NANCHANG, China -- No.1 seed Zhang Shuai started her campaign for a Jiangxi Open title in her home country with a straight-set victory over 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki of Germany, 7-6(0), 6-3.
The top-ranked Chinese player accepted a wild card into the tournament in hopes of clinching her third WTA singles title, and at the very least, her opening round went according to plan, as she survived a challenging match against a heralded opponent after one hour and 44 minutes of play.
Zhang, who won both of her previous titles in Guangzhou, China, in 2013 and 2017 respectively, extended her head-to-head against Lisicki to 2-0, thanks to four breaks of Lisicki's serve. Lisicki had 38 winners in the encounter, much more than Zhang's 10, but the German also fired a whopping 50 unforced errors, significantly more than Zhang's 16 miscues.
"The players will encounter ups and downs," Zhang said, after the match. "We do not have time to think [about] our success and failure. Now or never."
World No.32 Zhang will face Russia's Margarita Gasparyan in the second round. The Russian, who is into the field on a protected ranking, dispatched China's Xu Shilin, 6-1, 6-4, in the opening round.
Zhang was pushed early by Lisicki, as the top seed had to save a break point in her opening service game. The Chinese star claimed the first break for 3-1, but had to fend off four break points held by Lisicki before consolidating for a 4-1 lead.
Lisicki continued to stay with Zhang, and got her chance at 5-3, when a backhand error by Zhang gave the German a break point. Lisicki took advantage, blasting a service return winner crosscourt to get back on serve. A love hold for 5-5 put her squarely back in the match.
Zhang had an opportunity to close out the set prior to the tiebreak, holding a set point on Lisicki’s serve at 6-5 before Lisicki erased it by forcing an error with a huge forehand. But once the players reached the tiebreak, it was all Zhang, as Lisicki quickly fell behind due to errors, and then struggled on return. Zhang raced through the breaker without the loss of a point, to claim the one-set lead.
Lisicki seemed to turn the momentum around early in the second set, as she fended off four break points in her opening service game, and then broke Zhang for 2-0 after the Chinese player squandered two game points with double faults. After Lisicki held for 3-0, a third set felt imminent.
But Zhang staved off two break points in the next game, avoiding an 0-4 deficit, and from there, the Chinese star raced through the remainder of the match. The unforced errors started to pile up for Lisicki, and before she knew it, Zhang had broken twice to lead 4-3.
Zhang survived another tough service game to hold for 5-3, staving off another break point after a forehand unforced error by Lisicki. Serving to stay in the match, Lisicki reached 30-30, but ended the next two points with errors to allow the top seed safe passage into the second round in her homeland, after winning six consecutive games to end the tilt.
Another hard-fought match ended in disappointment, as Thai qualifier Peangtarn Plipuech advanced to the second round after No.5 seed Vitalia Diatchenko retired due to injury while trailing 4-6, 6-4, 3-1, after just over two hours of play.
Plipuech took a commanding 4-0 lead at the outset after a flurry of unforced errors by the Russian. But Diatchenko's powerful forehand finally started to click at that juncture, and she powered through the Thai's stellar defense to reel off six straight games to take the opening set. However, Diatchenko was already struggling at this point, covering herself in ice packs during multiple medical time-outs.
In the second set, Plipuech stated her case for the victory, running down even more of the Russian’s flat shots and extending points to the best of her ability. This tactic paid dividends in a crucial 4-4 game, gaining the pivotal break for 5-4 after a netted backhand miscue by Diatchenko. The Thai swiftly served out the set in the next game, tying the match.
Diatchenko did well to hold in a difficult first service game in the deciding set, closing for a 1-0 lead with two straight bakchand winners. But the Russian could not take advantage of two break points in the next game, and Plipuech broke at love to lead 2-1, after Diatchenko double faulted to end that game. Two games later, an inconsolable Diatchenko called it quits.
Plipuech will face fellow qualifier Liang En-shuo of Chinese Taipei in the second round, after Liang beat Chinese wild card Zheng Wushuang in the opening round, 6-3, 6-3. Liang is the reigning Australian Open junior champion in singles and doubles, but Plipuech says she has "nothing to lose" in the next match. "I just try my best to do what I want," the Thai player continued.