The Toray Pan Pacific Open lost its two top seeds on Wednesday, with both Paula Badosa and Caroline Garcia falling at the hands of Zheng Qinwen and Zhang Shuai, while Garbiñe Muguruza and Claire Liu also advanced to the quarter-finals.
It's not a surprise - I always knew I had the level, I just had to make it. I'm so happy that I can make this match, and I want to repeat it again. Zheng Qinwen
Zheng, the Chinese teenager, comprehensively took out No 1 seed Badosa, the World No 4 from Spain, 6-3 6-2, in the 2nd-round, while 32-year old veteran Zhang, also from China, made it into the 3rd round with a very tight 4-6 7-6(5) 7-6(5) win over Garcia, the 2nd-seeded Frenchwoman.
For 19-year old Zheng, it was her first Top 10 scalp taken in a full match, following her victory over World No 5 Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, who withdrew due to injury in Toronto earlier this year.
“It was a big match for me,” said Zheng after her 78 minute win. “Even though the score was like this, there were a lot of emotions for me in this match, and I’m very proud of myself.
“It’s not a surprise – I always knew I had the level, I just had to make it.”
Zheng reached the Last 16 at the French Open in May, and the Last 32 in the US Open earlier this month.
Badosa, who was eliminated in the round of 64 in New York, struggled to gain a foothold against Zheng and, unusually, failed to fire a single ace.
The Spaniard lost 7 straight games before ending a miserable evening in the Japanese capital by swatting a return straight into the ground on match point.
Zheng now sports an overall record this year of 34 matches won, against just 15 lost, and 19-15 at tour level.
Having ended 2021 at No 143, she has risen to a career-high this week of 36, and came into this encounter in supreme form after a 6-1 6-4 1st-round defeat of home favourite Misaki Doi that saw her win 19 points in a row.
““I’m so happy that I can make this match, and I want to repeat it again,” Zheng added.
The Chinese teenager started slowly but, once she found her range on her forehand, she dominated Badosa, coming from 1-3 down in the first set, reeling off 7 games in a row and 11 of the next 13 points without facing another break chance against her in the match.
In total she fired 7 aces and won 82% of the points behind her first serve, while she struck 18 winners in all.
Zheng also repeatedly teed off on the Badosa serve, blitzing 3 clean return winners in one game to break the Spaniard at the start of the second set.
Although extended exchanges were few and far between, such was the quality of Zheng’s first strikes, she was also able to outlast the World No 4 in the longer rallies by soaking up the pace as Badosa steadily notched up 20 unforced errors to just 6 winners.
In her 3rd tour-level quarter-final, Zheng will face American Claire Liu, who found her way past Belgium’s Elise Mertens, 6-4 6-1, after an hour and 24 minutes, with both looking to make their first WTA 500 semi-final.
Earlier in the day, Zhang edged out Garcia, powered by a mid-match snack and saving a match point in the process.
The victory was Zhang’s second Top 10 win of the season, and handed Garcia just her second loss in her last 15 matches.
Garcia is the tour’s leader in aces this season, and she fired 27 of them on Wednesday to set the new benchmark for most aces in a match this year, the previous mark of 21 aces having been set by Zheng against Jelena Ostapenko at the US Open.
She broke Zhang’s serve in the first game and pressured the World No 28 with strong serves and powerful ground strokes, winning the set with her 10th ace, playing with the confidence earned over her outstanding summer hard-court season, and sealing it after 40 minutes.
Despite her 27 aces in the match, Garcia could not maintain her form as Zhang used her speed and precision to turn things around and gained the upper hand in the second, winning 11 of the first 15 points to build a 3-0 lead.
The Frenchwoman struggled to recover her range but still played aggressively, breaking Zhang to get back on serve at 5-4 before the Chinese rallied from an early mini-break deficit to pocket the set at her 3rd chance.
With the help of a quick sandwich break ahead of the decider, Zhang got back to business, and while both women held with clinical precision, the first break point of the set was a match point for Garcia, which the Chinese saved with a big first serve on her way to levelling the score at 5-5.
Again it came down to a breaker, in which Garcia failed to hold onto her early mini-break lead.
Zhang saved her best for the point of the match at 4-3, out-rallying the Frenchwoman from the baseline before improvising a desperate forehand flick passing winner.
With a 5-3 lead, Zhang closed out the high-quality affair after 2 hours and 30 minutes on her 2nd match point.
Garcia struck 67 winners to 49 unforced errors in the loss, and faced just 2 break points, being broken once, while Zhang played a disciplined match from the baseline, striking 21 winners to 25 unforced errors.
“We’ve played a couple of times already this year,” Garcia said. “At Wimbledon I got the two tiebreaks, today she did.
“I tried my best, it was not the best tennis I can play, but I really tried hard, and kept fighting. She just got better at the end.”
Next, Zhang will face either No 6 seed Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic or Croatia’s Petra Martic, who play on Thursday.
Meanwhile, No 3 seed Muguruza opened her campaign with a welcome win, defeating Greek qualifier Despina Papamichail, 6-4 6-2, to advance to the quarter-finals where she awaits the winner of Samsonova against China’s Wang Xinyu.
Muguruza came into 2022 in good form but has had a torrid season, falling out of the WTA Top 10 as back-to-back wins have been tough to come by, and she is keen to get to the off-season to regroup.
“It’s been a tough season, a little bit of a roller coaster,” Muguruza admitted. “I don’t know if I’m going to be able, with these last tournaments, to have a different feeling. That’s my goal.
“I think that it’s all about confidence, and how well you’re playing, or how many matches you’ve been playing.
“Definitely, this year, I feel that I haven’t played that many matches so obviously when the important moments come, you really feel that confidence that is not quite there yet.”
With poor performances at the first 3 majors, Muguruza’s best run came at the US Open where she reached the 3rd-round.
Samsonova, the World No 30, continued her dangerous form after defeating Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina from Kazakstan, 6-2 6-4, to complete the 1st-round line-up on Wednesday.
The Russian saw her 13-match win streak end at the hands of Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic in the US Open Round of 16, but is seemingly back to her winning ways in Tokyo.