Zhang Shuai on her way to beating Poland’s Madga Linette 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 in the BMW Malaysian Open quarter-finals. – M. Azhar Arif / THE STAR
KUALA LUMPUR: Tears welled up in the eyes of reigning Asian Games champion Zhang Shuai of China after she stormed into the semi-finals of the BMW Malaysian Open at the Royal Selangor Golf Club on a day when the rain stayed away.
The 25-year-old went through a roller-coaster ride on Friday en route to beating Poland’s Madga Linette 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 in a match that she showed her persistence and determination to prevail from several difficult situations.
On Saturday, she will take on a Croatia’s 17-year-old Donna Vekic, the youngest player in the tournament who turned the tables on fourth seed Patricia Mayr-Achleitner of Austria for a sensational 6-4, 7-5 win.
For Zhang Shuai, Friday's win was important as it marked her comeback to top level tennis after injuring her shoulder two months ago.
She had retired in the semi-finals against Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in a WTA tournament in Mexico in February and did not play for almost a month.
“It just feels good to make the semi-finals again. I was so emotional because it was a great comeback for me after going through the injury,” said Zhang Shuai, who relied heavily on her serve-and-volley game to earn the win.
“I worked so hard to improve my fitness ... today, I did not feel any pain in my shoulder.”
Vekic, who played the bridesmaid’s role twice in the WTA tournaments in Birmingham (in 2013) and Tashkent (in 2012), does not want her dream of a first career title to be shattered again.
And she showed that she was shaping up well when she finished off her rival with an ace – her 10th in the game.
“Everyone goes through a crisis at some point of their games and I’m glad I came through it. I’m just happy to be in the semi-finals right now,” she said.
Meanwhile, top seed Dominika Cibulkova showed why she’s ranked 10th in the world when she fought back from the brink of defeat to beat a fiesty Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in a thrilling quarter-final clash.
The 25-year-old Cibulkova, the Australian Open runner-up, paid a heavy price for a flurry of mistakes in the opening set as the in-form Diyas played near-perfect tennis.
Cibulkova then did the right thing when she stepped up the pace in the second set. She, however, had to slog for every point to take the set.
The decider oozed with quality and had the fans at the edge of their seats as world No. 93 Ziyas fought back from 1-4 down to level it at 4-4. But Cibulkova kept her cool to seal a place in the semi-finals, where she will take on the winner of the match between defending champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic and Cagla Buyukakca of Turkey.