Tennis: Home hero Zhang stuns Halep to reach Beijing quarters

Zhang in action against Simona Halep of Romania.
Zhang in action against Simona Halep of Romania.PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (AFP) - Home favourite Zhang Shuai cruised past Simona Halep to book a quarter final place at the China Open on Thursday (Oct 6) in rain-hit Beijing.

Zhang overpowered fifth-ranked Halep in less than a hour, beating her 6-0, 6-3 to delight the home crowd in the Chinese capital.

It was a day of upsets as Elina Svitolina ousted top seed Angelique Kerber, scuppering her plans of a 12th quarter-final this season, and intermittent rain interrupted – and then suspended – play on the open-air outer courts.

The victory was the Ukrainian’s second this year over a world number one after she denied Serena Williams a fifth Olympic gold medal with a straight set win in the third round in Rio.

Rafael Nadal managed to avoid being the third upset of the day, when he defeated French qualifier Adrian Mannarino 6-1, 7-6 (8/6).

After steaming through the first set, Nadal made 17 unforced errors in the second, pushing the match to a tie break.

Mannarino denied the 14-time Grand Slam champion his first match point, but the Spaniard advanced to the quarter finals on the second.

“I played a fantastic first set. Great level of tennis, serving very good, hitting so good,” Nadal told reporters after the match.

“During the second, I think I slow down a little bit the rhythm, and he really played well.”

In the roofed National Stadium, it was the home fans’ cheers that carried Zhang into the quarter finals for the first time in seven attempts, dropping just three games en route.

The 27-year-old began the year with a first-round upset of Halep at the Australian Open – her first win in a Grand Slam main draw, which left her in tears.

But there were no tears on Thursday – just huge smiles and an ecstatic audience.

Meanwhile, 19th-ranked Svitolina beat Kerber – who ascended to the top of the rankings at the US Open, the same week she also claimed her second Grand Slam crown – with a 6-3, 7-5 win.

“When they announce (the names at the start of the march) you have this weird feeling because you realise you’re playing against world number one”, Svitolina said after the match.

“I try to really don’t think about it. If I think too much, I lose my way,” she added.

Kerber, who had her right thigh taped during the match, had a break lead in each set but appeared glued to the baseline and was unable to take control.

“I know that I have to move very well when I play my game, and I couldn’t play my game like I play,” Kerber told reporters.

The German still plans to play in Hong Kong next week as she chases points to end the year atop the rankings – but her right leg may alter her plans.

“Still it’s in my schedule to play Hong Kong. It’s right after the match, so I don’t know exactly with my leg or whatever. But it’s still in my schedule,” she said.

Briton Johanna Konta scored her first ever win over US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova in a three set tie break, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (7/2).

With a victory over the sixth-ranked Czech, Konta – currently at number 14 – moves closer to breaking into the top ten for the first time.

The win also moves the 25-year-old into tenth position in the race for the eight-player WTA Final in Singapore, meaning she could play if one of the eight dropped out.

But if fellow quarter-finalist Petra Kvitova, currently 12th in the race, continues her stellar Asian run, the Briton could be nudged out.

Agnieszka Radwanska put friendship aside to secure her second consecutive win over former number one Caroline Wozniacki in the pair’s third meeting in as many weeks.

Third-ranked Radwanska booked her quarter-final spot on the third match point with a dash to the net to return a drop shot from the Dane.

Wozniacki lobbed the return, but the Pole made it to that one as well to take the match 6-3, 6-1.

“I knew nothing’s going to come for free. I was really trying to be aggressive from the first point and also from the return,” Radwanska told reporters.

“We know each other for 17 years. Practising together as well almost every tournament, playing some matches against each other. I think we know about each other everything,” she added.