NEW YORK, USA - Wang Qiang became the first Chinese player to make the Round of 16 since 2014 after ousting No.2 Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-4 at the US Open. The 27-year-old, who enjoyed a breakthrough season in 2018 after capturing her first two WTA titles, making back-to-back semifinals in Wuhan and Beijing, and making the final of the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, is set to face Serena Williams in the quarterfinals.
Here's what you need to know about the soft-spoken, charming, and confident Chinese No.1, who says it's fine to just call her "Q".
1. Her mother got her into tennis to make her stronger.
Wang Qiang first started playing tennis for the simple reason that her mother wanted her to get stronger and there happened to be tennis courts where she lived in Tianjin.
"When I was young, my body was really weak So my mom wanted my body to get stronger," she told WTA Insider. "The tennis court is very near where I lived."
2. Her tennis idol was Stefanie Graf and she met her last year.
Wang Qiang got a chance to meet Graf at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai last fall, where Graf serves as a global ambassador.
"She was really calm on court and she always smiled like a Goddess. I was more nervous meeting her than playing the semifinals in Beijing."
Among the current players, Roger Federer is still the king.
"Everyone likes him. Everyone. So when I saw him, I was shy."
3. She stood out as a young player. But not for her tennis.
"I think from the beginning the Federation looked at me to play tennis because I was pretty. I think maybe they saw me because of my face first, and then realized ok, she can play tennis."
4. She loves Chinese food. No, like, really loves it.
In her breakout 2018 season, Wang went 23-6 in China and Hong Kong, winning two titles in Nanchang and Guangzhou, making back-to-back semifinals in Wuhan and Beijing, and advancing to the final of the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai. On home soil she tallied wins over Karolina Pliskova twice, Aryna Sabalenka, Jelena Ostapenko, Madison Keys, and Garbiñe Muguruza.
Wang earnestly credits her success on home soil to the food. She loves the variety offered in Chinese food, and says it's tough for her when she has to play in the west.
"Chinese food, we have a lot of dishes. We have choices. But when I go out and eat western food, it's the same thing for me. So it's really difficult."
— Wuhan Open (@wuhanopentennis) September 27, 2018
Luckily for Wang, the Chinese food scene in Manhattan is strong and she credits the food for fueling her run to her first major quarterfinal. She's been dining at two specific restaurants all tournament.
"One is Xi'an Famous Foods and the other is Xiang Shui Shan Zhuang (Hunan Cafe) in Manhattan."
"Xi'an food, it is a little bit spicy. They have noodles and meat inside [flaky dough]. Try it. It's good."
5. She credits her former coach, Peter McNamara, for believing she was a Top 20 player.
"He always told me how to play tennis, how to play when a big point is coming. Like 30-all, deuce, how to play these points. He says to be aggressive, positive, and no mistakes."
6. She loves New York.
Wang loves the hustle and bustle of New York City.
"I really love New York and I really love to play here. It's so easy to do things. If you want to buy food, it's just downstairs. Everything is close."
"We already watched a few Broadway shows, Lion King and Frozen. Let it goooo."
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) October 12, 2018
7. She just started working with her new coach Thomas Drouet this summer.
Wang linked up with Drouet this summer and the results have been positive. After training together in China, she made the semifinals of the Bronx tournament last week and is now into her first Slam quarterfinal. "He is so nice and he is so sweet. He knows the little points when I feel not good. Communication is perfect, so I think it's a good relationship."
Drout has had his eye on Wang for a long time. "I remember when she started with Peter, God bless him," Drouet said. "I was always impressed with the work she had, the discipline she had, the respect she gave to the coach. When I stopped with my previous player, I put her first on the list for this reason. I don't pretend that I'm a magician. I just have this discipline and this work ethic every day, in the good day and the bad day. I felt she had this, naturally. When I started with her we really connected well. It was natural."
Hiring a non-Chinese coach was a trend started by Li Na, and Wang has followed her lead. "A Foreign coach has more experience for tennis and Chinese coaches need to improve their experience for that. So I need a more experienced coach to coach me to be a better player.
"But now the Chinese coaches have more improved because China has a lot of tournaments and we can see good players play in China and we can learn good things from them. So now Chinese coaches are really better than before."
8. She's a thinker on the court.
Drout said one of Wang's biggest weapons is her brain. "I think she's the kind of player who has this capacity of analyzing, and on the WTA Tour I think this is a big weapon," Drouet said. "Secondly, her physicality. She's very athletic. She can improve a bit the power of course, but these are her two weapons. She can work. She's not [tired] after six balls [thinking] I have to finish the point. Point by point, she makes the opponent tired. We have to add this in her game. Like Nadal is doing. He's not going to rush. He is making the opponent tired and then he can finish him."
For Wang, her ability to keep her nerves at bay is the key to unlocking her best tennis. "On the court you always have to think," Wang said. "That's the first thing. You have to beat yourself, that's the biggest thing. Because sometimes you have the freedom, but when you have match points you are a little bit afraid. You have to beat yourself.
"When I beat myself, I feel really happy."
Drouet said working with an gifted analytical player makes his job much easier. "I do my homework. I spend hours with the statistics and the video, analyzing what the player is doing. When I say that thing to my player and she can execute it gives me even more confidence.
"I believe even more that if there can be a live computer during the match it's better than closing the eyes and hitting and hoping it's going to be in."
9. She beat World No.2 Ashleigh Barty without her best tennis.
Wang executed the perfect game plan against Barty to advance to the quarterfinals, but her coach said that wasn't even her best tennis.
"The major thing was the tactical plan," Drouet said. "If you can take Ashleigh Barty out of her comfort zone, you will have chances to win this match. She understood it and she executed it.
"It's a model. That kind of match we can show to the kids in the school if we say this was the tactical plan in the beginning, what you did in the match, and you were able to keep your nerves and handle it this way, that is how we prepared this match."
"I don't think she played her best tennis. She didn't have to play her best tennis. She gave trouble to Ashleigh Barty playing the right tactic. I don't think she made 120 winners. This not how she won today.
"For a few matches now, I see she is developing more and more this capacity of analyzing, which I really like to work like that. I make her think a lot in practice. What do you think? Why did you do that? Why do you think you won the point?
"When you play the correct thing and you take your opponent out of the comfort zone, you don't have to play your best tennis. You just have to play accurately."
10. She's a big-match player.
Toiling away on the outer courts against a player ranked outside the Top 50? It's not for Wang Qiang. Put her on a stage and that's when you see the best she has to offer.
"I don't like playing on Court 17. I like playing the big courts."
"Off court I don't really have confidence. When I'm on court I think I have confidence."
11. She's excited to play Serena.
At the end of last season, Wang was asked which player she was still dying to play. Her answer? Serena.
Now she gets a chance to deploy her game and problem-solving against the 23-time major champion.
"She's a really good player and I'm very excited to play with her. I'm a challenger. I just challenge her and try and few things I didn't do before. It's good for me."
More Quick Hits:
Favorite shot: Backhand cross
Favorite tournament: Indian Wells. The player dining is very good.
Favorite food: Sichuan food.
Favorite music: Classical Chinese music.
Instruments: No. I only play tennis.
How does she spend her down time: I will lie down on the bed and play games on my phone. I don't have a favorite because I don't play good so I always change games.
Movie or a book: Movie.
Favorite Actor or Actress: Zhou Xun.
Goals: I want to play the finals in Shenzhen. The first one (Shenzhen Open) and the last one (Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen).