HIROSHIMA, Japan - No.2 seed Hsieh Su-Wei had a long but fruitful day at the Hana-Cupid Japan Women's Open on Saturday, winning her second match of the day 6-4, 6-4 over No.4 seed Wang Qiang to reach her first final since Guangzhou 2012.
The Chinese Taipei No.1, who had earlier overcome No.5 seed Ajla Tomljanovic 4-6, 6-2, 6-0 in a quarterfinal held overfrom Friday because of rain, entered the match with a 1-3 head-to-head deficit against Wang. Indeed, since defeating the Chinese No.2 6-4, 6-3 in their first meeting - in Pattaya qualifying in 2012 - Hsieh had failed to win a set in the next three, in Taipei 2014, Hua Hin 2015 and Tokyo 2017.
However, the 32-year-old has been having one of the best years of her career in 2018, and let neither her double duty nor this poor record faze her as she came from a break down in both sets. The first set saw Hsieh's down-the-line shots working a treat in particular as she steered Wang from corner to corner, at times out-manoeuvring her opponent almost casually with her idiosyncratic, wristy style as she tallied 17 winners over the match.
Of course, no Hsieh match passes by without the World No.40 dipping into her bag of tricks. A flicked, double-fisted forehand dropshot would be wheeled out on a number of judiciously timed occasions today: having failed to serve out the first set at 5-3, Hsieh would use that shot to carve out set point for the first time in the very next game. Two points later, a Wang backhand over the baseline would put Hsieh in the driver's seat.
At a few junctures in the match, it would seem as though Wang would be able to bring her greater weight of shot to bear - but the Nanchang champion struggled to maintain consistency with her power. Having fallen behind 0-2 in the second set, Wang would put together her finest stretch of play in the match to reel off the next four games, overpowering Hsieh with aggressive shotmaking off both wings and excellent serving. The 2012 Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou champion, meanwhile, seemed to be flagging in her fifth set of the day, retreating into passive play and committing unusual errors anyway.
But Wang's hold for 4-2 would reveal some weaknesses, struggling through three deuces as the two players traded errors before finally sealing it - and despite failing to grab the break back in that game, Hsieh had regained a footing in a set that had appeared to be getting away from her.
Two games later, the Auckland and Rabat semifinalist pounced again: an exquisite forehand angle was a statement of intent, and that one-of-a-kind dropshot struck again on Hsieh's third break point to level the score at 4-4. Now, it was Wang in disarray, the 26-year-old leaking a cascade of impatient unforced errors. Serving to stay in the match, another four would take her total to 24 for the day - and seal an excellent victory for Hsieh.
Though Hsieh has had the best year of her career in terms of high-profile wins at Grand Slams, having defeated Garbiñe Muguruza and Agnieszka Radwanska at the Australian Open and Simona Halep at Wimbledon, today's result marks her first final of 2018 - and when she faces 17-year-old qualifier Amanda Anisimova tomorrow, it will be a classic battle of youth versus experience and power versus guile.