Peng Shuai has been one of the season’s most consistent players, producing impressive results to allow her to jump back into the Top 30, improving by 50 spots as compared to her ranking at the start of the year. With the hard court season arriving upon us soon, the Chinese could use it as a springboard to create some upsets on her favourite surface, improving on her ranking especially at her home tournaments in China.
Peng Shuai owns a 26-15 win-loss record this year, her best since 2011. It is an encouraging statistic for the Chinese especially after returning from a career-threatening back injury which hindered her at the peak of her career, happening just after she reached her first ever Grand Slam semifinal at the 2014 US Open.
Peng managed to reach her second WTA final in as many years as she stormed her way to the final of the Taiwan Open as an unseeded player, defeating multiple former Top 10 players along the way. This amazing run managed to bring her into the Top 60 of the rankings for the first time since 2015 and labelled the Chinese as one of the most dangerous floaters in any draw.
The BNP Paribas Open was yet another successful tournament for the Chinese reached the fourth round before falling to the legendary Venus Williams in three sets despite winning the first set, just falling short of reaching her second ever quarterfinal in Indian Wells.
Peng also reached the semifinal of the Internationaux de Strasbourg, defeating two home crowd favourites Amandine Hesse and Alize Cornet in the process, with the 2016 French Open quarterfinalist Shelby Rogers also being a victim of the Chinese’s inspired play in the tournament.
In her home country, Peng managed to reach the final at the WTA 125k series event held in Zhengzhou as the top seed without losing a set, but she was forced to retire in the final against compatriot Wang Qiang despite winning the first set.
The start of the year did not go well for Peng as she lost in the first round of her opening event of the year at the Shenzhen Open, losing to the eventual surprise winner Katerina Siniakova in straight sets. Nevertheless, despite going into the Australian Open without a win, the Chinese managed to find her best tennis there.
The transition from hard courts to clay courts was a tough period for Peng, who struggled to get her game ongoing. Taking a lengthy rest after her retirement in the final of the WTA 125k event in Zhengzhou, Peng played her first match on clay this year one month later at the Mutua Madrid Open, falling to the experienced Carla Suarez Navarro in three tough sets having served for the match in the final set. Further disappointment followed as the Chinese lost in the opening rounds of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia to Mona Barthel and Roland Garros to Sorana Cirstea, thus failing to capitalize on the golden opportunity to rise in the rankings.
Peng Shuai impressively defeated the 23rd seed Daria Kasatkina, who was poised for a deep run, in the first round of the Australian Open to clinch her first win of the year. As the huge underdog in the match, the Chinese served a bagel in the first set before prevailing in a tight second set to seal the upset and a spot in the second round.
The Chinese continued her run of good results at the Taiwan Open held in Taipei City, defeating quality opponents like Katerina Siniakova, Lucie Safarova and Samantha Stosur in her path to the final. A statistic worth noting is that Peng overcame a 0-6 head-to-head record against the Australian and went against the odds to triumph over the former Grand Slam champion for the first time in her career. Despite falling to Elina Svitolina in the final, it was a great tournament for the Chinese.
The best win for Peng this year in terms of rankings came against Agnieszka Radwanska at the BNP Paribas Open, triumphing in straight sets against the struggling Pole, who was out of form throughout the first half of the year. Receiving a wildcard into the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, the Chinese made good use of her opportunity and whitewashed Lesia Tsurenko before upsetting 20th-ranked Barbora Strycova in straight sets.
Peng’s worst defeat this year arguably came in the hands of Magda Linette at the Malaysian Open. Against the Pole who is ranked exactly 50 places lower at that point of time, the Chinese’s loss was a huge shock especially after considering that Peng was the huge favourite to clinch the title in that week.
Peng’s poor luck proved to be costly as she was often given tough draws, falling to higher-ranked players for a total of 10 times this year, taking up 67 percent of all her losses in 2017.
Peng has a fair amount of points to defend through the rest of the year, including a title at the Tianjin Open. It was only until 2016 when the Chinese finally managed to break the duck and clinch her first ever career WTA singles title in Tianjin, which was a special achievement especially since Tianjin is her hometown. Peng also reached the semifinals of the ITF 100k tournament in Tokyo last year, before clinching the title at the Shenzhen 100k tournament to secure a perfect ending to her comeback season.
Peng Shuai originally was the permanent partner of Andrea Hlavackova for the whole of 2017, and they had an amazing run after winning their first tournament together in Shenzhen before reaching the final at the Australian Open. Then, they reached their third final together at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, and another semifinal appearance at the Miami Open brought them to the top of the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard at one point of time. However, due to Peng’s wishes to focus on singles competition, they have decided to call a halt to their partnership in the midst of the season despite being ranked third on the Porsche Race to Singapore leaderboard.
Midseason grade: B-
Peng Shuai managed to put in some consistent performances throughout the first half of the year, and successfully secured her return to the Top 30 after some impressive results. If she were to be able to keep up her high quality of play through the rest of the year, a seeding at a Grand Slam would soon arrive for the Chinese.