WUHAN, China - China's No.1 Wang Qiang has made history on home soil. The 26-year-old from Tianjin became the first Chinese woman to advance to the quarterfinals of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, following up the biggest win of her career over No.7 Karolina Pliskova in the second round with a 7-5, 6-2 win over Daria Gavrilova in the Round of 16.
"When I was very little, I trained in Wuhan," Wang told reporters. "I always felt that coming to Wuhan is like coming back home because I have grown up here. Every year I competed in Wuhan in the ITF circuit or WTA events.
"I'm really happy in Wuhan, in a Premier 5 event, that I can do so well. I will try to do better to provide a better performance for the audience."
Wang's run to the quarterfinals continues what has been a five-month stretch of breakthroughs. She earned her first Top 10 win since 2016 over Venus Williams in the first round of the French Open en route to her first third-round appearance at a major.
"In terms of technique, in the past year I think I've been doing quite similar, but I'm really more confident [now]," Wang said. "I believe in myself. That's the most important element."
Wang continued to roll after Wimbledon, posting an impressive 19-4 record since. Thriving in Asia, Wang went on to win her first WTA title in Nanchang, won a gold medal for China at the Asian Games, before winning her second title of the season last week in Guangzhou. Already sitting at a career-high ranking at No.34, Wang's success this week will push her even higher.
"[My coach] is really happy, especially in the second half of this year, that I can do this well with great performances," Wang said. "Well, first half of this year I wasn't doing really well, and he was looking at next year.
"But he is very surprised that I'm doing well in the second half."
Wang has now won 13 consecutive matches on home soil, posting a 13-1 record this season in China. She has played three tournaments in China - Shenzhen, Nanchang, and Guangzhou - and has won two of them. She clearly enjoys the home cooking.
"I'm really happy to be competing in China, getting a lot of support from fans. Also I love Chinese food, this is really important to me," Wang said with a laugh.
"Being in the Asian Games, I felt more pressure because I'm competing for the country. I have to do my best for each point. I'm not representing myself only, I'm representing the government, my country.
"But here I feel more at ease. I can be more like myself."
"A big thank you to all the fans, especially after the mid-autumn festival. They're working during the day, but they're coming here for the matches. Even when I'm low, they are always supporting me. I think this is why I'm here, this is what is motivating me in my career."
Wang's success has grabbed the headlines in China, but overall it has been an impressive showcase for the Chinese players this week in Wuhan, which is also the hometown of China's legendary star Li Na. No.46 Zhang Shuai, who Wang supplanted as China's top-ranked player, also advanced to the Round of 16 before bowing out in three sets to Anett Kontaveit.
The future looks bright for Chinese tennis in the post-Li Na era. On Tuesday, 17-year-old Wang Xiyu, who won the girls' title at the US Open just two weeks ago, nearly knocked out a Top 20 player in just the sixth main draw WTA match of her nascent career. Wang Xiyu held match points against No.13 Daria Kasatkina before losing 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(8) in the second round.
Asked about Li Na, Wang Qiang minced no words in praise of the two-time major champion.
"After the emergence of Li Na, I think we are on the rise," Wang said. "You see young players. At this level of tournament, we see great performances. We have many opportunities to win matches. I think in the near future, in international tournaments, we'll see more Chinese players.
"She is the goal. She's a role model for many athletes, especially Chinese players."
"If I can play as well as she did, I will have a very perfect life."