NANCHANG, China - The third all-Chinese WTA final in history saw No.2 seed Wang Qiang crowned champion of the 2018 Jiangxi Open after No.6 seed Zheng Saisai retired trailing 7-5, 4-0.
Wang, who edges ahead of her compatriot in the head-to-head 3-2, becomes the fourth first-time titlist this year following Naomi Osaka in Indian Wells, Aleksandra Krunic in 's-Hertogenbosch and Tatjana Maria in Mallorca. A fifth will be decided later today as Anastasia Potapova takes on Olga Danilovic in the Moscow River Cup final.
"I am really happy to win the match," enthused Wang afterwards. "My fans are great motivation for me to keep fighting."
The 26-year-old had to overcome a slow start, though. Wang struggled to find her range through much of the first set, with three loose mistakes coughing up the break in the very first game. Zheng, hitting the ball confidently, was cannily deploying a variety of defensive strategies to keep Wang off-balance: high, topspun groundstrokes alternated with biting slices and flashy redirections of pace. Scampering around the court, the Zhengzhou 125K champion anticipated Wang's patterns of attack and countered them smartly.
By contrast, the higher seed's inability to read the Zheng serve meant that for most of the set, she was unable to regain a foothold in the match. Through the first 10 games, 17 unforced errors did not help Wang's cause either.
But when the match turned, it did so abruptly and absolutely. With Zheng two points away from taking the opener at 5-3, 0-30 on Wang's serve, the pair played one of the most thrilling points of the match, with the 24-year-old resisting all of Wang's power. But, having turned incredible defence into offence by creating an opening to attack, Zheng put her forehand into the net. Instead of holding three set points, she had handed a lifeline to Wang - who took it, eventually holding with consecutive aces, her fourth and fifth of the day.
As Zheng stepped up to the line to serve out the set, her strong defence had begun to lapse into passivity with her shots dropping shorter in the court. Wang, unleashing her forehand with renewed ferocity, punished every one relentlessly. Breaking for the first time with a monster return, she roared through eight of the last 10 points to snatch a set that had seemed out of her reach for most of its duration.
During the next change of ends, Wang could be seen smiling and singing along to the music pumping through the stadium, and she said afterwards that feeling relaxed had been key to turning the match around.
"I just calmed down and enjoyed the match," she said. "I always believe that practice makes perfect."
Towards the end of the first set, Zheng had complained to her coach of fatigue, and the World No.112 - who spent six months injured on the sidelines between last September and this March - was visibly flagging as the second set got under way. Attempting to shorten points by rushing the net did result in one delightful combination of a fake dropshot and a brilliantly angled putaway, but Wang was equal to Zheng's serve-and-volleying attempts - with big returns seizing an immediate break of serve.
With her physical struggles increasing, Zheng battled in vain for two more games before she was unable to continue - and, in tears, conceded the match and title to her older compatriot.
Wang becomes the eighth Chinese champion in WTA history, and her run this week puts the World No.78's main draw win-loss record this season into the credit side, improving from 9-12 to 14-12. Zheng, meanwhile, can comfort herself with a maiden final and a return to the Top 100 for the first time since February.