No.4 seed Veronika Kudermetova came back from the brink to defeat No.5 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-7(4), 7-6(6) 6-1 to advance to the semifinals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open. In a physical match that lasted 3 hours and 14 minutes, Kudermetova came within two points of the loss but reeled off the final six games to win.
Into the last four of a WTA 500 event for a fifth time, Kudermetova will face Zheng Qinwen, who overcame Claire Liu 6-4, 7-5 in 2 hours and 3 minutes to reach the biggest semifinal of her career to date.
Only World No.1 Iga Swiatek and No.2 Ons Jabeur have reached more quarterfinals than Kudermetova in 2022. Tokyo was her ninth of the year and her gritty win over Haddad Maia boosted her into a sixth semifinal of the season.
Kudermetova's relentless return pressure was the key in the match, as she generated 15 break points on the Brazilian's serve and broke six times. Kudermetova hit 45 winners, including 11 aces. Haddad Maia countered with 22 winners. Despite the differential, the match was a physical tug-o-war. Both women saw 5-2 leads evaporate before edging the other in their respective tiebreaks.
Turning point: Kudermetova found herself two points away from the loss in the second-set tiebreak at 6-6 before a courageous backhand winner found the line on set point. It was just the second tiebreak Haddad Maia had lost all season.
As the match veered towards the three-hour mark, Kudermetova grew in confidence and conviction. With crisper baseline hitting down the stretch, Kudermetova won the last six games of the match to improve her three-set record to 12-5 this season.
Stat of the match: Kudermetova is now 8-7 against Top 20 opponents this season, a remarkable shift from her 3-15 record in 2021.
Kudermetova in WTA Finals contention: Kudermetova's victory has important implications in the Race to the WTA Finals. Going into their quarterfinal showdown, both Kudermetova and Haddad Maia were looking to bolster their qualifying chances. By reaching the quarterfinals, Kudermetova will rise to No.9 on the Leaderboard and can leave Tokyo at No.8 if she wins the title.
Zheng hits another milestone: This time last year, Zheng was ranked No.156. In January, she reached her first tour-level semifinal at Melbourne Summer Set 1. Over the course of 2022, the 19-year-old followed that with a Grand Slam second-week debut at Roland Garros, a first WTA 125 title in Valencia and a maiden WTA 1000 quarterfinal in Toronto to rise to a career-high of No.36 this week.
Now, she is into a WTA 500 semifinal for the first time after striking 28 winners, including seven aces, against No.84-ranked Liu. The first set turned on a single break of serve, captured by Zheng in the seventh game thanks to stellar work on the forehand and at net. The teenager broke again at the start of the second set, ending a six-deuce tussle with a hefty backhand return.
Highlights: Q.Zheng d. Liu
But with both players bidding for a career-best run at this level, edginess crept into Zheng's game as Liu battled gamely. The 22-year-old American showed off superb touch at net and broke Zheng back twice, but at 5-5 was let down by her backhand wing.
In the final game, Liu held two break points to force a tiebreak, but was unable to convert either. Zheng's booming first serve won her 82% of the points whenever it landed, and this weapon got her over the line with consecutive service winners.
Zheng and Kudermetova will face each other for the first time.