Having started her professional tennis career 17 years ago as a teenage sensation in Challenger events, Hsieh Su-wei has blossomed into a staple of the WTA, and as she approaches her 33rd birthday next week, the star from Chinese Taipei finds herself in the midst of a career renaissance.
The former doubles World No.1 executed an excellent singles season in 2018, using her crowd-pleasing slice-and-dice craft, which she cheekily named "Su-wei Style" at the Australian Open, to great effect as a solo artist in the last 12 months.
Hsieh caught up with wtatennis.com to review her 2018 resurgence and talk about what's to come in 2019.
1. Hsieh had her most impressive season in singles in six years. Hsieh has been a regular stalwart in doubles, having claimed Wimbledon and the WTA Finals in 2013 and the French Open in 2014, along wth her five weeks at World No.1 in 2014. However, in 2018, Hsieh put together her statistically finest season in singles since 2012.
The top-ranked player from Chinese Taipei ended the season with a 40-23 record and a year-end ranking of World No.28, nearly matching her banner year of 2012, where she posted 49 match wins and finished the season ranked No.25.
It was a thrilling rise from the last two seasons, each of which she finished just inside the Top 100 of the singles rankings. “During the 2018 pre-season, I was preparing for doubles more than singles,” Hsieh told wtatennis.com in a pre-season interview. “So I had no big pressure in singles, I just tried to keep relaxed, and not worry if I lost.”
2. Her stellar 2018 season was kicked off by an excellent Australian swing. The very first weeks of the year were a harbinger of what was to come. “I did a good start in Auckland, I won a few matches, helping my fitness,” said Hsieh, referring to her ASB Classic semifinal run, where she beat Barbora Strycova in the quarterfinals before falling to eventual champion Julia Goerges.
Her superb form would continue in the southern hemisphere, at the first major of the year. “In Australian Open, I almost lost from two points [away] in the first round and I won the match,” Hsieh stated regarding her 0-6, 6-0, 8-6 escape against Chinese qualifier Zhu Lin. “It was good for my confidence.”
By surviving that topsy-turvy match against Zhu, Hsieh was able to set up two of her prevailing 2018 narratives, which follow.
3. Hsieh had her best Grand Slam season in singles -- ever. The magnificent start of her season and the come-from-behind win over Zhu coalesced into powerful performances in the next two rounds of the Australian Open.
In the second round in Melbourne, Hsieh claimed what was then the highest-ranked scalp of her singles career when she ousted reigning Wimbledon champion and World No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza, 7-6(1), 6-4.
Hsieh’s momentum continued in the third round, when she upset 26th seed Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets to reach the round of 16 of a Grand Slam event for the second time in her career -- the first instance having also come in Melbourne, a decade prior in 2008.
“Grand Slams are always special, beating great players is an amazing feeling,” said Hsieh. “All the girls are more concentrated and fighting so hard, so it was great I made it.” Hsieh’s stay in Melbourne ended in the fourth round following a three-set tussle with Angelique Kerber, which Hsieh said “was a great match too, even if I lost it.”
Hsieh would finish 2018 by reaching the second week at two majors in one year for the first time in her career, and posted a 7-4 win-loss record in Grand Slams, the best of her career, as a monumental performance in the dead of summer also took place.
4. She notched the biggest singles wins of her career, both times in her Grand Slam second-week runs. Hsieh had notched only one Top 10 singles victory prior to her win over Muguruza in Melbourne, and it had been recent, and at a major -- a first-round upset of World No.8 Johanna Konta at the 2017 French Open.
But the player from Chinese Taipei clinched her two biggest wins by ranking at the majors in 2018. Hsieh trumped her Muguruza victory when she claimed her first win over a World No.1 with a stunning comeback win at Wimbledon over French Open champion Simona Halep, en route to her second fourth-round appearance at a major in 2018.
When asked how she felt after that landmark victory, Hsieh laughed and said she “forgot -- it was a long time ago!”
“I was not expected to win, I was always down, so it’s amazing to win,” Hsieh continued, as she had to fight back from 2-5 down in the final set, saving a match point in the process, in one of the signature matches of the 2018 season. “I was still doing the same stuff after, staying calm after couple days.”
“But of course it give me lot of confidence, even if I had lot of confidence already during the clay season,” Hsieh added. She had reached the semifinals in Rabat and the quarterfinals in Strasbourg on the dirt before her grass-court exploits.
5. Hsieh’s season culminated in her first WTA singles title in six years. “Of course, my title in Hiroshima was a great moment in 2018,” Hsieh stated. Once again, she reached the heights of her previous best season, when she claimed her first two WTA singles titles in Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou in 2012.
“I was so happy!” Hsieh exclaimed, thinking back to her championship run in Hiroshima, which was clinched with a 6-2, 6-2 final win over surging American teenager Amanda Anisimova. “I didn’t expect too much, because it was not easy after US Open to go back to Asia. [It was] not easy weather, all the girls fighting so hard, so it was amazing to win this tournament.”
“And the food is amazing in Japan!” Hsieh made sure to add.
The Hiroshima buzz continued for Hsieh into her next tournament, compiling an eight-match winning streak by reaching the Seoul semifinals. She also made the semifinals in her final tournament of the year, reaching the final four in Tianjin before falling to eventual champion Caroline Garcia.
6. Hsieh hopes for another strong season, and will try to repeat her January successes from last year to get to that point. “I will just stay same as last year,” said Hsieh, who has Auckland, Sydney, and the Australian Open on her docket for 2019.
It is seemingly a good idea for Hsieh to stay on the same path she carved last year in the Australian swing, which led to strong results forming the base for her solid season. Indeed, Hsieh seems to thrive in the cities of Australia and New Zealand, and enjoys looking around the environment of those locales, win or lose.
“[I will] enjoy tennis, enjoy the city, the crowd,” Hsieh added. “If I win, it’s good; if not, I’ll go sight-seeing in the city. I’m not the kind of person who looks in the past. Those moments [were] very good feelings; I hope I can have some good matches this year and keep enjoying tennis.”
7. For 2019, Hsieh won't fix what isn’t broken. Hsieh says there is “no change” to her team for the upcoming season. “In 2018, I was working more with my brother on the big tournaments, I asked Paul McNamee to help for 3 Grand Slams, and my boyfriend is helping a lot. We have fun travelling together and playing tournaments. My nephew is traveling with us sometime, so it’s very fun to travel with kids too.”
“I [will] just try to be more focused on my body, stay concentrated on my fitness, keep my muscles tight, and enjoy the matches,” Hsieh continued.
Hsieh did take time during the off-season to globe-trot. “I like to go visit new places, to travel where I’ve never been, enjoying the local food and not thinking about tennis,” she said. “This year I went to Greece and its islands, it was great!”
However, the new season starts next week and Hsieh will attempt to post more strong results. “My goals for 2019 is to stay healthy, be happy and enjoy the tennis,” the No.1 player from Chinese Taipei emphasized. “I am working more on my fitness and stretching, trying new stuff. My plan is to keep trying!”