Sharapova and Zheng serve up a classic

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 January, 2010, 12:00am

Maria Sharapova came to town looking to test her fitness before she heads down under for the Australian Open.

And Zheng Jie gave the former world No1 one everything she wanted and a little bit more on the opening night of the Hong Kong Tennis Classic.

The Team Russia captain was pushed all the way by Zheng before winning 6-7 (5-7), 6-4, 6-2, the Chinese player only succumbing to Sharapova's power as the match ticked towards the three-hour mark.

'I'll take whatever comes my way,' said the world No14. 'If that means losing the first set and finding a way to battle back and win, then that's what I'm going to try to do.'

The pair had only played once before on tour - a straight-sets win to Sharapova in Japan in 2003 - and both came to Hong Kong following seasons that were blighted by injuries, Sharapova to her shoulder and Zheng to her wrist.

But there were no signs of such ailments from either last night as they produced power-packed tennis to thrill the sold-out Victoria Park crowd.

'I'm never surprised against any player I play against - they always play their best tennis,' Sharapova said. 'They come out swinging away and she certainly did. I've had many of these experiences in my career and she played really well.

'But it's great to have a three-set match, it's the type of test I wanted.'

Zheng herself came to town as the captain of Team Asia Pacific talking up her winter diet of weightlifting and strength work, and the results were there to see last night. She never really took a backward step.

The Chinese player has set her sights on breaking into the world's top 10 players but said she knew first she had to improve on her conditioning before she could compete regularly with the game's elite. She looks to have done that over the Christmas break - and a little bit more.

As signals of intent go, the crowd only had to look to the fourth game of the first set when Zheng, down a break at 3-1, rifled a return straight at the body of her Russian opponent, whose only defence was a half-hearted swipe at the ball - and a wry smile.

Zheng said she had set herself up to attack Sharapova from the outset and was left ruing a mental lapse that she thought cost her a chance to win.

'I knew it would be a tough match, so before I went to the court I knew I had to play more aggressively,' she said. 'In the second set I thought to myself, 'I have a chance to win', so maybe I thought about it too much and gave her a chance to break back.

'But I am so happy today. This is my first match of the year and I did really well. I thought about it too much, but this is still a good experience for me. Maybe next time I will just go for it.'

Team Russia sealed the rubber 3-1 late last night when Sharapova teamed with Yevgeny Kafelnikov to down Ayumi Morita and Paradorn Srichaphan 6-4, 7-5 in the mixed doubles.

Paradorn had earlier picked up Team Asia Pacific's first win, beating Kafelnikov 6-2, 1-6, 10-4.

But the Russians had already seen world number nine Vera Zvonareva get them off to a flier in the tournament's first match, played in the afternoon. She trounced Mortia, 6-2, 6-2. The event continues today with Team Americas, led by Venus Williams, taking on the Caroline Wozniacki-led Team Europe.