Top seed Shuai Zhang advances at 24th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge


Second seed Saisai Zheng and fifth seed Ana Bogdan among early departures on second day

The Chinese presence was halved as two more seeded players exited on the second day of the 24th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, on Tuesday.

After 2019 runner-up Daria Snigur had caused a big upset with a hard-fought win in three sets over third-seeded Xinyu Wang on Monday, Saisai Zheng was the second Chinese to fall as she caved in to Bulgarian qualifier Isabella Shinikova 6-2, 7-6 (9).

China had four players in the main draw, including the top three seeds and unseeded Qinwen Zheng. On Tuesday, Xinyu Wang’s compatriot Saisai Zheng followed as she came up short against qualifier Shinikova while losing in straight sets against the lanky 30-year-old from Bulgaria.

“It’s been tough for me for sure. First, I had two tough matches in qualifying and today I had to do something special against a top player,” Shinikova said after her match.

“I knew I would have to push myself and make myself proud out there against a quality player who was also the second seed. The main thing was to just keep pushing with the hope that my patience would pay off,” she added.

Fifth seed Ana Bogdan, a former champion and one of the favourites here this week, was the second seed to depart after she buckled 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0 against Aleksandra Krunic.

However, top-seeded Shuai Zhang kept off a late charge from India’s Ankita Raina before advancing 6-1, 7-6 (6) to a second-round meeting against another Chinese, Qinwen Zheng. Zhang eased her way through the opening set, but then suddenly had to contend against an Indian opponent who kept on varying her game to good effect.

Down 3-4 in the second set tie-breaker, Zhang kept her poise and reeled off the next four points to advance against Zheng, an easy 6-1, 7-5 winner against qualifier Naiktha Bains.

“It was a good match against an opponent who tried everything to win. I got a good start in the first set, and after that, I had to just stick to the plan and go with the momentum,” she said.

“It’s never going to be easy in such a tournament where every player is here to win. I would rather have a tough opening round match so that I can keep improving as the tournament progresses. Honestly, it’s going to be match by match for me now onwards, and I think I can only get better,” the top-seeded Zhang related.

Her opponent Zheng was looking forward to a first-ever meeting against the world No. 63. “It’s going to be an interesting match against a fellow Chinese tomorrow. This is the first time we will be playing each other, and I know that I need to go out there and take it one point at a time,” Zheng stated.

In another match, Ilona Georgiana Ghioroaie had to make her way past Indonesia’s Aldila Sutjiadi 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 in a battle of two qualifiers.

Results (Round One of main draw of 24th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge at Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa, on Tuesday) Julia Grabher bt Andreea Mitu 6-3, 6-0; Yuliya Hatouka bt Kateryna Bondarenko 6-2, 7-6 (6); Mayo Hibi bt Oksana Selekhmeteva 4-6, 6-4, 6-4; Vitalia Diatchenko bt Natalia Vikhlyantseva 6-3, 2-6, 6-3; Shuai Zhang bt Ankita Raina 6-1, 7-6 (6); Isabella Shinikova bt Saisai Zheng 6-2, 7-6 (9); Qinwen Zheng bt Naiktha Bains 6-1, 7-5; Aleksandra Krunic bt Ana Bogdan 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-0; Ilona Georgiana Ghioroaie bt Aldila Sutjiadi 2-6, 6-2, 6-3; Kristina Kucova bt Weronika Falkowska 6-1, 6-2.

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