Japan’s Nao Hibino provided the biggest surprise of the Prudential Hong Kong Open so far on Tuesday when she registered a stunning 6-3, 6-4 win over fourth seeded Australian Samantha Stosur in front of a shocked Centre Court.
The match was decided on a challenged line call by the Japanese, but with nerves entering her game as she got closer to securing the biggest win of her career, the world number 84 had already failed to make the most of a series of chances to win the match.
“She played solid and she was obviously getting quite nervous at the end but I wasn’t able to do enough,” said Stosur, who has endured a tough Asia season. “That was the theme throughout the match. I just need to be better at sustaining a better level throughout these matches when I’m up against someone that’s nervous like that.”
World number 18 Stosur, who delivered a stinging rebuke to tennis authorities last week following the decision to reduce Maria Sharapova’s doping ban, lost after struggling to fire with her favoured shot.
“My forehand is my weapon,” said Stosur. “To have your best shot let you down is never good.”
Hibino, whose best result prior to Tuesday’s win was her defeat of Croatian Donna Vekic in the 2015 Tashkent Open final, will face France’s Kristina Mladenovic in the second round on Thursday.
It wasn’t plain sailing for Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki as she continued her strong finish to the season with a hard-fought 6-1, 6-4 win over China’s Zheng Saisai.
It looked like it would be a simple passage as she reeled off six games on the spin to take a grip on the match after losing the opener. The Dane dropped the opening game of the second set also, but after winning the next five she allowed her opponent to get a foothold in the match.
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Wozniacki eventually secured her place in round two but not before Zheng had put the brakes on a runaway win for the world number 22 by winning three games in a row to spark hope of a revival.
“I should have closed it off at 5-2 and just called it a day,” Wozniacki said. “It got a little too close, not what I was hoping for, but I managed to finish it off.”
The Dane’s form in the latter part of the season suggests rumours of her impending retirement are wide of the mark.
After a torrid first half of the season which saw her slip outside of the top 50, there were suggestions she was planning to hang up her racquet after an injury-hit campaign.
However, a stunning if unexpected return to form at Flushing Meadows saw her reach the semi-final of the US Open and she continued that rich vein of form into the Asian swing by winning the Pan-Pacific Open in Tokyo last month. That win maintained her record of winning a tournament every year since 2008.
The 26-year-old put her turnaround down to her recovery from the ankle and wrist injuries that had dogged her season.
Watch: Hong Kong’s Zhang Ling talks about her first-round loss
“I’ve been healthy, that’s the main thing. I had a lot of injuries and was out for three months earlier in the season. I managed to get healthy and turn it around,” she said. “I managed to finish the season well. Hopefully I can carry that into next year.”
The number five seed will now face Britain’s Heather Watson in round two.
World number one and top seed Angelique Kerber progressed after a tricky straight sets win over Greece’s Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4 in the evening session.
“I never played against her before,” said the German. “It’s always tough to play against someone you’ve never played.”
Next up for the two-time grand slam champion is American Louisa Chirico, another player the German will face for the first time.
Earlier, the host city’s only singles hope, Zhang Ling, was eliminated after going down 6-2, 6-2, to mainlander Wang Qiang.
The 26-year-old Zhang, who had been nursing herself back to fitness in recent weeks following a fractured toe, bowed out in just 75 minutes against the Chinese number two, who is ranked 68 in the world.
In a sloppy performance, the Hong Kong player threw away several chances to seal crucial points with unforced errors at important junctures in the match.
“I think there were a lot of chances,” said a disappointed Zhang afterwards. “I had a lot of game points in both sets.
“She’s a good player and deserves the credit. On the other hand, this was a chance for me to get better and challenge for the top 100. I’m very disappointed I didn’t take the chance today.”
Zhang, the world number 524, twice called for a coaching time-out indicating she was still feeling the effects of her injury during the match.