PARIS, France -- Wang Qiang of China notched the first major upset of the 2018 French Open, with a 6-4, 7-5 victory over No.9 seed and 2002 finalist Venus Williams of the United States on Sunday.
The former Top 50 player who currently sits at World No.85 had lost to Williams in the first round in Paris last year, as well as in the second round of Wimbledon one month later. But Wang reversed those results to claim the second Top 10 win of her career after one hour and 40 minutes of play.
The 26-year-old Chinese player played a clean match with a sterling combination of potent aggression and exceptional footspeed. Wang had 19 winners in the match to only 14 unforced errors, while the 28 winners from the racquet of Williams were negated by 35 miscues.
Williams was complimentary to her frequent Grand Slam opponent after the match. "I think [Wang] just played well," said the former World No.1. "I mean, all the times we've played, she's played great. I think her game just got better and better during the match."
Wang will now face Croatia’s Petra Martic in the second round. Martic, who reached the fourth round of Roland Garros last year and sits just outside of the seedings this year at World No.35, dispatched another Chinese player, Wang Yafan, 6-2, 6-3, earlier on Sunday.
It became apparent from the first game of the match that this would be a hard-fought, closely contested affair. In a 12-minute game, Williams saved five break points before Wang converted her sixth chance to take the very early lead. But any momentum Wang could have taken from that fight quickly dissipated when Williams immediately broke back for 1-1.
The combatants held serve straight through to 4-4, with only one break point, against Williams, seen in that stretch. But in that 4-4 game, Williams hit some untimely groundstroke errors, and double faulted while down double break point to hand Wang a 5-4 advantage.
The Chinese player refused to succumb to any pressure while serving for the set, and reached double set point after a long backhand error from Williams. Wang then worked over the Williams backhand for multiple shots in a row before slamming a backhand to the opposite side of the court to force a forehand error and clinch the opening frame.
Williams had come back from a set down against Wang at Wimbledon last year, and the American steeled herself at the outset of the second set, using powerful serving to advance to a 3-0 start. But Wang refused to give up her hard-earned lead so easily, and got back on serve at 3-2 after Williams hit a forehand error into the net while down break point.
Serving at 4-4, Williams saved a break point by ending a stunning rally with a crosscourt backhand winner, and after another backhand winner to hold for 5-4, Wang had to serve to stay in the set while knowing she might have missed a golden opportunity.
But Wang did hold for 5-5, and she amped up the power on her forehand in the following game, punching that shot through the court to force more mistakes from Williams and reach double break point. Williams won only 30 percent of points on her second serve in the set, so she needed that shot to be pristine at this juncture, but the American double faulted, giving Wang a chance to serve out the match.
On Wang’s serve at 6-5, Williams used two solid forehands to pull the game from 30-0 to 30-30, but a nifty backhand by Wang forced a resultant backhand error from Williams, bringing up match point. There, a rally forehand by Williams went into the net, giving Wang what she will likely consider her most famous match victory.
Meanwhile, Williams is still looking forward to doubles with her sister Serena. "We haven't played in forever," said the WTA superstar. "So I'm hoping that we'll get out there and kind of just start where we left off."