At her third try, Danielle Collins finally solved Zheng Saisai in the first round of the Adelaide International, winning 7-6(5), 6-1 in one hour and 37 minutes to set up a meeting with No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty.
"She's a really challenging player to play against," said Collins afterwards. "She has a really versatile game and it can be tricky at times." This assessment was borne out by two previous losses to the Chinese No.3, including a heavy 6-2, 6-0 defeat in the 2019 San Jose second round.
That week, Zheng would go on to win the biggest title of her career, but this time round it was Collins who was in form. The American is now 8-3 in Australia over the past month, including a quarterfinal at the Yarra Valley Classic and a semifinal last week at the Phillip Island Trophy. By contrast, Zheng is 0-4 in 2021 so far, and still searching for her first win following the Covid-19 shutdown.
"I knew I had to be patient," said Collins. "I said to my team coming into this, you might have another long three-set match - so buckle up!"
That prediction wasn't quite accurate, but Collins' patience was tested in a fluctuating opening set. She pulled into a 5-2 lead, but began to pull the trigger too soon in the face of Zheng's defence and net play. Forced into a tiebreak, Collins again saw a 4-1 lead chipped to 5-5.
But the 27-year-old found a strong return and serve to take the last two points, and having held Zheng off dominated the second set. Accelerating towards the finishing line, Collins repeatedly teed off on the Zheng serve to break three times, appropriately sealing her second match point with a booming backhand return.
With one revenge taken, Collins will now look for a second against World No.1 Barty. She is 0-3 against the Australian, including a 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(5) loss in the semifinals here last year.
"[That was] one of the most enjoyable matches I've played," recalled Collins. "Even though I lost a heartbreaking match, it was such good tennis and a really fun challenge."
Elsewhere, the first day of main draw play also saw No.8 seed Wang Qiang post her second win of the season, defeating 18-year-old wildcard Olivia Gadecki 6-4, 6-3. A clash of unseeded in-form players saw Shelby Rogers, fresh off a run to the Australian Open fourth round, best Abu Dhabi finalist Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 7-6(4).
Meanwhile, former US Open semifinalist Anastasija Sevastova took out Caroline Garcia 6-2, 6-4. The pair had played twice before, splitting two meetings on the grass courts of Mallorca, but it was the former US Open semifinalist who edged ahead in their first hardcourt encounter.
The final round of qualifying saw No.1 seed Coco Gauff come from a set and 0-3 down to defeat No.8 seed Kaja Juvan 3-6, 7-5, 6-3. The result avenges Gauff's loss to Juvan in 2019 Roland Garros qualifying - the American teenager's last tournament before her Wimbledon breakthrough the following month.
Gauff's doubles partner Caty McNally was unable to join her in the main draw, though, losing 6-2, 6-3 to Australian World No.292 Storm Sanders. However, No.6 seed Jasmine Paolini did make it through, coming from a set down to beat No.11 seed Astra Sharma 3-6, 6-2, 6-1. Paolini and Gauff will now face off in the first round of the main draw.