GUANGZHOU, China - No.2 seed Zhang Shuai has taken the second title of her career with a hard-fought 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 victory over unseeded Aleksandra Krunic in the Guangzhou International Women's Open, recapturing the title she first won in 2013.
In the first meeting between the pair, it was the Chinese No.1 who found her footing quickest in front of her home fans, breaking Krunic for an immediate 2-0 lead. Though the Serb rallied to retrieve the deficit in the next game - enabled by an untimely Zhang double fault - she was unable to settle into a groove in the first WTA final of her career. Eleven unforced errors in the opening set undid the 23-year-old's strategy of attempting to hit through Zhang, while the home favorite maintained steady, deep hitting and aggressive returning to break serve twice more en route to the first set.
Krunic began to find her game in the second set, though, as Zhang's consistency wobbled. The Chinese player was broken on a double fault for the second time in the third game, and Krunic started to show off the full range of her variety and defensive skills. Mixing up judicious net forays with superb touch, the World No.65 scampered around the court to retrieve everything Zhang threw at her. A particularly magnificent highlight came in the fifth game as Krunic hustled to withstand two Zhang smashes before finishing with a neat volley; though the quality of the point actually seemed to spur a mini-revival from Zhang, who upped her level to break back in the following game, Krunic reeled off three games in a row to even the match at a set all on her fifth set point.
A lengthy pause before the deciding set - thanks first to the heat rule and then to a medical time-out taken by Krunic for her right shoulder - did not affect the quality. Though Zhang leapt out to a break lead immediately, Krunic battled through a two-deuce service hold to fend off the possibility of a double break deficit - and followed it up by more swashbuckling forecourt play and big returning to peg Zhang back once more. In the fifth game, it was the home player's turn to emerge from a tight game on top, winning a cat-and-mouse net point in a battle of the reflexes en route to breaking Krunic for the sixth time.
That would prove to be the final turning point: Zhang's signature clean hitting enabled her to dominate from the baseline in the home stretch - she would ultimately rack up 32 winners to Krunic's 31. As she sealed the title with her third ace of the day, Zhang raised her arms and sank to her knees in delight at taking her first title in four years.