NEW HAVEN, CT, USA - On a day featuring a once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse it was Zhang Shuai that put together the biggest surprise when she sent the three-time New Haven champion Petra Kvitova crashing out of the Connecticut Open in the first round.
Zhang, ranked No.29 in the world, hasn’t played in New Haven since 2013 when she fell in qualifying on her only previous appearance.
But she looked right at home on Yale's Stadium Court up against the No.3 seed, needing just 67 minutes to seal the 6-2, 6-1 victory and record her second win against a Top 20 player in 2017.
“Today is a big win for me this year,” Zhang said in her post-match interview. “I really like Petra, and it was a very tough match. I’m really happy I won today and I hope it gives me good luck in US Open.
“My coach is left-handed so I think it helped for me to practice with him before the match.”
Zhang played solid, high-percentage tennis from start to finish to neutralize the big-hitting Kvitova. She sent her returns deep and with plenty of pace, giving Kvitova trouble and earning a break early in the first set for a for 4-1 lead.
Kvitova kept Zhang under pressure with her heavy groundstrokes - getting a point away from breaking back - but the Chinese player stayed solid, chipping away at the three-time champion’s defenses.
Two double faults from Kvitova give Zhang three set-points; the Czech put up monumental effort to attack at the net and get two of them back but a backhand drifted long to hand Zhang the opening set.
Despite the lopsided scoreline in the second, Kvitova kept the games close but found her efforts undone by her unforced errors. She racked up 31 in total to 14 winners, unsustainable margins against Zhang’s solid 14 winners and 17 unforced errors. The Chinese player broke twice more to seal the match after 67 minutes on court.
Besides taking out the two-time Grand Slam champion in straight sets, the victory is even more impressive for Zhang as it was her first match of the North American hard court swing. She spent most of her time post-Wimbledon in China, competing at the Jiangxi Open and later winning the silver medal at the National Games of China.
“I just arrived in New Haven last night, coming straight from China,” she said. “It’s a big change, it’s 12 hours time difference. Before the match I was still sleeping!”
Through to the second round in New Haven for the first time, Zhang is set to take on the winner of the match between Polish qualifier Magda Linette and former US Open finalist Roberta Vinci.