NEW YORK -- Wang Yafan was stumped when she was asked what she did during her seven-month break from the professional tour.
Coffee shops? Video games? Books? Karaoke?
The 29-year-old from China sheepishly smiled and shrugged.
What matters most to her now is that she's quietly emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the Hologic WTA Tour. After returning to the tour in January, Wang has compiled a 57-10 record across all levels. On Monday, Wang played her first Grand Slam main draw in two years and proceeded to tally her 11th consecutive match win, defeating No.7 Caroline Garcia 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of the US Open.
"After four years, this is the first time I'm in the US Open main draw," Wang said. "So I was not thinking about losing or winning, just enjoy. So many people are here. Just play my best tennis."
Wang hit a career-high No.47 in 2019 but has played intermittently since due to China's stringent COVID restrictions. She was just recently married, and the country's 28-day quarantine provisions made travel prohibitive.
The last tournament she played before the Covid shutdown was a quarterfinal run at 2020 Monterrey. She tried to power through the 2021 season but won one main-draw match in 16 events. She shut her season down after Wimbledon that year and when she restarted again on the ITF Circuit in 2022, being on tour was just unsustainable.
"Because of Covid, we have to travel but my husband cannot come with me," Wang said. "If I play, I would have to stay outside China for one or two years. I also had a little bit injuries. Also, if I go back to China I have to quarantine for 28 days. It's too long for me."
After Wang sat on the sidelines for seven months, the country dropped its travel restrictions. Wang returned to competition with a new perspective on tennis and life.
"For me, the difference is that before, I would be thinking too much if I lose a match or win a match," Wang said. "Now I just think, 'Just play'. I'm not thinking about lose or win. It doesn't matter.
"If I lost, it's the same life. If I win, it's the same life. So I have a better mentality. I try to enjoy tennis, put not too much pressure in tennis. I think this is different for me."
That more relaxed attitude, paired with key technical adjustments to her improved serve, has netted Wang five ITF titles and, most recently, the WTA 125K title in Stanford the week before US Open qualifying.
"I didn't think I could win the championship," Wang said. "I started in qualies [in Stanford] and before that, I lost in the first round.
"Before the tournament, we think maybe we don't play this week and we should go straight to New York. But it's good that I went there."
Starting with a 24-match win streak on the ITF Tour, Wang has now won 38 of her last 41 matches. She's also on the verge of a return to the Top 100. Next, she faces Katie Boulter for a place in the third round of a Slam for the first time.
Wang is part of a pack of Chinese women who are once again putting their stamp on the US Open. Last year, Zheng Qinwen, Zhang Shuai, Wang Xiyu and Yuan Yue advanced to the third round in New York, the first time four Chinese players advanced that deep at a major.
This year, Chinese players on the men's and women's side of the draw went an undefeated 7-0 in the first round. On Tuesday, Wang Xinyu knocked out Cleveland champion Sara Sorribes Tormo 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 to make the third round. Zhu Lin followed suit, powering past former No.1 Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 6-3.