BEIJING, China -- No.10 seed Angelique Kerber of Germany gritted her way through a topsy-turvy three-set tussle with Chinese No.2 Zhang Shuai before claiming a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 victory in the opening round of the China Open on Sunday night.
Zhang, currently ranked World No.31, had beaten former World No.1 Kerber in a similarly up-and-down encounter in the round of 16 of last year’s China Open. This time around, though, Kerber was able to take charge down the stretch, winning the final four games of the clash on her way to a one-hour and 54-minute victory.
"I think it was a tough and tight match," Kerber told the press, after her win. "I was just trying to play every single point at the end, and just trying to take my chances. That was the goal in the third set, and, of course, it’s great to be in the next round."
Kerber, the winner of three major titles including Wimbledon last year, was more successful on break points in the tilt: Zhang had 14 break points, double Kerber's amount, but the German converted five of her seven while Zhang was only able to go 4-for-14.
"The first round is always tough to get your rhythm, to come to the tournament, to feel the ball, to play matches," said Kerber. "Of course I’ll try to take the emotions and the confidence to the next round."
— WTA (@WTA) September 29, 2019
Kerber got off to a torrid start, as the German’s sturdy angles wholly outmatched an error-prone Zhang en route to a massive 4-0 advantage. Zhang grabbed a break back to reach 4-2, converting her fourth break point of that game, but the Chinese player swiftly handed the double-break advantage back to Kerber in the next game with two straight double faults.
A fabulous Kerber forehand gave her double set point at 5-2, and though she lost her first chance with a double fault of her own, Zhang fired a forehand long on the second to cede the one-set lead to the three-time Grand Slam champion.
The second set, however, was a complete reversal of the first. Kerber withstood three break points to hold for 1-1, but that would be the extent of her scoreboard success in the second stanza as Zhang moved through the set with ease. The Chinese player broke for 3-1 after a netted miscue by Kerber, and broke serve again for 5-1 on her third break point of that game.
Now serving for the set, Zhang fought back from a 0-30 deficit to reach set point. There, a strong serve queued up a forehand winner to close out the set and tie up the match. Zhang had seven winners to Kerber’s five in the second set, while Kerber came unglued with 18 unforced errors during that timeframe.
— WTA (@WTA) September 29, 2019
Zhang continued her dominant run as she used a fiery forehand to force a netted error from Kerber and seal the first break of the decider, leading 2-1. Kerber proved her mettle by clinching a protracted game with an error-forcing forehand to get to 3-2, but Zhang put herself two games away from the upset by holding for 4-2 with an ace on game point.
But Kerber made one last push, and it would prove to be successful. After a hold for 4-3, Kerber found a forehand winner down the line on break point of the next game to level the set at 4-4. Kerber began to use her stamina to extend points beyond their expected limits, and the German found herself at the winning end of many lengthy rallies as the match wore on.
One such rally was ended with a long volley by Zhang, which gave Kerber her third straight game and a 5-4 lead. Suddenly, Zhang was serving to stay in the match, and the Chinese player faltered, hitting errors to give Kerber double match point. Zhang saved one with a winning overhead, but a netted backhand on the second completed the Kerber comeback.
Next up for Kerber will be Polona Hercog of Slovenia in the second round, after Hercog overcame Julia Goerges in three tough sets in the first round on Monday. Kerber and Hercog have met seven times, with Kerber holding a 5-2 edge in the head-to-head.
"I know [Hercog] very well, we’ve played a few times against each other," Kerber noted. "She’s serving good, she’s hitting good, the ball is really fast and strong. I think that I have to play my own game and try, like today, to take my chances."