TIANJIN, China - The unseeded Wang Yafan dealt out the biggest upset of the Tianjin Open so far, eliminating No.4 seed and defending champion Caroline Garcia 6-4, 6-2 in one hour and 20 minutes to move into her sixth quarterfinal of the season.
The Chinese No.4's only previous clash with fellow 25-year-old Garcia had been a heartbreaker at home: a three-hour, four-minute marathon 7-6(10), 6-7(4), 6-3 loss in the first round of Beijing in 2018. Just over one year later, though, Wang squeezed through a tight first set before peaking in a brilliant second set to gain her revenge.
"In the first set I had a little bit of pressure," said Wang afterwards. "But after that I felt relaxed and played better."
There was little to choose between either player for the bulk of a narrowly contested opening act in which both players were constantly seeking to open up high-octane baseline rallies. Each had to overturn a 0-40 deficit in their first service game, but rose to the challenge successfully - and once the initial danger had been navigated, settled into a groove on serve that saw the next eight games pass without the hint of a break point.
With both Garcia and Wang playing implacable power tennis, each would need to switch up their attack to find a way through - and it was the Acapulco champion, currently sitting at a career high of World No.47, who found the answer with a marvellously angled volley to get a foothold in the ninth game. Garcia responded with a flurry of unforced errors, and Wang wasted no time in seizing the set by hammering down three unreturnable serves.
The Shenzhen and Seoul semifinalist went from strength to strength in a masterclass of a second set. A backhand pickup half-volley showcased her remarkable reflexes as well as increasing confidence in the forecourt en route to an immediate break; a forehand pass at full stretch stymied Garcia's attempt to take the net first.
Inexplicably, that highlights-reel winner would be followed by four unforced errors as Wang conceded her serve for the only time in the match - but this would prove but a momentary blip as the home player resumed hitting winners for fun. Going toe-to-toe with everything Garcia threw at her, Wang was able to come out on top of a series of extended rallies with bolder shotmaking: a crosscourt backhand to wrongfoot the Frenchwoman and hold for 3-1, a flicked backhand counterdrop en route to her fourth consecutive break and a 4-1 lead.
Garcia, by contrast, was visibly out of ideas as to how to halt the Wang juggernaut by this point. The former World No.4 alternately delivered wild, impatient shots that missed their targets by several metres - and tentative, uncertain ones that squandered the rare points that she dominated as her unforced error count rose to 29.
The Nottingham champion would manage to fend off one match point on her own serve, but the reprieve was brief: Wang would blitz three forehand winners, taking her tally to 17 for the day, and finish with her fourth ace in a textbook example of how to best serve out a match.
Up next for the crowd favorite will be Nanchang champion Rebecca Peterson, who advanced when 18-year-old lucky loser Wang Xinyu retired trailing 7-5, 3-2 due to a lower back injury.