For the first time since 2015, the doubles adopted the round-robin format at the year-ending prestigious WTA Finals Shenzhen. The competition kickstarted in some style, with the Wimbledon champions Hsieh Su-wei and Barbora Strycova earning a thrilling late-night victory over Australian Open champions Samantha Stosur and Zhang Shuai, the local favourite here in Shenzhen.
Despite winning fewer points throughout the match, Hsieh and Strycova brought out their best tennis when it mattered, clinching the victory in a match tiebreak after an hour and 28 minutes of action. With their aggressive play and fantastic net skills, the Taiwanese-Czech pairing hit 22 winners which came with a heavy price of 25 unforced errors.
Stosur and Zhang had a poor year outside of their Melbourne triumph, but it was still enough to book them a ticket to the finals. Determined to prove themselves with a win in their debut, the pair put up an inspired performance and played a clean match with 17 winners to 12 unforced errors overall. Even though they lost the match, the set they won could be crucial in this format.
Hsieh and Strycova back to winning ways
The second seeds came into the tournament on a disappointing three-match losing streak, and it looked like they were in danger of being upset in their first match at the WTA Finals together. Strycova was forced to send in a good serve to grab the deciding point in the first game, and erased the sole break point deficit that they would face in the entire set.
Stosur and Zhang, with their solid baseline game, had to survive multiple tricky service games as they clinched two deciding points but faltered under the pressure when they were serving to stay in the first set. A fantastic interception from Strycova at the net helped them convert their third set point opportunity, clinching the tight opening frame 6-4.
After an on-court coaching session, Stosur and Zhang came out of the blocks firing as they were more aggressive in the returns and started to dominate with their aggression. Clinching the decisive break in the third game, they held onto their serve through the remainder of the set as they levelled the match at one set all.
Hsieh and Strycova sensed danger and quickly upped their level in the match tiebreak, a rather cruel way to decide the match considering how well both teams had competed. Opening up a quick 4-2 lead at the first changeover, Hsieh and Strycova never looked back despite a late resurgence from Stosur and Zhang, ultimately claiming the perfect start to their Shenzhen campaign.
Hsieh and Strycova will next face Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova, the other winners of the day, while Stosur and Zhang will look to grab their first Shenzhen win against Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yi-fan, another local favourite.