Zheng continues ascent up WTA rankings

POWERFUL Chinese young gun Qinwen Zheng remains one of the shining lights on Tour, backing up a promising start to 2023 to reach the quarter finals of the Abu Dhabi Open. Following the conclusion of the Australian Open – where Zheng had a shock loss to American Bernarda Pera as 29th seed – the Chinese 20-year-old has regained form in the WTA 500 event in the United Arab Emirates.

After taking care of Canadian Rebecca Marino in the opening round, Zheng stepped up to face fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko. The Latvian was red hot following a hard-fought victory over 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, but the world number 29 was willing to match her for power. In an epic first set, Zheng served five aces for double faults to Ostapenko’s one for six as the set went to 12-10 in the tiebreaker before Zheng held her nerve to clutch it.

That result broke the camel’s back in many respects for Ostapenko, as Zheng maintained her level with an 87 per cent success rate (13 of 15 points) off her first serve, while producing another five aces. On the other end of the court, Ostapenko struggled, winning just 56 per cent of her first serve points and serving no aces and two double faults, as she was broken twice en route to a one-sided set. In the end, Zheng won 7-6 6-1 to book her place in the quarter finals.

“I just play in the moment and focus on my game,” Zheng said. “Even if I’d lost the first set, there were still two more sets to go — so whatever happened, I’d fight to the end.”

After producing 28 winners to Ostapenko’s 20 and committing three less unforced errors (22-25), Zheng will move into the final eight up against either top seed Daria Kasatkina or Swiss talent Jil Teichmann.

Across the Abu Dhabi courts, second seed Belinda Bencic made her way into the quarter finals with a win over tricky and talented Ukrainian wildcard Marta Kostyuk, 6-4 7-5. She will now face American Shelby Rogers in the quarter finals after Rogers came from behind to defeat an injured Anett Kontaveit. The Estonian seventh seed was forced to retire trailing 1-4 in the third set after winning the first set in the match.

Fourth seed Russian Veronika Kudermetova is also into the last eight, taking care of Belgian Elise Mertens. She will take on either compatriot and eighth seed Liudmila Samsonova, or former world number two Barbora Krejcikova. Brazilian sixth seed Beatriz Haddad Maia takes on Kazakhstan qualifier Yulia Putintseva in another Round of 16 match, with Australian Open champion and third seed Elena Rybakina locking horns with Czech Karolina Pliskova.

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