BIRMINGHAM, England - Two grass court veterans set up a quarterfinal duel at the AEGON Classic on Thursday, as Roberta Vinci and Zheng Jie won third round matches at the grass court tournament - the first one of the year.
Zheng, who became China's first Grand Slam semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2008, was the first to advance, winning eight of nine games from 4-all in the first set to triumph against hard-hitting Czech Andrea Hlavackova, 64 61.
"I'm so happy to be in the quarterfinals," Zheng said. "I have played five singles matches already this week, and doubles also, so I'm a little bit tired. Sometimes playing a lot of matches is good and sometimes it's not! But I'm happy I made it through today and I just need to focus on the next match right now."
Those five matches included two qualifying matches - but how was the World No.32 in qualifying when players as low as No.123 got into the main draw?
"I had to enter six weeks before, and at the time I was practicing in China and forgot! I wanted to come here anyway though, even if it meant playing in the qualifying. Before Wimbledon it's only two weeks of grass court tournaments."
The No.4-seeded Vinci, who incidentally is ranked No.20 in the world, dropped the middle set of her match against Britain's Heather Watson but rebounded in a big way, needing just 22 minutes to win the third set and advance, 63 46 61.
"It was only my second match on grass this year. I didn't play badly, but I could have played better," Vinci said. "In the second set I had chances to break her but she would play more aggressive in those moments - but then in the third set I was more aggressive and started coming into the net a lot more."
One of Vinci's six WTA titles is on grass: 's-Hertogenbosch a year ago. The Italian's slice backhand and strong volleying has always helped on the surface.
"We have zero grass courts in Italy, but I like playing on grass. I play slice all the time on my backhand, which is great for this surface. I'm playing in 's-Hertogenbosch too and hope to get to know the grass better for Wimbledon."
Vinci is fresh off her first Grand Slam title, winning the doubles at Roland Garros with Sara Errani. She and Errani are also best friends - and she was asked her thoughts on the 25-year-old's run to the singles final as well.
"Oof, it was unbelievable," Vinci said. "It was an unbelievable two weeks for her in singles. It was incredible. I have no words. At the beginning I didn't expect her to reach the final, but step by step she started playing so well. She was so confident by the end. She's just a great player and a great person."
Zheng leads Vinci in their head-to-head series, 2-1, winning their last two matches in straight sets. This is their first career meeting on grass.
Also moving on were No.5 seed Jelena Jankovic, No.8 seed Ekaterina Makarova, No.13 seed Hsieh Su-Wei and Irina Falconi and Melanie Oudin. Falconi scored a 75 63 win over Urszula Radwanska to reach her second WTA quarterfinal (she was a semifinalist at College Park last year); Oudin routed Elena Vesnina, 60 62, to reach her first quarterfinal since Fès last April.