ANNING, China - Alexandra Cadantu triumphed in a 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 epic over No.5 seed Peng Shuai in the first round of the Kunming Open, ending the home favorite's latest comeback after a gruelling two hours and 36 minutes.
Peng ended 2018 on a roll, winning the Houston 125K title, the Australian Open Asia-Pacific Wildcard Play-Off and the ITF W100 event in Dubai to boost her ranking back up to its current World No.120. But the Chinese player has been unable to take advantage this year, having been sidelined since the end of January with more health issues, and had taken a last-minute wildcard into Anning - where she was runner-up to Zhang Kai-Lin in 2016 when the tournament was an ITF W100 event - for her return to competition.
Playing her first match since losing to Dayana Yastremska in the second round of Hua Hin, Peng ultimately found the indefatigable defence of Romanian World No.235 Cadantu too much to deal with in windy conditions that frequently necessitated play to be halted as clay swirled around the court.
Cadantu, who has reached two ITF W25 semifinals and one ITF W25 final this year, responded valiantly after being overpowered in a one-sided second set. The former World No.59 nullified Peng's strikes down the line with deep, heavy topspin that pushed her opponent behind the baseline - and held firm when the home favorite mounted a late comeback to reduce a 1-4 third-set deficit to 3-4. With the match back on serve, it was Cadantu who was able to control her game better in the closing stages, sweeping the final eight points to seal the upset.
Earlier, No.6 seed and defending champion Irina Khromacheva was struck down by a viral illness that forced the Russian to retire while trailing local wildcard Yang Zhaoxuan 6-3, 3-2. World No.574 Yang, who has won four WTA Tour doubles titles, thus captured her second Top 200 win of the season, having also upset Caroline Dolehide in Charleston qualifying.
Avoiding the illness and upset bugs were last year's finalist, No.2 seed Zheng Saisai, who progressed with a 7-6(7), 6-1 win over qualifier Peangtarn Plipuech, and No.4 seed Zhu Lin, who survived a tough workout to defeat Zhang Yuxuan 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in one hour and 58 minutes. Former World No.50 Jana Cepelova was another winner on Day 1, coming through 6-4, 7-6(10) over lucky loser Miyabi Inoue to book a second-round clash against Zheng, while 20-year-old Japanese qualifier Chihiro Muramatsu overcame Amandine Hesse 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Elsewhere, 2016 champion Zhang Kai-Lin got off to a good start, beating Hiroko Kuwata 7-6(3), 6-3, and teenage wildcard Ma Shuyue continued her strong 2019 form with a 7-5, 6-1 win over compatriot Xu Shilin. The 19-year-old World No.234 has already won two ITF W25 titles this year, in Altenkirchen and Hong Kong, and today's result extended her season record to 22-8.