On a great opening day for China at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, Zheng Saisai recorded the upset of the day in women’s singles, stunning world number three Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 7-5 in her Olympic début to secure a spot in the second round, where she will meet Russia’s Daria Kasatkina.
Zheng Surprises Radwanska, Claims Decisive Break En Route to Claiming Opening Set
What appeared to be a mismatch on paper was anything but, as both players were evenly matched early on, making for some entertaining shotmaking during long, drawn-out exchanges from the back of the court. But after the first six games of the match went with serve, it was surprisingly Zheng who made the first move, claiming a crucial break in game seven to take a 4-3 lead, before out-duelling Radwanska in numerous cat-and-mouse rallies to consolidate the break in impressive style.
The fourth-seeded Pole did what she could to keep herself alive, however, it was the varietal prowess of Zheng that saw China’s number one serve out the opener in emphatic style; the 22-year-old successfully chasing down and countering a drop shot with a glorious backhand slice winner, sealing it 6-4 in 48 minutes.
Zheng Claims Her Second-Biggest Scalp of the Season
After an exchange of breaks to begin the second set, it was Zheng’s persistence that was the first to be rewarded with her first break points of the set. Off a weak second serve on her first break point, the Chinese stuck to her guns, hitting a lights-out down-the-line backhand return to claim the break and with it, a set and 2-1 lead. Much to her dismay, everything seemed to be going wrong for Radwanska, who uncharacteristically smashed her racquet beyond repair after getting broken, subsequently getting a code violation in the process.
Despite facing multiple break points that put her in danger of surrendering the early break, Zheng remained calm under pressure, saving all of them before consolidating and establishing a two-game cushion. In danger of going out in the first round of the Olympics for the second edition in a row, Radwanska raised her level, holding to stay in touch while trailing by just the single break. This pattern continued until the tenth game when Zheng, within three points of victory, crumbled under the pressure on her own serve.
As Radwanska’s experience was slowly beginning to tell, the Chinese admittedly tightened up, as a nervous-looking Zheng was unable to fend off the onslaught of the world number three, sending a backhand passing shot into the tramlines on the Pole’s second break point to hand the break back, and subsequently draw level at five-games-apiece. While some may have thought this would be the start of another classic Radwanska comeback, Zheng had other ideas. Suddenly, she sprang to life, saving a pair of game points before earning yet another break point—this time securing it with her another wonderfully constructed point to give herself another opportunity to serve it out at 6-5.
This time, however, the 22-year-old made no mistake. Setting up two match points with a stunning backhand passing shot that left Radwanska stranded, Zheng was on the cusp of another major scalp, having ousted world number two Angelique Kerber in Doha earlier this year. After failing to capitalize on the first of those opportunities, the 22-year-old bravely came forward and utilized her beautiful hands to perfection, hitting a forehand drop volley winner to seal the victory in an hour and 39 minutes.
Zheng to Face Kasatkina Next
In the second round, Zheng will meet Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, who was a three-set winner later in the day, coming from a set and a break down to defeat Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur. The pair has met once before, with the Russian coming out on top at the loss of just three games earlier this year on the green clay of the Family Circle Cup in Charleston.