On the third day of the 2016 Taiwan Open, fourth seed Zarina Diyas became the highest-profile casualty, while third seed Yulia Putintseva squandered a set and 5-0 before finally getting over the finish line in three sets. Top seed Venus Williams began her quest for a 49th WTA singles title in impressive style.
Williams Continues Her Winning Ways
Fresh off leading the U.S. into the Fed Cup World Group playoffs over the weekend in Hawaii, Venus Williams was forced to travel halfway across the world overnight to the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung. Despite having to endure an arduous 18-hour trip, Williams didn’t seem to miss a beat. She easily dispatched Chinese Taipei’s Lee Pei-Chi 6-3, 6-2.
Right from the off, Williams’ power seemed to overwhelm Lee, who just couldn’t find any answers in the first three games. That led to an early break for the American. Despite a late fightback from the Taiwanese wildcard, that early break proved decisive as the rest of the set went with serve. Ultimately, Williams converted her second set point to successfully serve out the opening set 6-3.
Early in the second set, things began to get interesting as Lee held her own against the seven-time Grand Slam champion. She used her deceptively effective two-handed forehand and backhand to maneuver Williams from side to side. However, after the first four games went with serve, it was the world number 529 who cracked first. That handed Williams the first break since the second game of the match. Leading 3-2, Williams put her foot on the accelerator, consolidating the break despite a few uncharacteristic miscues. She would find herself up a double break, thus getting a chance to serve out the win. The world number 12 only needed one chance to serve out the match, doing so at-love to seal a comprehensive 6-3, 6-2 victory.
Despite not playing the cleanest of matches, Williams was incredibly efficient. With a solid 59% first serve percentage, the former world number one won 82% of the points behind her first delivery, 60% of the points behind her second, and saved both break points she faced. From the receiving end, the American struggled to make inroads into Lee’s service games. When she did, she made no mistake as she broke three times and never really let her Taiwanese counterpart feel that she had the edge in any of her service games.
Putintseva Regroups from Disastrous Collapse, Wins Final Set in Fine Style
On Court 2, third seed Yulia Putintseva survived an early scare against Japanese qualifier Miyu Kato. After winning a titanic opening set, the Kazakh looked to be on her way to a routine straight sets victory. However, after going up 5-0, Putintseva’s game seemed to go awry. When given the chance to close out the match, the fourth seed faltered, squandering a break point as Kato put up some late-match resistance. Unable to recover, Putintseva paid the price as she would go on to lose seven games in a row as Kato began to grow in confidence with every game she won. That forced this match to go to a decider. Ironically, the Kazakh number one went up 5-0 in the decider within a matter of minutes and was on a 20-point winning streak at one point in the set. This time, she did not falter nor did she relinquish any control, finally closing out the spectacle, 6-4, 5-7, 6-0 in two hours and ten minutes.
In a match that had just about everything, Putintseva just seemed to have the edge in every category. Despite winning only 38% of her second serve points, the third seed maintained a solid 83% first serve percentage. She won 59% of the points once she landed her first delivery. In addition, the 21-year-old broke serve an astounding nine times, while her Japanese counterpart only broke six times and won just 50% of her first serve points.
Kulichkova Upsets Diyas
Earlier in the day, WTA Rising Star Elizaveta Kulichkova withstood a barrage of 12 aces to record the first big casualty of the tournament. She dispatched fourth seed Zarina Diyas 7-5, 0-6, 6-4 in five minutes shy of the two hour mark. Kulichkova, a former world-class junior who has struggled to maintain consistency week in and week out, proved what she is capable of as she clinched a decisive break late in the opening set. She would successfully serve out the set, taking it 7-5.
However, Diyas, who has jumped more than 100 spots in the rankings in a span of two years, hit back in emphatic style. Using her flat ground strokes and well-placed serves, Diyas restored parity at one-set-apiece as she took the second set in just under half an hour.
In the topsy-turvy final set, a quintuplet of holds and breaks were exchanged before the Kazakh looked to be pulling away with the match. She converted her fifth break point to open up a sizeable 4-2 lead. However, Kulichkova broke straight back. With the tension rising, Diyas earned herself another break point in the game that followed suit, but the Russian hung tough. She saved that break point and another one that came just points later to hold for 4-all. Now with the momentum firmly with Kulichkova, the Russian broke at love and proceeded to serve out the match to complete the upset.
Despite being outclassed by Diyas in nearly every statistical department, Kulichkova won the majority of the big points in this match. It proves that contrary to popular belief, one doesn’t always need to win more points than your opponent to win a tennis match.
Nara, Sevastova, Linette Also Winners on Day Three
Other winners on day three included seventh seed Kurumi Nara, Magda Linette and Anastasija Sevastova. All faced a number of challenges in their respective encounters.
Nara survived a second set scare on Wednesday against Chinese qualifier Zhang Yuxuan, who was looking to impose her aggressive game on the Japanese woman. However, it was a case of experience trumping youth this time around as Nara clinched a decisive break in the eighth game. She would then serve out the match with relative ease, winning it 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and ten minutes.
Linette faced the same challenge as Venus Williams, having played the American in Fed Cup action over the weekend. They wound up taking the same plane from Hawaii to Kaohsiung in order to play in the first round on Wednesday. Despite the 18-hour time difference, Linette didn’t seem to be hampered by any fatigue, battling past China’s Wang Yafan 7-5, 7-5 in 94 minutes.
In what was arguably the match of the day, Anastasija Sevastova battled for more than two hours and seven minutes before dispatching WTA Rising Star Donna Vekic 7-5, 2-6, 7-5. After splitting sets, Vekic quickly mounted a 4-0 lead in the decider. Her more experienced Latvian counterpart fought back though, winning seven of the next eight games to complete the extraordinary comeback.
Chan Sisters Advance in Doubles
In doubles action, Chinese Taipei’s very own Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan and Hsu Ching-Wen and Lee Ya-Hsuan were both victorious, as were China’s Liang Chen and Wang Yafan. The top seeded Chans defeated Xu Yi-Fan and Zarina Diyas 6-1, 7-6(5), while Hsu and Lee defeated Kristyna Pliskova and Stefanie Voegele 6-3, 6-1. Liang and Wang defeated another Taiwanese pairing in Chang Kai-Chen and Chuang Chia-Jung 7-6(7), 7-5.
A Look at Thursday’s Schedule
On Thursday, fifth seed Zheng Saisai will open proceedings on Centre Court at 11 AM local time, when she plays Stefanie Voegele, That will be followed by top seed Venus Williams and Urszula Radwanska and then sixth seed and Chinese Taipei’s very own Hsieh Su-Wei who will play Mandy Minella to round off the day.
On Court 2, Kristina Kucova and Anastasija Sevastova will face Lyudmyla and Nadiia Kichenok at 11 AM, followed by second seed Misaki Doi’s match with Magda Linette. Liang Chen and Wang Yafan will round off the action against Eri Hozumi and Miyu Kato.