Welcome to Memory Lawn, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the grass seasons of the past five years. Our retrospective of Birmingham continues, recounting some of the best matches from the recent editions of the Nature Valley Classic. Rounding out our list is a classic first-round clash of styles, with the crafty Hsieh Su-Wei carving up a stunning upset over Aryna Sabalenka in 2019.
2015: Kristina Mladenovic def. Simona Halep, quarterfinal
2016: Barbora Strycova def. CoCo Vandeweghe, semifinal
2017: Petra Kvitova def. Ashleigh Barty, final
2018: Petra Kvitova def. Magdalena Rybarikova, final
2019: Hsieh Su-Wei def. Aryna Sabalenka, first round
HOW THEY GOT THERE: The Edgbaston Priory Club was already abuzz after a day of first-round shockers at the Nature Valley Classic even before World No.10 Aryna Sabalenka took the court against Hsieh Su-Wei. Elsewhere in the draw, Russia’s Margarita Gasparyan had knocked out the No.4 seed Elina Svitolina in three sets, and now the WTA’s renowned upset artist looked ready to make it another.
After all, the 33-year-old from Chinese Taipei was on a roll, enjoying a breakout season that had seen her reach the semifinals in Auckland and Dubai, as well as quarterfinals in Miami and Rabat. And she had done it in style, too, defeating a number of top players and cementing herself as a serious threat after wins over World No.1 Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Wozniacki and Angelique Kerber.
Read the match report: Hsieh carves out Sabalenka upset in Birmingham
Playing her first match of the season on grass, Hsieh had a tough challenge ahead after being drawn against Sabalenka, the 2018 Eastbourne finalist, in the first round.
World No.10 Sabalenka had started the season on a high note, lifting the trophy at the Shenzhen open in the first week of the new year. But she hadn’t returned to a final since, and was hoping to regain her winning momentum ahead of Wimbledon.
WHAT HAPPENED: What unfolded in Birmingham was a fascinating, nearly-two-hour clash that pitted two completely contrasting playing styles and personalities against each other: the mercurial Sabalenka with her big hitting power game, against the relentlessly positive Hsieh and her variety of wicked slices and delicate dropshots.
Hsieh broke Sabalenka two times in the first set, and she never faced break point herself as she built up a commanding lead - but the Belarusian returned the favor in the second set. Sabalenka broke twice and saved the only break point she faced to win her first set against Hsieh, but she couldn’t keep it up in the decider.
Sabalenka served up four double faults in the final set as Hsieh continued to apply the pressure, mixing up the rhythm of the rallies and taking away pace from her powerful opponent. Hsieh rallied from 4-2 down and dominated the ensuing tiebreak, winning all of Sabalenka’s service points en route to the 6-3, 2-6, 7-6(1) victory.
WHAT THEY SAID: In her post-match interview, Hsieh explained that the key to her victory was drawing from her previous experience playing against Sabalenka: a straight-sets rout in Rome the previous year, which meant that she knew what to expect against the Belarusian on grass.
“I knew it was going to be really tough, so I just got ready for anything to happen on the court,” Hsieh said. "It's not easy because you know she can make any winner from anywhere; serve, return, baseline. She was slicing pretty good. I was surprised.
"I said, 'Okay, I cannot do stable and try to play my stuff,' so I was doing very good to keep concentrated on my game."
It was Hsieh’s seventh Top 10 victory of her career, with four of those wins coming in 2019 alone. That was part of why the player from Chinese Taipei was looking so confident on court, along with her super-positive mentality
“I never beat, like, a Top 10 or Top 20 a lot before,” she explained. “Some of the matches I was leading a lot, I was winning first set 3-Love, second set, and I just crack and it never happened.
"I tried to stay cool, smile and say 'Okay, whatever, anything can happen.' I just need to be positive and try my best and it was helping a lot because against a big player."
WHAT IT MEANT: Despite her penchant for springing electric upsets and upending draws, Hsieh struggled to find consistent success in singles in 2019. She reached two more quarterfinals for the rest of the season, in Washington D.C. and Hiroshima. Notably, Hsieh also defeated former Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first round of Wimbledon and recorded wins over Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki.
But in doubles, Hsieh continued to rise to new heights with partner Barbora Strycova. The pair had already lifted trophies in Madrid and Dubai, and they teamed up to win the Birmingham title - just days after Strycova had eliminated Hsieh from the singles competition in the second round.
They would go on to lift the biggest trophy of their partnership at Wimbledon, Hsieh’s third Grand Slam crown and Strycova’s first. The pair finished their season together with a run to the final at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen, while Hsieh reached one additional final in Tokyo paired with younger sister Hsieh Yu-Chieh.