Li Cracks Zheng Code, Advances In Monterrey

Ann Li (photo: Abierto GNP Seguros)

MONTERREY/WASHINGTON, March 20, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Ann Li fought through some difficult moments during her quarterfinal match with China’s Zheng Saisai at the WTA 250 Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey, Mexico, Friday afternoon. Dealing with the high altitude was the least of Li’s problems. She was more concerned with figuring out Zheng’s weapons of choice, including her deceptive slice and drop shots as well as her angled backhand volleys.

The 72nd-ranked Li from King of Prussia, Pa., faced 10 break points and saved eight of them, and she converted five of seven break-point chances against the No. 3 seed Zheng. One of the biggest came on set point during the 12th game of the opening set. The eighth-seeded Li won the point when Zheng hit the ninth shot of the rally into the net. It ended 68 minutes of entertaining tennis, punctuated by long rallies and many down-the-line winners by Li. It seemed just about everything that the No. 52 Zheng could throw at Li, the young American was up for the challenge.

Li beat Zheng 7-5, 6-1 in an hour and 48 minutes on Estadio GNP Seguros to reach her second WTA tour-level semifinal of 2021 following her success at the Grampians Trophy in Melbourne.

“I think my mindset for each match remains the same: to be as aggressive as I can. I was being over aggressive in a way,” Li told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference after her victory.

“It was tough for me because she is a great defensive player. I was doing a little bit too much in the beginning. I was trying to find a balance between being more patient and also being as aggressive as I can.”

Once Li cracked the crafty Zheng’s code, it was pretty smooth sailing. The victory, sealed with a nice forehand winner – her 28th of the afternoon and 82nd point overall – improved the 20-year-old Li’s win-loss record to 9-1 while Zheng, seven years Li’s senior, dropped to 2-7. It was Li’s third consecutive straight-set win this week at Club Sonoma, where she’s lost just 21 games through her first three matches.

“[Zheng] was tricky and I’m glad I was able to stay tough and win the match. It’s another tough match under my belt which helps with my confidence,” Li said.

“She is definitely tricky, especially on these courts. In the second set I felt much better. She gave me everything in the last few games. I just knew I had to stay aggressive and pull it out.”

Next, Li will play a qualifier, No. 102 Victorija Golubic of Switzerland who defeated No. 130 Anna Kalinskaya from Russia, 6-2, 6-4, in one hour and 37 minutes. Golubic converted seven of 12 break points and outpointed her opponent 74-59. She’s gone 5-0 coming through qualifying to reach the semifinal round and improved to 24-4 in all competitions this season, splitting her time between the WTA tour and ITF circuit.

“You know, five matches is usually the end of the tournament because you’ve won it,” Golubic told Tennis TourTalk. “Now, I’m just in the semifinal. So, I have to get some energy to still be able to compete, in best case, for two more matches. Obviously, I’m very happy with coming so far this week.”

Around the Abierto GNP Seguros

Also advancing to Saturday’s semifinal round was Canada’s Leylah Fernandez, who at age 18 is the youngest in this week’s draw. It took 185 points – including five match points – and nearly two hours, but the 88th-ranked Fernandez came out ahead, winning 7-5, 6-3 over 104th-ranked Vicktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia for her third consecutive straight-set victory. It improved her season win-loss record to 6-4.

“At the beginning of the match, I wasn’t playing the best tennis, but I’m glad I got the win. I was trying to stay as positive as possible,” Fernandez told Tennis TourTalk. As to how she stayed focused as Kuzmova erased the first four match points before Fernandez prevailed, she said: “I think after losing the first few match points, I tried to change things up. … I knew she was going to fight until the end and I tried to do the same thing. On my fifth match point, I was able to execute a plan that I had.”

Next, Fernandez will face No. 7 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, ranked a career-high 57th, who beat No. 111 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova from Slovakia, 6-3, 7-5, in two hours and 17 minutes. At 4-5 in the second set, Sorribes Tormo saved a set point to avoid going to a deciding set when she broke Schmiedlova to end a 14-point game. Then, Sorribes Tormo held serve in the next game and broke Schmiedlova, again, to close out the victory.

Sorribes Tormo hit 36 winners and outpointed her opponent 84-71 to win her seventh match in a row and 11th on the season.

“I’m really happy. The match was two hours and 17 minutes, two sets very tough. [Anna Karolina] is a very tough player, and I knew it was going to be a tough match,” Sorribes Tormo said during an on-court interview. “I’m happy with the way I played, with the way I managed my emotions. I’m really happy to play in the semifinals. I’m really like playing in Mexico.”

Aslan Karatsev and Lloyd Harris: What they’re saying

Wild card Aslan Karatsev of Russia, ranked No. 42, and 81st-ranked qualifier Lloyd Harris from South Africa meet in Saturday’s final of the ATP 500 Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. It will be their first meeting. Tennis TourTalk had a chance to ask questions of both finalists during their recent virtual press conferences.

Aslan Karatsev, on confidence building through his second big hard-court run of the year after reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open last month:

“I’m feeling good on the court, the way I am competing, the way I am playing. For sure, it’s given me confidence this week in Dubai. I lost in three sets to Thiem [in Doha]. Now, I’m playing with confidence, playing a really good game and I’m looking forward to playing the final.”

Lloyd Harris, on why all of a sudden everything has come together for him in Dubai this week:

“I feel like all the hard hours get put in and the hard work happens a few weeks before. It’s not as if I starting working in a different way, doing something that much better. It’s a matter of more areas of my game coming together this week. I’ve been able to string together more points. It’s been coming for a while and I’m happy I can put different aspects of my game together, whether it be my serving or my returning. Just putting it all together has been a key to me.”

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