40 LOVE Moments: China's First Major
Published November 12, 2013 12:00
MELBOURNE, Australia - The Chinese tennis boom had been building for a few years at that point - Li Ting and Sun Tiantian had Olympic gold and Li Na, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi had all won WTA titles - but it was at the Australian Open in 2006 when two of that group would bring home China's first major.
Yan and Zheng had shown flashes of brilliance together in 2005, reaching four WTA doubles finals - winning in Hobart and Hyderabad, and finishing runners-up at Bali and Beijing. And by the Australian Open in 2006 they were ranked high enough to grab a seed - they were No.12 at the Happy Slam.
After beating a pair of unseeded teams in the first two rounds, Yan and Zheng powered past four seeded teams in a row - first No.7 seeds Elena Dementieva and Flavia Pennetta, then No.4 seeds Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suárez, then No.9 seeds Shinobu Asagoe and Katarina Srebotnik - but awaiting them in the final were a No.1-seeded American-Australian duo on an absolute tear.
Lisa Raymond and Sam Stosur had been almost invincible for the last five months, winning 32 of their last 36 matches and five titles in that stretch - including the last two big ones, the US Open and WTA Championships. They were in form that fortnight too, winning their last four rounds in straight sets.
And it looked like a mismatch early on - Stosur's phenomenal serving and Raymond's perfect volleying was just too much for Yan and Zheng, and it wasn't long before they built a 62 31 lead. But the No.12-seeded Chinese pair began painting the lines with their returns and passes, clawing their way back into the set and, after fighting off two match points in the tie-break, pushing the final to a third set.
By then Yan and Zheng had all the momentum, eventually closing out a 26 76(7) 63 victory and lifting their first Grand Slam titles of any kind - and actually China's first Grand Slam title of any kind.
"We feel very excited and happy," Yan said afterwards. "We were a little bit nervous because it was our first time on center court - it's so big with so many people. But we are so happy we could win."
"Both of them staying back on our serves was a little bit different to a lot of teams," Stosur said afterwards. "Then you've got to find the angles on the court, but then you don't want to open up the angles too much to give them room to pass you, and they were good lobbers as well, so you couldn't really back off either. You just had to try and pick what they were going to do and just do it.
"We were doing that for a set and a half but then once they got a sniff, they kind of didn't let it go, and they really picked up their game in the end to close out the match. All the credit to them."
Yan and Zheng would eventually win 11 WTA doubles titles together and both made the Top 5 in doubles as well - Yan peaking at No.4, Zheng at No.3. Zheng is still going strong in both singles and doubles - Yan left the tour in 2011 and had a child in 2012, and has since returned to play doubles.