WTA Nanchang: Lin Zhu upsets No.1 seed Shuai Zhang

Zhu claims her first WTA semifinal after Kuala Lumpur in 2016. Qiang Wang will meet Magda Linette.

by Alessandro Mastroluca
WTA Nanchang: Lin Zhu upsets No.1 seed Shuai Zhang

Unseeded Zhu Lin hadn't beaten a top 40 opponent since 2014. She hadn't either reached a WTA semifinal since her loss to Elina Svitolina at 2016 Kuala Lumpur. In Nanchang, her waiting got to an end as she ousted top seed Zhang Shuai 7-6(3) 4-6 6-1.

In an all-Chinese top half of the draw, she will face Saisai Zheng or Fang Ying Xun. Second seed Wang Qiang continued on course to her first career WTA title at the Jiangxi Open, as she defeated compatriot Liu Fangzhou 6-3 6-0.

In the semifinals, she will face for the fourth time Magda Linette, who survived a tough battle to defeat Australian Open junior champion En Shuo Liang 6-3 4-6 6-2. Linette will bid to extend her head to head record to 4-0.

Zhu's best win-by-ranking is over No.30 Pavlyuchenkova at 2014 China Open (via ret.), but in a completed match she hadn't defeated an opponent ranked higher than No.44 Vinci at 2014 Guangzhou before this match. "I'm very happy right now.

It was a very tough match for both of us," Zhu said after the match, as the WTA reported. "We both played great and she's a great player. It's very tought to beat her and I'm so happy I did it today." Zhu struck just one less winner than her higher-ranked compatriot (33 to 34), but played much more consistently off the backhand side while Zhang was made to pay for her eight double faults and a meager 31% of second serve points won.

Unable to build from an immediate break in the first game of the second and third set, Zhang committed 50 unforced errors against the more consistent opponent, who converted six of the 12 break points she held in the match.

Zhu, who twice asked for a medical treatment in the closing stages of the match, had a clearer game plan and perfectly applied the suggestions of her Australian coach, Mike Halwaty. The Aussie had a forgettable career as a player, but he became National Coach at Tennis Australia since 2009 and had a lot of success as a hitting partner working with top players.

Even Monica Seles, at Australian Open, arrived to ask for an exclusive arrangement with him during the tournament. He asked Zhu to maintain her pressure and make Zhang move, using her flashy backhand and, when she was forced in defence, to give more shape and depth, sacrificing a bit of power.

Zhu played higher over the net from defensive positions, but her flatter strokes were much nearer to the lines and Zhang surrendered definitely in a third set that saw her uncapable to hold. After falling behind 2-0 in the opening set, Qiang Wang outclassed Fangzhou Liu to advance to her second career WTA semifinal.

In her first tour quarterfinal, Liu hit just 10 winners to 30 heavy unforced errors while Wang took less risks and finished the match having delivered 19 winners to 14 unforced errors. Magda Linette completed five breaks from six looks to claim her first semifinal in a WTA International event in over a year, since 2017 Kuala Lumpur, and outmuscle Liang who maintains a very consistent 17-4 win-loss record in three-setters this season.

"Maybe she's not experienced...but she played great. She came out and played like she belonged here already," Linette said of the first Taiwanese to win the Australian Open junior title in singles. "I already knew her because I saw she won in Australia, so I was expecting a very tough match and it was."

Lin Zhu Qiang Wang Magda Linette