40 LOVE History: The First China Open
Published October 05, 2013 12:01
BEIJING, China - Though it has grown into one of the biggest events on the tour, the China Open has never really struggled for the attention of the tennis world - it has welcomed phenomenal fields since the beginning, even in its very first year in 2004. And the amazing thing about the inaugural year of the tournament is that many of the players wowing the crowds then are still wowing the crowds now.
Serena Williams was the No.1 seed and eventual champion, but her road to the title was a difficult one. She beat four Russians in a row - Dinara Safina, Nadia Petrova, Vera Zvonareva, Svetlana Kuznetsova - and she nearly lost to two of them, having to rally from 3-1 down in the third set to beat Safina, 64 36 63, and fighting off double match point down 64 54 to get past Kuznetsova in the final, 46 75 64.
There was something very special about Williams' victory, too - and it's the only time she has done it.
"I've never won a tournament on my birthday before," said Williams, who turned 23 the day of the final. "Even though I don't celebrate, it was a good present. I didn't want to give up. I didn't want to lose.
"Fortunately I was able to hold my serve at 4-5 in the second set to even it at 5-all. Even though she had a couple of match points, I never gave up. It was encouraging I could win without playing my best."
Those four Russians Williams took out would all play top level tennis for years and years - and they would all get to the top too, or close to the top, with Safina going as high as No.1, Zvonareva and Kuznetsova going as high as No.2 and Petrova peaking at No.3. Maria Sharapova, Jelena Jankovic, Jelena Dokic and Flavia Pennetta - all of whom were or would become top players - were also there.
And there were a few future Grand Slam champions in the qualifying, too - Sam Stosur lost in the final round of qualies to Vera Dushevina, and a No.222-ranked Li Na actually made it out of the qualies into the main draw, winning her first round match before falling to Kuznetsova, 63 67(6) 76(3) - she left a lasting impression though, holding two match points in the third set. A week later she would become the first Chinese player ever to win a WTA title with a victory at another inaugural event in Guangzhou.