French Open: Zhang Shuai battles past Donna Vekic in marathon thriller

In a thrilling yet underrated first round match at the French Open between Zhang Shuai and Donna Vekic, the 32nd seed prevailed after very tough sets, with the Chinese required to come from 2-5 down in the first set and 2-4 (40-AD) down in the second to triumph in straight sets after a little less than two hours.

Zhang comes back from the brink

Zhang looked tipped for a strong start when she comfortably held her service game with some powerful groundstrokes, looking very fresh. Her solid and consistent forehands were troubling Vekic as the Croatian was struggling to keep up with the pace early on, with Zhang dictating play most of the time. The Chinese then had the perfect opportunity to get the early lead but failed to convert three break points and allowed Vekic to grind out the tough hold of service and get herself on board. Zhang would rue the missed opportunities as she found herself in deep trouble in the next game, falling behind 15-40 with Vekic having two break points to take the lead.

Zhang Shuai in action | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Zhang Shuai in action | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Nevertheless, the higher-ranked player proved that she could also do the same when she made a mini comeback from there, prevailing in the nervy service game after fending off both break points. Zhang was once again wasteful, throwing away break points to allow Vekic to return level on the scoreboard. The first break of serve in the match finally came our way as Vekic came up with some excellent returns at the crucial moments, with Zhang’s forehand abandoning her on break point. The Chinese’s woes continued when Vekic consolidated the break easily and she was broken once more in the sixth game, leaving the Croatian with the golden opportunity to serve out the set.

Zhang made a last-minute fightback as she finally managed to convert a break point at the most critical moment of the set, breaking straight back to find a lifeline as she saved a set point in the process. Regaining her composure, the 32nd seed held her serve with the help of some solid groundstrokes, lessening the deficit to just one single game. The comeback was complete when Zhang took advantage of a wobbly service game by Vekic, getting the second break back and returning level on the scoreboard all of a sudden.

Donna Vekic in action | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Donna Vekic in action | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

All the hard work looked to be in vain as Vekic earned a threatening 0-30 lead in the next game, but Zhang found her best tennis at the right time as she eventually prevailed in the tough service game where she had to save a break point and fend off all the pressure to do so, winning four straight games to lead 6-5. Extra motivated to close out the set, the Chinese ultimately broke serve once more and won her fifth consecutive game to clinch the first set after over one hour of play.

Zhang makes yet another comeback

Determined to make a fightback, Vekic powered herself to an early service break in the opening game of the second set as she took the early lead, looking to send the match into a deciding set. Playing some unbelievable offensive tennis, Zhang did not let the deficit grow larger as she broke back immediately, hitting some wonderful winners in the process, to return level on the scoreboard.

Zhang Shuai at a changeover in the match | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Zhang Shuai at a changeover in the match | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Despite having some incredible defensive skills, Vekic was unable to convert break points as Zhang earned a narrow service hold to take a 2-1 lead. Missing several break point chances once again, the Chinese was unable to extend her lead as Vekic narrowly held her serve. All of a sudden, Vekic played some world-class tennis as she broke serve to regain the lead, regaining the momentum. The momentum pushed her to secure the service hold and consolidate the break, opening up a 4-2 lead and placing herself in an advantageous position to close out the set.

Similar to the first set, Zhang lost a 2-1 lead and saw Vekic being just a point away from having a 5-2 lead. This time, the Chinese came up with some pinpoint tennis to fend off break points and hold her serve, lessening the deficit to just one game. Vekic would blame herself for not converting those break points as Zhang, who looks very determined and fired up, broke straight back and returned level all of a sudden with some amazing offensive style of tennis, hitting winners after winners.

Zhang Shuai celebrates the win | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe
Zhang Shuai celebrates the win | Photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images Europe

Zhang’s run continued when she found the perfect rhythm on her serve, securing a love service hold as she was just one game away from victory. Unable to handle the pressure while serving to stay in the match, Vekic eventually gave away her service game yet again as Zhang had to battle for the victory after a marathon 1 hour and 56 minutes of thrilling tennis.

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