ANNING, China – No.1 seed Zhang Shuai survived a second-set scare to win through to the final of the Kunming Open with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 victory over Chinese Taipei’s Liang En-shuo.

The WTA World No.42 took the opening set against an opponent ranked nearly 200 spots below her and when her level dipped in the second, the former junior Australian Open winner, who was playing a Top 50 player for the first time, was clinical enough to take her opportunity. However, Zhang proved too powerful in the decider.

It was the second time in as many days that she had faced an up-and-coming player, having been given a stern workout 24 hours earlier by Ma Shuyue in the quarters, and this encounter was to prove even more complex, despite a promising start.

She made her move early in the opening set, breaking in the opening game without losing a point and then consolidating her advantage in a comfortable manner.

Thereafter, opportunities were few and far between as both players served solidly. 

Liang’s only chances to level arrived in the sixth game, in which she fashioned back-to-back break points, but after those were fended off, another was saved and the status quo restored.

Although Zhang missed an opportunity to break to secure the set, when asked to serve it out she did so to love.

When she broke in a lengthy third game of the second set, she seemed poised to cruise through but instead seemed to allow her concentration to wander, which opened the door for her opponent to reel off five games in succession.

Faced with the problem of an increasingly confident opponent, the top seed, who had won three-setters in her first two matches of the week, raised her aggression levels at the beginning of the deciding set, notably hitting the ball with more purpose and power. 

It allowed her to break the succession of games Liang had taken by breaking in a lengthy opening game and then again in the third, discombobulating her opponent sufficiently to make her call for her coach at 3-0 down.

By this point it was too late. Zhang’s momentum was irresistible, opening up a 5-0 advantage, and although there was a blip that allowed her opponent to get on the board, she closed out the set to move into her first Anning final.

Her victory guarantees that the title will be back in Chinese hands after Irina Khromacheva claimed the glory in 2018, the inaugural year as a WTA 125K event. As an ITF tournament, it had been won four years in succession by home players, including three times by Zheng Saisai, who has been something of a Kunming specialist.

It is Zheng, runner-up 12 months ago, that the 30-year-old will meet in Sunday’s showpiece, though the No.2 seed and WTA World No.49 was made to work hard to reach her fifth final.

Australia’s Kaylah Mcphee took the opening set in their semifinal, 6-3 but then saw that advantage slip dramatically as she was on the wrong end of a bagel in the second. Zheng never looked back and claimed the decider, 6-1.