New York: Rising Chinese star Zheng Qinwen reached her first Grand Slam quarter-final Monday at the US Open after knocking out last year’s runner-up Ons Jabeur, describing it as a “breakthrough” win after enduring her share of frustration this season.
The 20-year-old Zheng’s blend of power and precision overwhelmed a weary Jabeur, her 6-2, 6-4 victory sending the 23rd seed through to a meeting with incoming world number one Aryna Sabalenka.
“Honestly the feeling was fantastic, especially in that moment. I feel this is like important win for me. Like you say, it’s a breakthrough,” said Zheng.
“I always been waiting this moment to happen. Honestly, at beginning of year I’m thinking it’s going to happen very fast.
“Because I’m focusing that moment too much about the result and I lost little bit the patience of myself, that’s affect a lot to my tennis part.”
She earned the WTA newcomer of the year award in 2022, winning her debut at all four majors and making a run to the French Open last 16 before losing in three sets to eventual champion Iga Swiatek.
But Zheng had won just two Grand Slam matches this season before carving out a bit of history in New York, where she and Wang Xinyu became the first two Chinese players to reach the fourth round at the same US Open.
While Wang lost to Roland Garros finalist Karolina Muchova on Sunday, Zheng became only the fourth Chinese woman to make the last eight at Flushing Meadows — following in the footsteps of Wang Qiang, Peng Shuai and Li Na.
Zheng is one of the “Li Na generation” of young players who took up tennis after the success of China’s first Grand Slam singles champion, who won the French Open in 2011 when Zheng was eight.
“When she won the French Open ... the first Asian who won a Grand Slam, that give a lot to young kid, especially for me,” Zheng reflected.
“In that moment I start to think, ‘Oh, as an Asian, we also able to win a Grand Slam at big stage like that.’”
“Before that, tennis isn’t so popular in China. I mean, my parents doesn’t know what is tennis before I start to play. That’s true,” said the genial Zheng.
“After Li Na tennis become more popular sport in China. Thanks to her a lot. She also put a dream seed in my heart that I want to become like that.”
‘Things going to happen’
Li also won the 2014 Australian Open, months after her final US Open ended with a defeat in the semi-finals.
As Zheng closes in on the trailblazing Li’s best Flushing Meadows performance, it was clear she strives to emulate and, perhaps, one day surpass the achievements of Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion.
“Of course, I’m super happy to being here, but I will not use the word like ‘surprised’ because I know what I’m capable to do,” said Zheng.
“I know if I can, I have to focus in right moment right here and don’t think too far. I don’t want to have the same mistake like at beginning of the year.”
Standing in her way next is Sabalenka, who will replace outgoing champion Iga Swiatek at the top of the rankings after the tournament, but Zheng is not one to shy away from a challenge.
“I always believe that I’m able to beat everyone if I play the right tennis that I have to play,” said Zheng.
“Of course, the opponent will also play good. There is going to be lot of competition. But I believe that if I’m really there fighting for every point, I mean, things going to happen.
“You can never say that, but we will see.”
Childhood friends set for tussle
Daniil Medvedev expects his quarter-final with fellow Russian Andrey Rublev on Wednesday to be a real fight but said nothing will come between the childhood friends once the dust has settled.
Medvedev, the 2021 Flushing Meadows champion, reached the last eight with a 2-6 6-4 6-1 6-2 victory over Australian Alex de Minaur and set up a meeting with Rublev who won 6-3 3-6 6-3 6-4 against Briton Jack Draper on Monday.
The Russian duo have previously met seven times at the elite level, with Medvedev winning five matches including their latest encounter in the Dubai final this year.
“We’re really close friends,” Medvedev said. “We have a great relationship, even if on the court we’re big competitors, so I do think one match, I say a fight, we can talk. Nothing is going to come between us to separate us in real life.
“We’re really close. I mean, we share a lot of interests. It’s great to have someone like this on tour because sometimes it isn’t easy. You travel, travel, travel.
“To have a friend like this is great. But, again, on the court we both want to win.” Rublev said the friendship had become like a family bond after he was asked to be the godfather to Medvedev’s daughter.
“We built our relationship because of tennis, but now it’s already bigger than tennis. We know each other, I don’t know, since we were maybe six or something,” Rublev said.
“He’s super honest, super relaxed. It’s easy to communicate with him. He’s very humble. At the same time, he’s really funny. When you spend time with him, you always have fun.”