20-year old Zheng Qinwen is a rising talent from China, who was the only woman to take a set off Iga Swiatek at Roland Garros last year, and is lining up to challenge the World No 1 again in Stuttgart, where the Pole is preparing to defend her Porsche Tennis Grand Prix title.
Actually, I don't know how she is [Peng Shuai]. I was never talk to her in my life. I'm just a beginner in WTA still. I just trying to focus on my tennis and enjoy to play in front of my people. No, in the tour I don't talk much. I basically just stay close by with my team, but I think she's pretty well in China. Just have a normal life. But, honestly, I don't know how she is. I just focus more on myself, yeah. Zheng Qinwen
Zheng saw off American lucky loser Alycia Parks, 6-4 6-4, in her opening round match on Monday, facing just a single break point, in the 6th game of the first set, which the World No 25 saved with an un-returnable serve.
The result avenged a 6-3 7-6(4) loss to Parks in their only previous meeting, in the first round of Berlin last year, which was Zheng’s first ever pro match on grass.
On the indoor clay of Stuttgart, though, the Chinese 20-year-old proved the more consistent.
Parks enjoyed her own break-through indoors, putting together a 15-match winning streak on indoor hard courts that culminated in her first Hologic WTA Tour title in Lyon 2 months ago, but the American had already fallen in qualifying this week to Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch, and has now won just 1 of 8 main draw matches since Lyon.
“She’s little bit tough to beat because she has a really huge serve,” Zheng said in her post-match interview. “I mean, that’s difficult for return. I think she have the most fast serve in the tour for the moment.
“Is always more difficult to play against these kind of player because you know once you lose your serve, can be really dangerous.
“Of course, I need to be really concentrate in her service game because when we have the opportunity, I have to take.
“There’s a couple times in the first set I got a 0-30 opportunity, but I didn’t take it, and I couldn’t make the break. Once I make the break, I think that’s the difference in this match.”
Asked about her loss to Swiatek at the French Open last year, the Chinese said: “First time when I meet her, she was No 1 in the world, I was coming from nowhere.
“First time for me to play in that atmosphere. I think now I get little bit more experience.
“I wish, in the next match, I can have good performance. I want to show my best tennis. You know, in tennis you never know what’s going to happen. That’s the beauty things of tennis.”
Zheng needed an hour and 41 minutes to notch up her straight sets win over Parks in a match between two of the biggest servers on tour, neither of whom was at her best in terms of first serve, with Zheng landing 50% and Parks only 46%, but the Chinese was more solid behind her second, winning 53% of those points to the American’s 44%.
Parks managed to tally 8 aces to Zheng’s 4, but this was outweighed by 11 double-faults, which she coughed up at ill-timed moments.
Both sets were decided by a single break of serve, and, in both of those games, Parks produced a pair of free points in the form of doubles.
Zheng wants to play her next match in the main stadium after starting her campaign on Court 1, and was assured that that surely will be the case, playing against the top seed on Wednesday.
“That’s perfect. I like challenges!” Zheng reflected.
Zheng has faced Swiatek twice in her short career, both meetings during the 2022 season, with the World No 1 taking both 3-setters in Paris and San Diego.
She was also asked if she had spoken to Peng Shuai in the wake of the WTA’s recent U-turn to resume operations in China this September after a 2-year hiatus following the mysterious circumstances surrounding the former World Doubles No 1.
“Actually, I don’t know how she is,” Zheng said. “I was never talk to her in my life. I’m just a beginner in WTA still. I just trying to focus on my tennis and enjoy to play in front of my people.
“No, in the tour I don’t talk much. I basically just stay close by with my team, but I think she’s pretty well in China. Just have a normal life.
“But, honestly, I don’t know how she is. I just focus more on myself, yeah.”
Meanwhile, in the all-qualifiers’ 1st-round match between Cristina Bucsa and Korpatsch, the Spaniard came from behind to prevail, 3-6 6-4 6-0.
Bucsa, ranked 77, needed 2 hours and 20 minutes to get the win over the local, and will play either 7th-seeded Daria Kasatkina from Russia or her fellow countrywoman, Paula Badosa, in round 2.
Donna Vekic, ranked 23, also moved into the 2nd round after the Croatian edged past another Russian, Ekaterina Alexandrova, 7-6(7) 7-6(5), in a little over 2 hours, and she now awaits Czech Karolina Pliskova or 8th seed Maria Sakkari from Greece.
Porsche Tennis Grand Prix organisers have laid claim to having a stronger field than a Grand Slam, with the WTA 500 event fielding 9 of the Top 10 players and 16 from the Top 20.
‟We’re once again offering our audiences the world’s top players,” Tournament Director Markus Günthardt said. “It’s the DNA of the tournament and what we aim to do. As for the starting line-up, we’ve always set high standards.
“We’re so pleased we’ve been able to keep meeting those standards. The fact that top stars like Iga Swiatek, Aryna Sabalenka, Caroline Garcia and Coco Gauff announced their coming early on is a big compliment for us.
‟For me, it’s proof that the total package we offer the players is spot on.
“We’re not one of the really big tournaments, we don’t have the biggest prize money and not the most world ranking points, and nevertheless the world’s best players come to us.
“It’s a fantastic statement telling us that they feel at home in Stuttgart and they like being here.
“And when it comes to the field, we’ve basically got an even stronger one than at a Grand Slam. Here the World No 10 is not even seeded and can therefore meet the No 5 in the first round. That doesn’t happen at any other tournament.”
World No 1 Swiatek is out to follow in the footsteps of Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber and defend her title in Stuttgart.
British No 1 Emma Raducanu returns to the tour for the first time since Miami, as she faces Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko on Tuesday.
It’s a tricky test for the 20-year old on the fast slick indoor clay of Stuttgart, but her naturally aggressive game means she should be able to dominate, although her injury-prone year won’t be helped by the speed of court.