Chinese qualifier Wang Xinyu pulled off the biggest upset of the 2021 Upper Austria Ladies Linz on Tuesday evening, outlasting No.1 seed and reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu of Great Britain, 6-1, 6-7(0), 7-5, in the second round.
World No.106 Wang needed a gripping 2 hours and 36 minutes to knock off this year’s most recent Grand Slam champion, and the 20-year-old from Shenzhen edges closer to potentially making her Top 100 debut.
"I really felt the passion here," Wang said to the Center Court crowd, after her triumph. "It’s also my first time here, I really enjoy playing this tournament."
Fast facts: Wang is now into her third WTA singles quarterfinal of the season, and her second straight, having reached the last eight a fortnight ago in Courmayeur.
Coming into Linz, Wang had played Top 20 opposition for the first four times in her career this season, and she was unable to win a set in any of those clashes.
But with Raducanu having just hit her new career-high ranking of World No.20 in this week’s singles rankings, Wang was able to capture her first Top 20 victory in Linz.
Tale of the match: Wang played an aggressive style in the first set, moving forward whenever she could to take command of points. Wang finished the first set with 13 winners to just three unforced errors, and she never faced a break point as she reeled off six games in a row.
Raducanu exhibited some of her US Open form in the second set, though she twice failed to hold onto early service breaks at 1-0 and 3-2. But after the pair moved into a tiebreak, Raducanu whipped winners at will. The Brit started the breaker with a forehand winner and ended it six points later with an ace.
There were no break points in the decisive final set until Wang powered through a love break for 5-4. Serving for the match, Wang squandered two match points as Raducanu pulled back level at 5-5, but the Chinese player quickly gritted out another break for 6-5.
"I always try to believe in myself and always try to focus on this point, right now, and just enjoying the match," Wang said on court, when asked how she felt after her first two match points came and went.
Wang's second chance serving for the match went much better, as she eased through the game to claim her career-best win by ranking. Wang ended the match with 32 winners to 24 unforced errors, while Raducanu's 21 total winners were outpaced by 28 unforced errors.
Wang moves on: Next up for Wang will be a quarterfinal matchup with No.8 seed Alison Riske of the United States. Riske defeated France's Alizé Cornet, 6-4, 6-4, earlier on Tuesday. It will mark the first meeting between Wang and former Top 20 player Riske.
Halep exacts revenge on Sasnovich
No.2 seed Simona Halep got her Upper Austria Ladies Linz campaign off to a satisfying start, taking revenge on Aliaksandra Sasnovich in a high-quality 7-5, 6-3 second-round victory.
Sasnovich had defeated Halep 7-5, 6-4 in the third round of Indian Wells one month ago, and throughout their rematch tested the former World No.1 with an array of brilliantly constructed points and hot shots. In total, she fired 20 winners to Halep's 21, and landed 71% of her first serves.
However, Halep was rock-solid on the contest's most important points while Sasnovich's level fluctuated unpredictably, leaking 18 unforced errors to the two-time major champion's 13. The Romanian, who reached her first final of an injury-hit 2021 two weeks ago at home in Cluj-Napoca, remains in the hunt to claim the Linz title. If she unlocks that achievement in her last tournament of the year, Halep will preserve her streak of winning at least one WTA trophy every year since 2013.
Match management: The scoreboard in the first set might have indicated extreme momentum shifts on paper, with Halep taking a 4-0 lead but being pegged back to 4-4 before squeezing out 7-5. But in truth, it was narrowly contested throughout.
Three of the first four games went to deuce, and Halep needed to find her biggest deliveries to extricate herself from long tussles behind her serve. That would be one of her key strengths: the 30-year-old has talked about how much she worked on her serve while her torn calf muscle healed this summer, and it's paid off ever since her return. Today, Halep landed six aces and many more unreturnable serves.
Fine play from Sasnovich in the opening stages had garnered the World No.85 little reward, but she hit an astonishing mid-set purple patch, winning 12 out of 13 points to get back on serve. Among the spectacular points she won were a finely constructed setpiece involving two dropshots and two lobs; a ridiculously sharp forehand angle on the run; and a backhand winner half-volleyed from the baseline.
But Halep buckled down to regain control, slamming a backhand return winner to break Sasnovich for the set. As in the first set, she leapt out to a quick 3-0 lead in the second, upping her aggression with some excellent down-the-line hitting. This time, though, Halep remained sharp to avoid any danger of another comeback.
In Halep's words: "I think she changed a little bit her game. She played a bit more faster and flatter, and it was really tough to return those balls. The ball didn't bounce that much so the rhythm changed. I think I stepped a little back and became defensive. But in the big picture I think it was a good match."
What's next for Halep: A quarterfinal clash with No.7 seed Jasmine Paolini, who came from a break down in the third set to defeat Zheng Saisai 6-1, 2-6, 6-4.