BEIJING • Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams crashed out in the first round of the China Open to Chinese veteran Peng Shuai yesterday, as women's world No. 1 Angelique Kerber continued her stellar season by beating qualifier Katerina Siniakova in two sets.
Williams, 36, lost a close first set, but was thereafter allowed to win just one game, as former US Open semi-finalist Peng romped to a 7-5, 6-1 win.
"In the first set, I was really trying to fight because she had three set points," said the Chinese player after the match.
"In the second set, it was really important that I got the first three points. It gave me more motivation."
The 30-year-old Peng came of age at around the same time as China's first - and only - Grand Slam singles champion Li Na.
She reached a career high of world No. 17 in 2011, the same year Li won her first Slam at Roland Garros and rose to world No. 5.
But her career has since been blighted by injury, which forced her to miss much of previous seasons and pushed her to the brink of retirement.
"After a back surgery, no one could guarantee I could come back to the court," Peng said.
"I'd like to take time to see if I can go further in tennis."
Czech Siniakova, 20, played an impressive net game against top seed Kerber but was unable to take control of the match, handing the German a 6-4, 6-4 win.
"She played really well, especially in the first set. I was trying to be patient and waiting for my shots and for my chances," said Kerber.
The German won her second Grand Slam title of the year - and her career - at the US Open last month in the same week that also saw her rise to No. 1, dethroning long-reigning Serena Williams.
The 28-year-old had started the year ranked 10th.
She credits her changed on-court demeanour - which once earned her the nickname "Dun Curr-ber" based on an Internet meme for "don't care" - for her late career renaissance.
"I think it came from a lot of experience... really focusing and trying to (be) more positive on court than negative," Kerber said.
"I think this is also one of the keys why I'm playing so good and so consistent, because it's really important to have your mind on the court."
Kerber has already qualified for the WTA Finals - the elite eight-player season finale in Singapore later this month - but she does not want to be distracted by that.
"It's for sure a better feeling to know that I have already qualified for Singapore," she said. "The pressure is not there anymore. But still I want to win matches here. I'm focusing on this tournament because it's still a big one and I would like to play good tennis."
Defending champion Garbine Muguruza booked her spot in the final 16, downing 21-year-old Kazakh Yulia Putintseva in her second-round match 6-2, 7-6 (7-5).
The Spaniard has her eyes on making her second consecutive WTA Finals and needs to reach the final in Beijing to guarantee qualification.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, XINHUA