HONOLULU, HI, USA -- They took drastically different routes to get there, but top-seeded Zhang Shuai of China and unseeded Jang Su-jeong of South Korea moved into the final of the Hawaii Open, a WTA 125K Series event, on Saturday.
Zhang, the 2016 Hawaii Open runner-up, reached her second straight final at this event with a comprehensive 6-2, 6-2 dismissal of Sweden's Rebecca Peterson. Jang, on the other hand, needed three sets over two hours and 22 minutes to overcome American Julia Boserup, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.
Both matches featured brief rain delays near the end of the encounters, as the players had to contend with the volatile weather patterns on the island of Oahu, with brilliant sunshine alternating with light precipitation, and unpredictable gusts of wind meandering in and out of matches throughout the day.
Zhang was rarely troubled throughout her match, and weathered the storm of Peterson's occasionally sterling forehand. The World No.36 had four aces, and converted six of nine break points in the match. Indeed, Peterson was always behind the eight-ball on serve, as the Swede faced at least one break point in all of her service games.
"Rebecca, she plays very well, very hard, with big topspin, so it made me go back in the court, by the baseline," Zhang said on court, after her victory. "So, really tough today, and I’m really happy."
Peterson eked out a hold in the second game of the match, but Zhang leapt to a 5-1 lead in the opening set, as Peterson struggled to keep her often strongly struck shots in play. Zhang held two set points to claim a 6-1 lead, but the 22-year-old Swede hit some wonderful returns to get her first break of the match.
Nevetherless, serving at 5-2, Peterson could not maintain her upward trajectory, losing a 40-0 lead and the set after a forehand went needlessly long.
The second set was nearly a carbon copy of the first, as Zhang's exquisite timing and pace on her shots constantly rushed the young Swede. Once again, Zhang took two of Peterson's first three service games en route to a 5-1 lead.
But, once more, the Chinese No.2 blinked at 5-1, and Peterson garnered her second break of the match. However, like the first set, Zhang regrouped in the next game, and a stellar forehand winner gave her a match point. The first chance to close the match was erased by Peterson, but two points later, Zhang crushed a backhand down the line to re-appear in the Hawaii Open final.
"I really like the trophy," Zhang exclaimed on court. "Last year I only got the small one, but I really want the big one!" the two-time WTA titlist smiled.
Read more: Top seed Zhang sails into Hawaii semifinals
The earlier semifinal commenced in extremely windy conditions, and Jang started slowly within the gusts, going down an early break to Boserup in the first game of the match. But the Korean eventually got accustomed to Boserup’s powerful game, and broke right back for 1-1.
Midway through the first set, Jang’s backhand began to be the dominant shot on the court, and she used that shot to garner break points on Boserup’s serve at 3-2. The American got out of trouble twice, but double faulted on a third break point to give Jang a 4-2 lead. Jang held on from there to take the first set.
Boserup took a medical time-out between sets, and then had to survive a break point in the first game of the second set. But the American started to rely heavily on her sturdy forehand, and, in the second set, it was more reliable than in any other parts of the match.
The middle of the set featured three breaks in a row, but at the end of that streak, it was Boserup who was ahead with a 4-2 lead. Boserup reached 5-3 on her serve, and used her tricky service delivery and thunderous forehand to clinch the second set, and level the match.
But any momentum that Boserup had at the end of the second set quickly disappeared at the start of the decider. Jang won a tumultuous game at 1-0, breaking on her fifth chance in the game. The Korean’s backhand once again took precedence, as she raced to a 4-0 lead.
Boserup got one break back to tighten the match, but Jang was unruffled during her first opportunity to serve out the match at 5-3. An ace -- her seventh of the match -- brought up match point, and after a wide return by Boserup, Jang moved into the biggest final of her career.
"I didn’t know I can beat her, I just tried to enjoy on the court, I just keep doing my style," said Jang during her on-court post-match interview. "It was a very tough match against Julia, she’s a tough player, and I’m very happy to win."