If the first match of the new season is anything to go by, there's no reason to believe Zheng Qinwen won't continue to soar up the Hologic WTA Tour rankings in 2023.
The 2022 WTA Newcomer of the Year knocked off No.6 seed Anett Kontaveit in dramatic fashion on Tuesday in the first round of the Adelaide International 1, 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(7), a 2-hour, 28-minute thriller in which she saved a match point in the final set.
Battle tested 👏— wta (@WTA) January 3, 2023
Zheng Qinwen puts on a gutsy performance to take out Kontaveit 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(7)#AdelaideTennis pic.twitter.com/o90RBuLvG7
Tale of the tape: Zheng looked as though she'd cruise to her seventh career Top 20 victory as she built a 6-1, 4-2 lead in just over 60 minutes. But she wouldn't get over the line until the match was well into its third hour, when Kontaveit ripped through four straight games to send the match to a final set.
"I learned a lot from the last past year, especially here all the girls they are playing really good. You can never relax until the last point is over," Zheng said afterwards.
"Today I was a little bit relaxed, and look what happened; the match become really tough.
"If I can do better there, I can close the match in two sets, but I cannot do it in that moment, but it's okay. I accept in that moment, and it was tennis. That match started to be really difficult in the third set. She got a match point, and me, I got match point, also.
"We had a really tough moment. But anyway, I'm so happy to win my first match of the season."
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Neither woman lost serve in the final set -- in fact, Zheng saved the only break point either faced, in the fourth game -- but both had chances to win the match in its latest stages. Kontaveit led 3-1 in the tiebreak, and after she saved a match point down 6-5, earned her own at 7-6.
Moment of the match: The net came to Zheng's rescue at the eleventh hour. A thundering first-ball forehand clipped the tape, and Kontaveit's desperate effort to stay in the point -- a forehand squash-shot on the stretch -- floated long.
Next, a big serve went unreturned and gave Zheng a second match point, a chance she converted as Kontaveit's final backhand found the net.
Azarenka, Vondrousova win openers
Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka was another first-round winner on Tuesday. Two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka advanced past Anhelina Kalinina 7-6(9), 7-6(5) in a 2-hour and 38-minute thriller on Centre Court, setting up a second-round match with Zheng Qinwen.
Kalinina led 5-1 in the opening set before Azarenka came all the way back, saving a set point at 5-3 and another set point at 6-5. Azarenka had to save three more set points in the grueling first-set tiebreak before grasping the one-set lead after 80 minutes.
That winning feeling 🥳— wta (@WTA) January 3, 2023
On a fifth match point, @vika7 overcomes Kalinina 7-6, 7-6#AdelaideTennis pic.twitter.com/7zcRseYEig
In the second set, it was Kalinina who came back from a 3-0 deficit, saving two match points at 6-5 to force another tiebreak. But once again, Azarenka came out on top in the breaker, finally converting her fifth match point to advance.
Video Highlights: Azarenka defeats Kalinina | Vondrousova upsets Alexandrova
Marketa Vondrousova also booked a spot in the second round by upsetting No.8 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in 2 hours and 16 minutes.
Former Roland Garros finalist Vondrousova fended off 13 of the 16 break points she faced before improving to 3-1 against Alexandrova in their career rivalry. Vondrousova will now meet Kaia Kanepi on Wednesday in a second-round showdown.