WUHAN, China - Peng Shuai gets her first win over Petra Kvitova after eight meetings in dramatic fashion, winning two of three tie-break sets to knock out the defending Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open champion, 7-6(7), 6-7(5), 7-6(3), the longest tour-level match of the season at three hours and 34 minutes.
"I didn’t realize how long the match was," Peng said in an interview with WTA Insider. "For a long time, I haven’t played too many matches that had that many tie-breaks. It might be the first or second time."
The Chinese No.1 had only taken two sets from the two-time Wimbledon champion ahead of Monday night's - later Tuesday morning's - encounter, and Kvitova's head-to-head dominance hardly appeared in danger when she held three set points in the opening tie-break.
"At the 2012 Olympics a few years ago, I remember that I had a chance to beat her but didn’t make it. She attacks really early, has a big serve, and is so powerful."
Peng saved all three and found herself up a set and 3-1 before Kvitova clawed her way back, leveling the match with a tie-break win over her own.
The deciding set proved the most dramatic of all as Peng took a 5-3 lead only for the Czech star to break back, save a match point in the 12th game to force a final sudden death, which the hometown favorite ultimately took to clinch the upset.
"I didn’t think too much. I just wanted to fight point by point. I’d never won against her, and she’s such a good player, that all I could do was fight.
"Tonight’s match was so good for both of us. It almost didn’t matter who won because we both played so well, and I feel so lucky to have won the last tie-break."
Clocking in at over three and a half hours of play, the match surpasses the Shelby Rogers-Daria Gavrilova US Open epic (3h33m) but trails the Australian Open encounter between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic (3h36m).
In what may go down as one of the best matches of 2017, Kvitova struck a stunning 63 winners to only 36 unforced errors. Peng also maintained a positive differential with 30 winners of her own to just 25 unforced errors, and ended up winning four more points - 133 to 129 in an unforgettable clash.
An exhausted Kvitova took positives from the match, even if physical issues arguably kept her below her best as the match got to its critical stages.
"It's always more difficult to play someone in their home country, but I heard my fans too, so it was nice that they cheered for me," she said. "It's probably the longest match I've ever played, and it was really up and down. I probably should have taken the first set tie-break after leading 6-3. Still, I fought really hard from 5-3 down in the third. In the end, she was a little bit luckier.
"I hadn't practiced too much before this tournament but I played a lot today! I'm not usually the player who plays such long matches, and I was cramping a little at the end, so I was proud of how I was still able to fight."
Awaiting Peng in the second round is 2016 Olympic champion Monica Puig, who won an emotionally charged first round of her own over Mona Barthel, winning, 6-0, 6-7(0), 6-4.
"It’ll be a big challenge to recover," Peng said, "so I’ll need to go to sleep soon and rest!"
Off the court, the first and only Puerto Rican Olympic Gold medalist has been spreading awareness about the state of her home country following Hurricane Maria.