Local Chinese fans have something to cheer about in the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen doubles competition, as home favourite Zhang Shuai and her Australian partner Samantha Stosur powered into the semi-finals on Thursday.
All of the preparation, all the tactics were implemented. During the match, at the very beginning, there were many points that were very close. Three or four times we could have won the points. Zhang Shuai
In the winner-take-all final rubber for each team in the Purple Group, Australian Open champions Stosur & Zhang sealed their place in the knockout stage by defeating Czech duo Barbora Krejcikova & Katerina Siniakova, 6-3 7-6(7), in their last round-robin clash.
Facing a 5-1 deficit in the second set, the veteran pair fought back, saving a set point in the tiebreak to avoid going the distance for the third time in 3 matches.
Each team had come into the match with one win and one loss in the group, but their Czech opponents stood above them in the standings on set difference.
“We had a really good beginning in the first set, very aggressive,” Zhang told Chinese reporters after the match. “All of the preparation, all the tactics were implemented.
“During the match, at the very beginning, there were many points that were very close. Three or four times we could have won the points.
“We encouraged each other because we knew they were playing really well.
“In the second set, we wanted to be as aggressive as we were in the first set.”
Both pairs held their opening service games before Stosur & Zhang got the first break following 2 unforced errors from the Czechs.
The Australian/Chinese then held their next service game to love, and both sides went on to hold their services for 4-2.
They got a second break to go up 5-2, only to see their opponents convert a triple break point.
Undeterred, Stosur & Zhang quickly raced to a 40-30 lead on the Czech’s next service, getting a crucial third break to seal the set in just over half an hour and committing only 3 unforced errors to 9 winners.
The Czech duo responded by converting a triple break point in the opening game, and broke again to build up a 4-0 lead.
Stosur & Zhang fought back admirably, erasing the deficit and getting 2 breaks of their own to pull level at 5-all.
The second set tiebreak was just as closely fought, with the two sides getting an equal number of breaks to go 7-all before some stellar returning from Stosur & Zhang put them ahead, and they went on to stitch up the match in an hour, 40 minutes.
“We could have done better,” admitted Zhang. “We were also surprised when we were down 1-5. We were able to overturn the score. Our opponents are very strong with very good serves.
“I think my partner [Sam] did really, really well today. That is the key to our success. When we are together, we are both very positive. When we look at each other, we always smile as each other.
“When we have each other, we draw strength in each other. We know we can be a really strong team. This is a great support…I feel inspiration and positive energy from her.”
After losing their first round robin match to No 2 seeds Hsieh Su-wei & Barbora Strycova on Sunday, the No 7 seeds bounced back to become the second qualifiers out of the group, behind the aforementioned Wimbledon champions.
Hsieh & Strycova, the No 2 seeds, finished Purple Group play with a 2-1 record, as they were defeated by No 4 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski & Xu Yi-fan, 2-6 6-4 [11-9].
Dabrowski & Xu, already eliminated from knockout contention by losing their first 2 matches, came from a set down to close out Thursday’s play.
“When we saw the draw, or even before the draw, when we looked at the other seven teams…it was a very tough draw. It felt like we could not beat any of the teams here,” Zhang added.
“[We] were encouraging each other. I said, We just need to do our best. When we’ve met those teams in previous tournaments, it was usually in quarterfinals or semifinals.
“We have all the champions of the Grand Slams here, 4 different teams in the 4 different Grand Slams.
“They’re here in the Finals. To win each match, we have to beat these champions, these very strong teams.
“We both understand the situation. We have a lot of support from different areas. We’re very lucky to be able to make it to the semis.”
With 3 of the 4 teams in the semi-final lineup now confirmed, Friday’s round robin play from the Red Group will decide the last team to advance.
Top seeds Elise Mertens & Aryna Sabalenka and No 8 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld & Demi Schuurs are both in with a chance to join No 3 seeds, and defending champions, Timea Babos & Kristina Mladenovic in the final four from the group.