Vera Zvonareva, 39, pulled off the biggest upset of the Bank of Communications Zhengzhou Open first round, knocking out No.9 seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-2, 7-6(5) in 1 hour and 56 minutes.
The result was former World No.2 Zvonareva's first Top 20 win since defeating Petra Kvitova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 in the first round of Rome 2021. She had been sidelined for 11 months between March 2022 and February 2023 due to a foot injury, and did not win a match until the grass season in June. However, Zvonareva's form has ticked up in recent months after qualifying for the US Open and reaching the Ningbo quarterfinals two weeks ago.
Kudermetova has also been on a hot streak in Asia, capturing her second Hologic WTA Tour title in Tokyo a fortnight ago. But Zvonareva had the head-to-head edge, having won their only previous meeting 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in the 2019 Shenzhen quarterfinals. The No.369-ranked veteran dominated the first set with a fine all-court display, excelling both at net and counterpunching from the baseline.
Zvonareva led 4-2 in the second set, and subsequently also served for the match at 6-5. But both times, she wobbled while Kudermetova found her best form with her back to the wall. The World No.17 hung tough in a series of extended baseline exchanges before finding her best forehands of the day to force a tiebreak. Once there, though, Zvonareva was the more consistent player, and converted her first match point as Kudermetova sent a volley wide.
Zvonareva will next face Anhelina Kalinina as she bids to reach her first quarterfinal at WTA 500 level or above since St. Petersburg 2021.
No.11 seed Liudmila Samsonova, fresh off her second WTA 1000 runner-up showing in Beijing last week, also continued her strong form with a 6-3, 6-3 win over Tatjana Maria. The result was a reprise of Samsonova's 6-0, 6-2 defeat of the German in the first round of Tokyo two weeks ago; though Maria was able to get more games on the board, Samsonova's confidence at net and first-strike prowess again saw her through.
Samsonova will next face qualifier Laura Siegemund, who eased past Zhu Lin 6-2, 6-3 in a match that featured plenty of the German's signature flair.
Petra Martic, the 2019 Zhengzhou finalist, also notched an impressive win 7-6(5), 6-1 over Magda Linette. Martic had not defeated the Pole in three previous meetings, but pulled away after edging a tight first set full of superb variety from both players. The No.45-ranked Croat will next face No.7 seed Barbora Krejcikova.
Local wild card Bai Zhuoxuan thrilled the night session by coming from a set and a break down to defeat lucky loser Tamara Korpatsch 1-6, 7-6(3), 6-1. The 20-year-old was initially outmatched by Korpatsch's blend of baseline proficiency and canny use of the drop shot. But Bai gradually worked her way into the match to find her own rhythm. After saving four break points at 4-4 in the second set that would have allowed Korpatsch to serve for the match, the World No.117 took control and raced through the decider.
No.8 seed Daria Kasatkina completed the night session with a hard-fought 6-1, 7-6(7) win over another lucky loser, former World No.25 Timea Babos. Kasatkina appeared set for a straightforward victory after winning 10 of the first 12 games, but gradually became embroiled in several prolonged exchanges as she struggled to put away the Hungarian. Ultimately, she had to save one set point in the second-set tiebreak before converting her fourth match point.