In her debut on the Asian swing, Zheng Qinwen hit all the right notes, both on and off the court.
After knocking off Barbora Krejcikova in three sets to clinch the Bank of Communications Zhengzhou Open title, Zheng found herself in the spotlight once more, this time holding a microphone during the trophy ceremony. As an avid karaoke enthusiast, she seized the moment.
"To sing in front of the crowd feels just like being at a concert," Zheng told the WTA after her semifinal win when the idea was floated to her.
And with that, a star was born.
"I probably will go to karaoke with my team. I really want to sing, and it's not enough on the court, I'm not done yet. I forgot some lyrics, but I was having fun and enjoying myself out there. I want to thank the tournament for preparing this surprise, I really love it."
Zheng went into the Asian swing reeling. She finished it by cementing herself as not only the star of Chinese tennis but an emerging talent who has uncovered the formula to unlocking her best tennis.
Zheng broke out on the Hologic WTA Tour scene last season, where she started the year outside the Top 100, finished at No.25, and was voted the Newcomer of the Year. Much was expected for the 21-year-old at the start of this season.
"In the first half of this year, I did not play so well, which was very different from my expectations," Zheng told reporters after winning the Bank of Communications Open Zhengzhou Open. "So after this I reflected a lot, whether I was too impetuous. I always know that I have this ability, but why it hasn't been realized?"
Zheng's solution was to calm down. She parted with coach Pere Riba and hired Wim Fisette during the grass season. With a new perspective and coach, the results came almost immediately. She finally captured her first title in Palermo and made her first major quarterfinal at the US Open.
Then came the sudden split with Fissette, which left her angry and confused. Fissette's decision came at the worst possible time, as Zheng was preparing to play on home soil for the first time in her WTA career. Not only that but she was set to represent China at the Asian Games.
Zheng handled it all like a seasoned veteran. She gave her home fans a first-hand glimpse as to why the hype around her has always been justified. Throughout her rise, Zheng had not played often in front of large stadiums and packed, rowdy crowds.
Not every player excels playing at home, but Zheng adjusted well.
"For me, the most important victory in the second half of the year is winning the gold medal at the Asian Games," Zheng said. "Because I represent my country to fight for the glory. Also, my first WTA500 title in Zhengzhou, it's very special because I won it on home soil, in front of my own people. I just feel super happy."
Zheng spoke with the WTA after her Zhengzhou victory to expand on how she turned her season around and her iconic karaoke performance during the trophy ceremony:
How will you celebrate this fantastic week?
Zheng: First, I'll take my team to a big meal, some Chinese cuisine. Because I always eat very healthy during the tournament. I'm craving some treats. I think it's a good way to celebrate.
Second, I know that the Shaolin Temple here is very famous, so I want to go there to pray for blessings.
You said at the beginning of the year you expected too much of yourself and it didn't turn out well. How do you find it now?
Zheng: You must have your goals, but they shouldn't be your only focus. You need to focus on everyday work, on the present. Perhaps the mistake I made at the beginning of the year was that I focused too much on the results. Overall, I was not very down to earth, and I didn't play the tennis I wanted.
Later, as I kept reflecting on myself, I could find some balance. I realized that I have to do my best every day. Step by step, day by day, not thinking too much about the future, focusing on the present. That's what I've been trying to remind myself constantly.
You talked a lot about getting more mature this year. What's your biggest improvement on and off court?
Zheng: In the past, when I didn't play well or had some small issues on the court, I tended to find excuses and outside reasons, instead of accepting that it's my own problem. Now I know I have to focus on myself, what I can do to improve, not what other people are doing.
On the tennis court, a lot of times we have to face everything by ourselves. For example, you can't control the shouts from the crowd, you can only think about how to keep your form, make progress.
In Beijing, you said, "I think my desire for winning is bigger than my desire for food." Would you elaborate on that? What's your ultimate desire?
Zheng: My ultimate desire is to win a Grand Slam definitely, and I keep reminding myself of that.
There are some desires that need to be restrained, such as delicious food, especially Chinese food, they are big temptations for me. Managing for one day is easy, how to do it consistently is difficult.
In the end, what makes a champion is the effort you put in every day, not just one day. Defeating desire with desire. This is also an inspiration to me.