Zhang Shuai advanced to the second round of the Western & Southern Open after defeating Naomi Osaka with a 6-4, 7-5 on Tuesday.
It was only her third tournament back from an Achilles injury and it has been a stuttering return to action for the twice U.S. Open champion, who also exited in the opening round in Toronto last week, retiring with lower back pain.
For Zhang, doubles champion in Cincinnati last year, it was her first singles win at the event since 2014.
“Naomi she is amazing but I don’t know she is maybe not really feeling good today,” 1 “But for sure today – not her best today.”
The former World No.1 landed 10 aces, and overall only lost 10 points behind her first delivery.
But a 53% first serve percentage negated this advantage, and the rest of her game didn’t match its standard.
Osaka’s 21 winners were outweighed by 29 unforced errors, and she won just 37% of her second serve points.
The 24-year-old was unable to outrally Zhang, with her forehand repeatedly breaking down in the longer baseline exchanges.
Zhang’s four aces were some way off Osaka’s tally, but the Chinese player used her serve much more effectively.
An 86% first serve percentage, but winning over 73% of the points behind both her first and second deliveries was more important to keeping her momentum.
Zhang excelled at one-two punches in particular, closing out the first set with two in a row.
Osaka showed flashes of her best form as she levelled the second set at 5-5, having trailed 5-3, slamming some excellent backhands to break Zhang for the only time.
But having hauled herself back into contention, it was the backhand that let her down at 5-5, contributing a slew of errors to drop serve again.
Serving for the match a second time, Zhang made no mistake, sealing a love hold with her fourth ace of the day.
The result levelled the pair’s head-to-head at three wins apiece.
Zhang had previously beaten Osaka at Tokyo 2016 and Madrid 2018, but Osaka had won their only meeting since she became a Grand Slam champion, edging Zhang 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the 2018 Beijing quarterfinals.
Zhang had not defeated a major winner since the first round of the 2020 Australian Open, where she took out Sloane Stephens 2-6, 7-5, 6-2.
The 33-year-old has enjoyed a solid season to date, though, including capturing her third career title in Lyon in February and also reaching the Birmingham final in June.
No.44-ranked Zhang will next meet Ekaterina Alexandrova as she bids to reach the third round in Cincinnati for the first time.