Peng survives scare in the final set

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 September, 2005, 12:00am

Peng Shuai threw away a 4-0 lead in the final set before recovering for a marathon 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-0) victory over Argentine Mariana Diaz-Oliva to squeeze into the quarter-finals of the China Open last night.

The Chinese number one, ranked 33rd, had her troubles with the South American challenger, ranked 61st, and it took her almost 21/2 hours of struggle to go through.

'I played very well up to 4-0 in the third set but I was too eager to win and pushed too hard with my shots, so I made a lot of unforced errors,' said Peng, 19, after the epic tussle on centre court at the Beijing Tennis Centre.

'I'm very happy to have fought back to win. It's a good experience for me to win a difficult match like this.

'I'm very happy to be the first Chinese player to reach the quarter-finals, especially because last year I went out of this tournament in the qualifying rounds.'

Peng admitted she felt a greater burden playing in front of her home crowd.

'Playing in China makes me more nervous - there is a lot of pressure on me,' she said.

Her next test will be tomorrow against Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who overcame Japan's Ai Sugiyama in their second-round match 6-2, 6-3.

The German replaced an injured Lindsay Davenport in the draw and has so far made the best of her good fortune.

Peng improved to 24-14 this season as she tries to cure inconsistencies which have hindered her promising game. She needed 71 minutes to win the dramatic fifth set, where she finally swept the tiebreaker after teetering as her 4-0 margin crumbled.

'It was a great match - a real rollercoaster ride that went one way and then the other,' said tournament director Ekkehard Rathgeber.

'Peng did well to come back after losing the first set and it looked like she would win easily in the third set. But Diaz-Oliva really showed her spirit to fight back and she could have snatched victory before Peng took control again.

'It's good for the Chinese fans to see a very close match like this. And, of course, they were very happy to see Peng reach the quarter-finals.'

Peng, who trains in Delray Beach, Florida, easily won her first-round match over Finn Emma Laine, who had beaten the Chinese player in the first round of the US Open three weeks earlier.

Peng had a run of form in early August, reaching the second WTA semi-final of her career in Carlsbad, California, with victories over seeds Kim Clijsters - the lone defeat suffered by the US Open champion during the North American summer - Elena Dementieva and Dinara Safina.

She now owns a 2-0 record over 29-year-old baseliner Diaz-Oliva after beating the Argentine last year as a lowly 216th-ranked newcomer.

Peng advanced with 31 winners and 21 unforced errors as she went for her shots against the steady South American who admits her own favourite surface is clay.

The Chinese player has made rapid progress in a season that she began as 80th in the world. She now stands two spots below her career-high 31st ranking.

In first-round play, Japan's Shinobu Asagoe upset Russian-born French seventh seed Tatiana Golovin 6-3, 6-4, while Israeli Shahar Peer defeated Russia's Vera Douchevina 6-2, 6-0.

Marta Domachowska of Poland knocked out American Meghann Shaughnessy 6-3, 6-3.