‘Sloane Stephens wasn’t at her best’: Chinese star Wang Qiang stays humble as she heads to Hong Kong Tennis Open after beating US Open champ
China’s number three claims major scalp over the grand slam champion in Wuhan in the run-up to next week’s Victoria Park tournament, but she isn’t giving herself too much credit
A lot of players would consider it a season’s highlight: to beat a newly crowned grand slam champion at her first event after claiming the major title.
But up-and-coming Chinese tennis star Wang Qiang is quick to play down the feat after outgunning US Open winner Sloane Stephens last month.
“She wasn’t at 100 per cent when I beat her,” laughs the 25-year-old. “Maybe some day I can beat her when she is at her best.”
The victory came at last month’s Wuhan Open as the WTA campaign switched its focus to the gruelling end-of-season Asia swing.
Defeat in the opening round led Stephens, the hottest name in women’s tennis, to declare: “Asia is always tough for me. It’s hard for me to adjust.”
She was also had some warm praise for the Tianjin native. “She’s played all this week, three solid matches. She played a really good match and I wish her well in the future.”
Those well wishes may not extend too far into the future if the two go head-to-head again at Victoria Park next week, but Wang was also gushing about the US Open champion.
“She’s really good. It’s difficult to win a grand slam, and very difficult to do it the way she did [after her injuries],” Wang said. “She’s really a very good player – she has a great serve and is great from the baseline.”
Wang will arrive at the Hong Kong Tennis Open at the end of her best season in the professional ranks. She hit a career-high world ranking of 48 this summer and thinks a first WTA singles title is not far away.
“This year I have played really well. I’m playing with confidence at the moment.
“I don’t think I’m far from a first WTA title,” Wang says. “Maybe just next year. My game is improving all the time. I’m playing more aggressively than ever before.”
An impressive campaign saw her reach the quarter-finals of four major WTA tournaments as well as securing a win over Chinese number one Peng Shuai at a minor WTA event in Zhengzhou.
But despite that impressive result, Wang doesn’t count becoming China’s number one player among her goals.
In fact, she prefers not to encumber herself with any targets, short- or long-term.
“I don’t think about becoming the Chinese number one,” Wang said. “I just want to focus on my performance on the court.
“I don’t have a long-term goal. I don’t give myself goals like that because I don’t want added pressure.”
In any case, a high-calibrefield for the Victoria Park event brings pressure enough, and Wang knows she will have to be at her best to reach the weekend in Hong Kong.
“I saw the list of players for the Hong Kong Open and it’s really competitive. It’s a very strong field and I just want to take it match by match.”
One name on that list that Wang is no doubt sick of the sight of this season is Venus Williams. The renascent 36-year-old will once again return to Hong Kong where she is afan favourite, and has already eliminated Wang at two grand slams this season.
“Venus is so aggressive. If I get the chance to play her again, I must be at my best. You can’t make too many mistakes against her.”