WASHINGTON - China's Zheng Saisai captured her first WTA title at the San Jose WTA Open on Sunday, shocking world number 10 and No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus in straight sets in the final.
The 25-year-old Zheng needed one hour and 47 minutes to defeat Sabalenka 6-3, 7-6(3) after converting on all five break point opportunities.
"I played every match on Stadium Court, and from the first match, I heard so many people cheering for me, and I was surprised because I was far from home, playing in the United States. It turns out there are a lot of Chinese fans and even the local people started to support me after my second match. I really appreciated that," Zheng said after the match.
It was Zheng who enjoyed the quicker start, emerging from an early exchange of breaks to gain the ascendency once more in the fifth game. After that, Zheng was rarely tested and broke again in Sabalenka's last service game to take the opening set at 6-3.
The two players were exchanging breaks again early in the second set, and the match headed to the tiebreak. Zheng's consistency proved too strong as she played a glittering tiebreak to clinch the title.
"You don't always want to play too fast, because Sabalenka is one of the best at this," Zheng said of her tactics. "The tactics were to put the ball deep, and whenever I saw space, let her run and then make change with a slice or a high ball. Had I given the same pace, she would hit winners from any corner, so I was trying to mix it up."
"I was focusing only on what I was doing. If she hit a winner, I felt like it was okay, and just think about playing the next shot. I was really in the match, and wasn't over-thinking anything. I told myself that this was a normal match, and not a final, and so I was able to enjoy it."
Asked about her convincing title-winning week in San Jose, Zheng said she learned to keep calm.
"After Wimbledon, I was in China and one of my friends told me, 'When you are calm, and not so emotional, you can use your brain and play your best tennis, but you haven't felt that the last few months.' I started to feel like I was dealing with too much pressure and expectation, and so I was trying just to play, in practice and matches, and not think about results," Zheng said.
"It was a problem I fixed this week with a good result here.
"It brings up so much confidence. I beat many seeded players. But everyone is different, and rankings can't tell you how strong a player can be, because everyone can win if they play well. I'm not going to relax and feel like I'm unbelievable," the Chinese rising star added.