AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Saying afterwards it had been "too long" since the last time, China's Zheng Jie snapped a five-and-a-half-year WTA title drought at the ASB Classic on Sunday afternoon, although it may not have ended the way she would prefer, with Flavia Pennetta having to retire injured in the final.
Since reaching two Grand Slam semifinals and going as high as No.15 in the world a few years ago, Zheng has had her struggles - the most difficult being a left wrist injury that saw her miss five months from September 2010 to February 2011. Ranked No.48 now, Zheng knew she would have to get through some very good players to get to the ASB Classic trophy - and she pulled it off.
Zheng took out two seeded players en route to the final, stunning No.8 seed Monica Niculescu in the second round, 60 62, and overcoming No.3 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the semifinals, 26 63 63 - her win over Kuznetsova was perhaps more meaningful given she had been 0-6 against the Russian.
Waiting in the final was No.4 seed Pennetta, who hadn't lost a set all week, and she kept that trend going with a 6-2 first set. But the combination of Pennetta's low back injury and Zheng's powerful, pinpoint forehands would swing the match, and after Zheng came back to win the second set and go up a break in the third, Pennetta had to stop. Zheng lifted the trophy with a 26 63 20 retirement win.
"I'm a little tired, for sure," Zheng said. "The first set was a little tough for me. Many of the games went to deuce but I lost all of them. My husband came to the court and told me it was just a few points and I still had a chance, that I had to keep fighting. I always fight hard. In the end, I was a little bit lucky.
"I'm sorry for Flavia. I wish for her that it gets better for next week."
"I don't know what it is yet. I'm going to have an MRI done tomorrow, I think," Pennetta said. "At 4-2 in the first set was when I first felt it. I started to go down with my leg to be ready for the return and pain started coming out. When I was serving it was really painful. She started making some mistakes, which happens when you see your opponent injured, but it was not good for me to keep going on the court. I tried to keep going, but it was not how I wanted to be.
"It's still a good week for me, though. I'd like to be in the finals every week, singles and doubles. But sometimes your body needs a few days of rest."
Zheng collected her fourth WTA title, her first three coming at Hobart in 2005 and Estoril and Stockholm in 2006. "It was too long, but I'm so excited to win this title," the 28-year-old said. "It has been more than five years since my last title. I had two big injuries - my wrist and my ankle - but now I'm back."