Peng ready for first Grand Slam semi
WHEN the US Open began, Peng Shuai said she did not relish being the highest-ranked Chinese player in the tournament, preferring it when Li Na is around, absorbing most of the pressure and attention from the Chinese fans who have become quite a cheering section in Flushing Meadows in recent years.
But with the third-ranked Li missing the event with a knee injury, Peng has leapt into the spotlight. On Tuesday, she raced into the semi-finals with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic.
At 28, Peng is enjoying a rather late coming-out party. The US Open is her 37th Grand Slam tournament, and she was playing in her first singles quarter-final. Now, she will give her ranking (39th) and her newly devoted fans a boost tomorrow by playing in her first semi-final, against 10th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, a convincing 6-0, 6-1 winner over 13th-seeded Sara Errani.
Peng has enjoyed plenty of success as a doubles player, winning two Grand Slam titles with Taiwanese Hsieh Su-wei, but her singles career has taken a while to come together.
"It's an amazing time for me," Peng said. "It's a long time to play, a long time in my career. So many times, I thought to give up, to stop playing. But my coach and my parents tell me to keep fighting, to keep playing and never give up, that this day would come."
She has come back from far more than a just a slow start to her singles career. When she was 12, she had surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. After she recovered, though, her doctors told her she could return to tennis.
What a return that has been. Not only has she made the pro ranks, but she has also shone among the elites.
Peng has been dominant in her matches here. She did not lose her serve against Bencic and has won 36 straight service games, stretching back to her second-round victory over fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska. She faced only two break points and had a mere seven unforced errors to 17 winners.
"From the beginning of the year, I was doing lot of fitness and also like I keep practice, try to improve my game," Peng said. "Maybe this time I find a way or I catch like right time. And then just try to do what I can do on the court, and then, maybe before in the match I was like tight or nervous, afraid to play, but this time, for this moment, I feel myself was quite OK."
It remains to be seen whether she will still be OK after facing Wozniacki in the semi-finals. The Dane took just 1hr 5min to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final in three years. In her current form - she defeated Maria Sharapova in the fourth round - she will be the hot favourite to reach Sunday's final.