BEIJING, China -- In an intriguing matchup between two of the most successful players during the Asian swing, Chinese No.1 Wang Qiang thrilled her home country fans with a 7-5, 7-5 victory over last week’s Wuhan champion Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in the quarterfinals of the China Open on Friday.
"It really helps me to believe in myself when there are difficulties," Wang said in her post-match press conference. "I don't know where this confidence comes from. I can't really explain the source of confidence. But I trust myself on court. When I'm up or down, I trust myself to be able to overcome the situation."
World No.28 Wang, who picked up her first two WTA singles titles in Nanchang and Guangzhou this year and reached the semifinals in Wuhan a week ago, has now won 16 of her last 18 matches on home soil after her one-hour and 45-minute victory over World No.16 Sabalenka. Wang converted four of her six break points and had only 12 unforced errors in the match.
Meanwhile, Sabalenka saw her eight-match winning streak come to an end at the hands of Wang, just five days removed from claiming the biggest title of her career at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open. The rapidly-rising Belarusian started the clash hot, winning the first three games, before fading down the stretch, ultimately firing 45 unforced errors.
On Saturday, 26-year-old Wang will face World No.2 Caroline Wozniacki in the Beijing semifinals, after the Dane cruised past Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic earlier on Friday. Wang claimed the first Top 10 win of her career over Wozniacki in Kuala Lumpur five years ago, but Wozniacki has won their three subsequent meetings, including in the first round of last year's China Open.
"[Wozniacki] can run, she's a good baseliner," said Wang. "I think we have very similar styles. It will be a very tough match. She will never lose a point easily, so I have to do my best to fight for each point. I'm very proud of myself. Whatever happens in the next round, I will do my best."
The match began with Sabalenka surviving a tricky first service game before easing into a barrage of winners from every section of the court, breaking for 2-0 behind multiple forehand winners and holding at love for 3-0 with more lasers from that wing.
"When [Sabalenka] was leading 3-0, I was like, 'Wow, that's impressive,'" Wang admitted. "She's incredible. Every shot full of power. She can just kill you if I play with less quality. At the very beginning, I really didn't know what to do."
However, after an uplifting conference with coach Peter McNamara, Wang came back to court with renewed confidence, and after her first hold for 3-1, got back on serve at 3-2 with a scintillating backhand pass on her first break point of the tilt.
After exchanging breaks in the next two games, Wang and Sabalenka continued to jockey for the lead during the set, with the top-ranked Chinese player increasing the depth on her groundstrokes to compete with the brute force, but increasing error count, by the Belarusian.
Wang’s persistence paid off at 5-5 when she opened the game with a tremendous crosscourt forehand winner, and allowed Sabalenka to devolve into errors from there as the Chinese player obtained a crucial break. Holding a set point in the next game, a missed call denied Wang an ace, but she ended up blasting a service winner on the replayed point to clinch the one-set lead.
The players maintained their fine form as the second set got underway, with Sabalenka and Wang both polishing off their respective opening service games with aces. Wang continued to excel at defense and groundstroke depth while Sabalenka blasted power shots with ease en route to a 3-3 deadlock.
A strong Sabalenka backhand warded off the first break point of the set, and she eventually held for 4-3, while Wang fended off a break point in the following game, crushing unexpectedly big serves for winners as she held on for 4-4.
After surviving a tough game to hold for 5-5, Wang got her chance to take control in the next game, dragging Sabalenka to deuce and then watching as the Belarusian slapped back-to-back forehand errors to hand over the crucial break.
With Wang serving for the match at 6-5, a backhand winner by Sabalenka gave her one last break point, bringing up hope that she could pull off a come-from-behind victory reminiscent of her third-round win over defending champion Caroline Garcia. But a backhand down-the-line winner by Wang dramatically erased that chance, and two points later, Wang claimed victory.