2019 Australian Open champions Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai reunited for the first time since February to win their third team title at the Western & Southern Open. The unseeded duo stopped the red-hot run of Montreal champions Gabriela Dabrowski and Luisa Stefani in the final, winning 7-5, 6-3.
"We had some very, very close matches, and we were able to come through, the first four [wins] in a super-tiebreak," Stosur told reporters after the win. "I think that shows even without playing very much, we really combine well and really back each other and support each other no matter what's going on. That's first and foremost the best thing. Regardless of today's result, we were proud of our achievements."
With Ashleigh Barty's win in singles, it was an Aussie sweep in Cincinnati. The title was Stosur's 27th doubles title and Zhang's 9th, and the first for both since their Australian Open win. For Zhang, just getting to play with Stosur again was a win.
"We miss each other so much, because last two years we cannot play together," Zhang said. The first tournament we play together again, and we won the big trophy. That's so special.
"The first day, we met each other and Sam told me, 'Yeah, we're back.'"
Stosur and Zhang spoke with WTA Insider after their win to discuss how they came back from the brink during the tournament and why Zhang's "sixth sense" might have bagged them the title.
WTA Insider: You won the final in straight sets but really had to battle to get there. All four of your prior matches went to a match tiebreak and you rallied from a set and 1-5 down in the semifinals to win. What was the secret to coming through these tight moments?
Zhang: What's the secret? In the Australian Open semifinals, we were also 5-1 down. [We won] 7-5, first set. No matter what score, even 5-0, no matter. If we lost 6-0, 6-0, we're still happy we play together. So we don't care if we win or lose. We're just so happy. I think happiness is the most important, right?
"Happy" is sacred. So we have to keep happy, keep healthy, and keep playing tennis. Always have a chance to win.
I'm so happy because I can play with my best friend every day. You're training, you practice, you play matches, all together. You warm up together and cool down together. You always talk whatever you want, being natural. I can show the real 'myself'. I don't need to do something fake or say something not real. I don't like that. So that makes you feel so good.
I like it now so much. That's why I play well. Be natural, everything.
Victory jump 😄@bambamsam30 | @zhangshuai121 | #CincyTennis pic.twitter.com/okr9XhBI8S— wta (@WTA) August 22, 2021
Stosur: I think she pretty much summed it up. With the circumstances, we weren't able to play too much the last couple of years. And then obviously with everything that's going on in the world, it's made it very difficult. To be partnering with her again and win a title like this for our first matches together in a long time is just such a great feeling.
We always have fun. We smile, we laugh, we support each other no matter what's going on. You make a mistake, you hit a winner, you get the same reaction. I think when you're playing with someone who's got that sort of attitude and positivity, it can only make you feel good. That's exactly how I feel out there.
She's the most positive tennis player I've ever played with. When things are getting tough, that's when she almost relaxes more. So it can only feed a good point or a good shot and everything. Then you can build from that as the match goes on. Thankfully, we're able to do that a couple of times this week and walk away with the title.
WTA Insider: Sam, you were able to close out the match facing down a break point in the last game. At 30-40, you hit two great first serves, finishing with an ace out wide. That had to feel good.
Stosur: I guess I've served out many matches in my career but when you haven't done it for a while and you're going for a final, it's there's always a bit more pressure. At that point in time, your opponents haven't got much to lose. They had broken me early in the sets, but as the match was going on, I thought I was serving well and keeping them under pressure as well.
I actually called a different serve on match point and Shuai goes, 'No, you go wide.' I was like, 'OK.'
Without that call, who knows what would have happened. It was only half on the line, but that's all you need. I asked Shuai after the match, did you see the replays? She said no, I didn't want to look [laughs]. It was a little bit close.
But I went for it and I think that's exactly what you have to do in moments like that. You have to back yourself and hit your best serves, hit your best shots, and know that I've done this before and I'm going to do it again.
🏆 3rd team title 🏆@bambamsam30 & @zhangshuai121 race to the @CincyTennis doubles title with a straight-sets win over Dabrowski/Stefani! pic.twitter.com/EPf2T0P6Yu— wta (@WTA) August 22, 2021
WTA Insider: Zhang Shuai, why did you tell her to go wide?
Zhang: In Chinese I know how to say it, but in English, it's something you're feeling, or your heart or something tells you something, and you just follow.
I mean, I always follow. I'm thinking something, I just do it. No matter in or out. You just go. Do.
Because I trust Sam's serve. Sam's serve is No.1 in the WTA. So no matter tee or wide, for sure we got this winner. Because of Sam's serving games, I know for sure we win this game. Even tee, Sam will make an ace. Already many, many times.
Grand Slam Champion. Singles, doubles, and mixed! So special my partner.
WTA Insider: She's your biggest cheerleader.
Stosur: I told you, so positive, right? I just have to take her everywhere with me.
😳 @bambamsam30 making it look easy!@zhangshuai121 | #CincyTennis pic.twitter.com/wNTDmeQdyK— wta (@WTA) August 22, 2021
WTA Insider: Zhang Shuai, in English we'd call it intuition or a sixth sense.
Zhang: Sixth! Yes.
WTA Insider: Is that your philosophy in life? To follow your intuition?
Zhang: Yeah. In my life, all the time. I follow this. I trust.
WTA Insider: Why?
Zhang: Why? Because it's always right!
Sam, I said 'wide.' Sam ace. So we won the trophy [laughs]. So the next time why we are not follow this? Always right. I'm building the confidence already for 32 years. So that's why I trust. Trust because it's always right. That's why you trust.
And also I trust myself. I trust Sam. Well, I trust Sam's serve (laughs)! That's the most important, right?
This is Champion’s server , thanks so much fight with me again ! really appreciate all the crowds came to @CincyTennis , you guys made the such wonderful night ! https://t.co/T1jddCiyvN— Shuai Zhang (@zhangshuai121) August 22, 2021
WTA Insider: You both won a hardcourt Slam together at the Australian Open. Does this week change the expectations for the US Open?
Zhang: This is already finished this week, this tournament. We keep relaxed and free next week and then concentrate for the practice, building the serve, ace, tee, wide.
We cannot every day only thinking we won Cincinnati, we're so happy. We have to restart again and try to improve something. This week we played a lot of matches the last few days. So first we need to take care of the body, some massage treatment, and the training. I have to go to Cleveland to play another tournament. So day by day.
I don't want to think too much. And also, let's see what the sixth sense says. They will tell me what I have to do.
WTA Insider: It's always 'serve wide.'
Zhang: Not always! Don't tell the opponents the secret!
WTA Insider: Sam, what does this title mean for you? It's your first title as a mom and, like Ash, you're on quite a long stretch from home as well.
Stosur: It's really special to be out here playing again. I really haven't played that much since all of this started. Different circumstances, now having a child and everything else, to be able to come out here and have the success is exactly why you play for. It makes it exciting. It's fun. It's enjoyable. You do it with your friend on tour and it's kind of worth it then.
It's obviously incredibly hard to be away from home. I miss them so much. FaceTime is great, but it just doesn't cut it. So it'll be still five weeks until I actually get to see them again. But it's what I do. And I knew that I wanted to keep trying to play this year as much as I possibly could.
So I'm here giving it everything I've got every single day and then after the US Open, I'll go home and I think I'll be on full-time duty for many, many months.