ZHUHAI, China -- Lu Jing-Jing and Zhang Shuai will contest the final of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, as the all-Chinese pair overcame a sparkling effort by their compatriots, teenage sensations Jiang Xinyu and Tang Qianhui, by the scoreline of 7-6(3), 6-3 on Saturday.
Lu and Zhang finish the round-robin competition with a 2-0 record in the Orchid Group, emerging as group victors. They will play another all-Chinese tandem, Duan Ying-Ying and Han Xinyun, who won the Lotus Group, in the championship match in Zhuhai on Sunday.
Jiang and Tang are already WTA doubles titlists despite their limited time on the professional circuit, emerging as one of the most promising new teams on tour after winning the JiangXi Open in Nanchang in July.
But the longer tenure of Lu and Zhang proved to be the decisive factor in the final round-robin match in Zhuhai. They edged Jiang and Tang in first service percentage and effectiveness on both first and second serve, and were less rattled at the end of the match, coming from a break down in the second set to win the final five games.
Lu and Zhang raced out to a 5-2 lead, as 17-year-old Tang, the youngest player on the court, could not hold serve in her first two service games. The teenagers were both struggling to keep their volleys in play early in the match, and the more experienced players looked to be zooming towards a quick first set.
Serving for the set, however, Lu swiftly dropped serve, and the younger pairing started to play with more determination. At 5-3, Jiang survived three set points on her serve, as she and Tang steeled themselves and let Lu and Zhang capitulate with unforced errors.
At 5-4, Zhang had a second chance to give her team a one-set lead without any fuss, and reached double set point when Jiang missed a volley. But more errors crept up on the elder Chinese team, and Jiang stuck a volley on break point to level the set at five games apiece.
However, when the set progressed to the tiebreak, Lu and Zhang finally asserted their dominance without faltering at crunch time. A sturdy volley by Lu pushed them to a 3-0 lead, and when Jiang missed a volley of her own, the lead was stretched to 4-1.
A powerful forehand by Zhang, a Top 40 player in singles, extended her team's lead in the tiebreak to 6-2. Tang used her long limbs to put away a volley and save a sixth set point, but a smash by Lu made it lucky number seven, and Lu and Zhang escaped with the first set after a grueling 61 minutes.
Jiang and Tang continued to excel at the start of the second set, though, breaking Zhang's serve and jumping to an early 2-0 lead. But at 3-2, Lu and Zhang saw three opportunities to break the serve of Jiang, finally leveling the set at 3-3 when a strong groundstroke by Lu forced Tang to punch a volley into the net.
Another long game on Tang's serve at 4-3 also went the way of Lu and Zhang, and despite Jiang saving a first break point with an exquisite volley, Lu took the game on a second break point with a divine backhand volley of her own.
Zhang was visibly hungry for a chance to play for the title, pumping up her partner with abandon. When given the chance to serve for the match, Zhang did not succumb to the pressure, and she held serve for victory after a Tang backhand service return went long.