HOBART, Australia -- No.4 seed Zhang Shuai of China eased into the Hobart International final on Friday after a 6-3, 6-4 semifinal victory over 5th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova of Russia.
"It’s so exciting because I really like this tournament," Zhang said, after her win. "Nice city, nice everything. That’s why I always come to this tournament. But the last few years, I lost really early, so I cannot stay here for that long. So I’m really happy this year, I improved and made it to the singles and doubles finals."
World No.40 Zhang was only 2-9 in WTA singles semifinals coming into the Hobart semifinals, but the Chinese player knocked out Kudermetova in their first meeting to reach her third career WTA singles final after an hour and four minutes of play.
"Veronika, she’s a really great player," Zhang stated. "She plays really fast and heavy, the ball is really high-quality. I always tried to play deep and focus on my serve, and tried to make [returns] in, because she has a great serve."
Zhang was stellar on serve throughout the tilt, winning three-quarters of her service points and successfully staving off the two break points she faced -- both of which came in the very last game of the clash.
Two-time WTA singles titlist Zhang is undefeated in WTA singles finals once she reaches that stage, having won both her finals at Guangzhou, in 2013 and 2017. The Chinese No.2, who had never reached the quarterfinals in her six prior Hobart showings, is also the first Chinese player to reach the singles final at Hobart since Zheng Jie claimed the title in 2005.
"I think all matches I played really well this week, and also a lot of the Chinese fans are coming to cheer for me, so I’ve had a lot of motivation to win!" Zhang exclaimed.
"The winter training went really good for me," Zhang added. "Training with the national team, a lot of coaches helped me, so I was already ready before this tournament."
Zhang zoomed to an early lead in the opening frame, as the Chinese player used penetrating groundstrokes to zip through points with ease. A backhand crosscourt winner gave her triple break point at 2-1, and she converted the first for a 3-1 lead after a wide forehand by Kudermetova. It took Zhang not much more than 10 minutes to reach 4-1.
Kudermetova steadied herself as the set progressed, gritting through two tough games on her service to stay a single break behind. With Zhang serving for the set at 5-3, the Russian opened the game with a bruising forehand winner down the line, hoping to claim the break.
However, Zhang steeled herself on serve for the rest of that game, and calmly closed out the set after a series of missed returns by Kudermetova. Zhang got 88 percent of her first serves into play and never faced a break point during the opening set.
Neither player had trouble holding onto their serves through 4-4 in the second set, but it was there where Kudermetova faltered first. The Russian misfired on her forehand multiple times in that game, to queue up double break point for Zhang. Another miscue by Kudermetova off the forehand wing, this time into the net, gave Zhang a critical break of service.
Serving for the match, though, Zhang found herself pressed on serve for the first time all day, as Kudermetova found powerful returns to earn her first two break points of the encounter. However, Zhang again found strong serves when she needed them most, and Kudermetova missed returns on the next four points, which was enough to give Zhang a speedy victory.
Zhang will wait to see who she plays in the championship match: either No.3 seed Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan or British qualifier Heather Watson, who face each other in the second semifinal later on Friday.
Zhang is also into the doubles final in Hobart. She will pair with her compatriot Peng Shuai in the championship match, where she will face Nadiia Kichenok and former doubles World No.1 Sania Mirza.