HONOLULU, HI, USA -- No.1 seed Zhang Shuai of China roared back from a first-set demolition to outlast South Korea's Jang Su Jeong, 0-6, 6-2, 6-3, and win the Hawaii Open, one year after finishing as the runner-up at the WTA 125K Series tournament.
"This year I came back, because last year, I had a little feelings, really sad, because I made the final, but [didn't] win," Zhang said during her on-court post-match interview. "That’s why this year, I came back. I’m so happy to win this year."
On another extremely blustery day in Honolulu, Zhang needed just over two hours to complete her stirring comeback. This struggle was a far cry from the only previous meeting between the two players, which Zhang won 6-2, 6-2 at a Challenger in Tokyo just two weeks ago.
Not much separated the two players, who both had dominant streaks within the match. Zhang was overall more effective on serve, getting 80 percent of her first serves in. After a solid start in that department, Jang faltered at the end, winning only half of her first serve points in the final set, and hitting four of her six double faults in the decider.
Jang moved through the first set quickly, taking advantage of Zhang’s extremely slow start. The top seed was misfiring on her groundstrokes throughout the entire set, often by pulling up on her shots and sending them long, off both wings, to her dismay.
The Korean scrambled around the court as much as she could to extend points until she extracted an error from Zhang, and it paid off, as she captured a 6-0 opening set without ever facing a break point.
"Today was really windy, and it made a very tough start," said Zhang, a two-time WTA titlist. "Really tough to make the big forehand today, really big wind. I tried to make winners, but it was not working in the first set. I missed everything! But I had to try and try again."
Once Zhang got on the board in the first game of the second set, thereby avoiding the whitewash, the tables started to turn. Zhang finally had a look at a break point in the second game of the set, and though Jang survived it, the Chinese player’s strong shots began to hit their targets much more frequently.
Zhang finally claimed a break at 2-1 by punching a volley past Jang. Jang got back on serve on the fourth break point of the next game with a forehand winner down the line, but Zhang immediately reclaimed the break advantage. Zhang then broke Jang once more for good measure, to get to level pegging at one set all.
Zhang initially maintained her momentum in the decider, and broke for a 4-2 lead after a game in which Jang served two double faults. But Jang continued to doggedly run down everything that Zhang threw at her, and was able to break back for 4-3.
Zhang, however, seized control of the match for good in the very next game. She won a lengthy rally during outlandish wind gusts to set up a second break point of the game, which she converted after her powerful backhand forced Jang to hit a weak reply into the net.
Serving for the match at 5-3, Zhang swiftly fell behind 0-30, but some wide service returns from an increasingly weary Jang allowed Zhang to reach championship point. The Korean was able to save two match points, but on the third, Zhang hit a wonderful serve, and another wide return by Jang gave the Chinese player her first Hawaii Open title.
"I was really, really nervous the last few games, because [Jang] played really really good," Zhang concluded. "Of course, I really wanted to win this tournament, so I was really nervous. This is my last tournament of the year, and I wanted to win the tournament to finish this amazing year."