Sharma, 3-6 6-2 6-1.
Paolini and Gauff will now face off in the first round of the main draw.
Another Aussie, Maddison Inglis, joined compatriot Sanders by sealing her main draw spot with a 4-6 6-2 6-1 victory against World No 85 Christina McHale from the USA.
The 23-year-old Inglis qualified at a WTA tournament for the first time in her career with her 3rd top-100 win and first at tour-level.
She plays Sam Stosur in the opening round of the main draw, while Sanders faces another fellow Aussie Ajla Tomljanovic.
Fellow Aussies, Astra Sharma and Ellen Perez, had hoped to also advance to the main draw, but both lost in the final qualifying round to Jasmine Paolini and Madison Brengle respectively.