Dubai Tennis 2019: Hsieh Su-wei determined to go for broke in semi-finals – as she has all week
Veteran player to face Petra Kvitova in her first Premier-level semi-final, knowing she has to close out match while on top
Close to exiting the tournament, Hsieh Su-wei resolved simply to make the impending defeat to Karolina Pliskova a little more respectable.
The Taiwan star had initially led on Thursday in her first Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships quarter-final, taking the opening set 6-4.
But she quickly lost the second and then, almost in a flash, found herself 5-1 down in the third. Pliskova, the world No 5 and a former Dubai finalist, was serving for the match.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, Hsieh fought back, blitzing through the next six games and bounding into the semi-finals.
Asked after the most remarkable of 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 victories what was going through her mind at 5-1 down, Hsieh said with more than a hint of understatement: “It was not easy to come back.
"She serves really big, makes almost an ace every game. I said to myself: ‘OK, if she doesn’t ace me, I hit ball, hit so much harder than before, then she cannot hit a winner. I'll have the chance to win a few more games, then the score don't look too bad’."
In the end, after nearly two hours, the score looked pretty good. Hsieh’s week has been just that, too, what with three wins over a top-10 seed. In the first round, she ousted Anastasija Sevastov before shocking Angelique Kerber, the reigning Wimbledon champion, to set up the clash with Pliskova.
Aged 33 and enjoying something of a late-career renaissance, on Friday Hsieh will contest her first Premier-level semi-final. By the time she had sat down in front of the assembled media to discuss her latest triumph, No 2 seed Petra Kvitova and Slovakia’s Viktoria Kuzmova had just about taken to Centre Court.
“They haven’t played yet," she said, smiling at the time. "So I will send my spy to watch the match."
Kvitova eventually won the match for the right to face Hsieh.
Hsieh has obviously been taking mental notes on her own game. At last month’s Australian Open, she began well in her third-round encounter with Naomi Osaka, clinching the opening set before losing to the eventual champion.
Worried that lightning may strike twice, Hsieh is determined to do what makes her such a hit for tennis fans: go for broke.
“Next time, if I’m leading, I’m going to go in, hit all the winners,” she said. “Even if I make a mistake, I don't care.
"The second set I was slowing down a little bit, so it's not a good sign. My coach finally came out and told me something. I still made some mistakes, but I'm glad that I keep trying, keep trying, keep trying. Finally it works. So I survive.”
She did, and so Pliskova did not. The former world No 1 had prevailed in their only other meeting, in Miami last year, when she came through a final-set tiebreak to triumph. She couldn’t repeat the feat.
“I was obviously tired today,” Pliskova said. “It was a tough match. My legs were not doing much. Especially to play against her, you need to be ready on the legs a lot, which I was not.
“I felt really bad physically. I think if I feel just a little bit better, I could have made it because I was struggling a little bit with my body and with myself more than with her game.
“In Miami, I was 100 per cent ready there. This is the bad part about it. But overall I don't think I played something that bad. If my legs and my body are there, I'm able to finish this match."
Pliskova did concede that, as the encounter was flipped on its head, she became rather more passive.
“Of course, in the end, when it's getting tight… her game is not the best; you're never going to feel the best against her. That's how it is. I was ready for it.”
Updated: February 21, 2019 10:19 PM