DUBAI, UAE - Hsieh Su-wei wasn’t quite sure how she would maintain her stellar 2018 form in the new season. In typical “Su-wei Style,” she opted to improvise her way into a maiden WTA Premier 5 quarterfinal.
“Sometime play one year is pretty good, next year I could be not so good,” she said at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. “I was like, ‘Hmm, this year I should be little bit more relaxed, try to keep my ranking not too bad, and try to fight really hard on the court.”
All three tactics have been on display during her first Dubai singles appearance in six years, helping to nab back-to-back Top 20 wins over Anastasija Sevastova and former World No.1 Angelique Kerber, fighting back to drop a 6-0 final set on the latter.
“I haven’t really won a lot of matches here before. Every time I come and I win a match, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I win a match!’ I'm excited,” she said, triumphantly raising her arms.
“At the moment I think I'm doing pretty good. I don't want to put any pressure, and enjoy the tennis. I will try to enjoy more.”
Playing with two hands on both sides, the two-time Grand Slam champion and former No.1 in doubles first enjoyed singles success with her unorthodox game in 2008, reaching the second week of the Australian Open, and earned a career-high ranking in 2013, shortly after winning a second WTA title.
This latest renaissance began four years later at Roland Garros, where she beat Johanna Konta in the first round, but few will forget what she did in Melbourne six months later, shocking Garbiñe Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska, only to bow out after a fourth round classic with Kerber.
“She is ‘defense-ing’ very well,” she said of the German. “I was talking about her at Australian Open. I say, ‘Where is she training for her fitness? I want to go to her academy!’ She's moving so well. Even she's running, she can swing the ball. This is amazing. I need to get all these skills.”
Hsieh was equally wary of her chances this time around, knowing her rival could come back at any time.
“She’s still very tough on the court because she can catch any ball, even some dropshots. Once you feel you're not going somewhere good, she’ll catch it and give you a hard time. You always need to be really positive on the court and you need to try very hard
“A few games I was thinking, ‘Maybe I’m hitting the ball pretty well, but I want to be a little bit safe. She can come in, smash on you.’ It's quite tough.”
Fresh from an off-season split between France and Chinese Taipei - Hsieh joked that the former’s indoor courts National Tennis Center could protect her skin from the sun - the 33-year-old began the year with by reaching the ASB Classic semifinals and all but backed up her Australian Open run, narrowly losing to eventual champion Naomi Osaka, her generational and tactical opposite.
“I love to play all the different kind of girls. Even I get killed on the court, I say, ‘It’s not my day, but she played so good.’ I learn from her skill.
“It’s always good to see more different styles of play on the tour because they give more fun. When we play against them, we feel more fun. You don't always want to play the same girl, who only do slice, or hit the big ball. It's boring for the fans, for me also!”
Set to play another former World No.1 in Karolina Pliskova to make the biggest semifinal of her career, the wily veteran won’t look too far ahead, or underestimate her chances.
“Su-Wei style: anything can happen on court.”