Sloane Stephens attempts to reach the third round of the China Open for the second straight year when she takes on home favourite, Saisai Zheng on Tuesday.
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Stephens and Zheng are meeting at this stage of the China Open for the second straight season, with the American running out a comfortable 6-1 6-3 victor twelve months ago.
The former US Open champion opened her 2019 Beijing account with a 7-5 6-3 victory over Polish qualifier, Magda Linette, fighting back from a break down in the second set to win six of the last seven games, and claim victory after an hour and 39 minutes.
Stephens has been as high as No. 3 this year, but she is currently down at 12th in the world following a disappointing season so far. The American has made just the one semi-final all season, in Madrid, putting together a very ordinary 22-18 record for the year. She has made only two other quarter finals, and has not been that far since she made the last eight in her French Open title defence. She is 6-8 since the French Open.
Prior to last week’s third-round run in Wuhan, she hadn’t won consecutive matches in her previous five tournaments, but she defeated Shuai Zhang and Yafan Wang in the Premier-5 meet before falling to Petra Kvitova. Can she build on that showing by producing another decent run in Beijing?
Stephens is looking to reach the China Open Round of 16 for the third time in her career, having also got that far in 2013; and standing in her way will be Chinese No. 3, Saisai Zheng.
Zheng is attempting to reach the third round of the China Open for the first time, having fallen to Stephens in the second round last year.
The 25-year-old edged out Monica Puig in the first round, battling back from the brink to pull off a three-hour 4-6 6-3 7-6 victory. Puig served for the match at 5-4 in the final set, but the Chinese broke back before taking the ensuing tie break on her third match point.
Zheng is only 18-19 for the 2019 season, but she has already captured her maiden tour-level title, and reached a career-high ranking of 37th. That first career title came in a brilliant week in San Jose, where she defeated Heather Watson, Danielle Collins, Amanda Anisimova, Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka to take away the big prize.
Her next best results were quarter finals in Hua Hin, Acapulco and Zhengzhou, and a third round run at the Madrid Open. She also won a WTA 125K title in Anning in April.
Zheng made her China Open main draw debut way back in 2011, but she lost her first four main draw matches at the tournament, before finally getting off the mark with victory over Dayana Yastremska last season. Having already matched that second round performance this term, can she go one step better by beating Sloane Stephens on Tuesday?
Stephens has won their two previous meetings, in Beijing last year, and in Madrid in May, and while the American has generally been inconsistent this year, she played fairly well in Wuhan last week, and already has a win under her belt this week.
She is up there among the very best in the world when she is confident and playing well, but she has been a walking upset for most of the season, and Zheng, like she showed in her title run in San Jose, is talented enough to cash in if the former world No. 3 produces another below par performance.
Sloane Stephens vs Saisai Zheng is live from Beijing on Tuesday, 1 October from 4:00pm local time/ 9:00am BST