Peng Shuai of China celebrates after winning the singles first round match against Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic at 2017 WTA Wuhan Open in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province, on Sept. 25, 2017. Peng Shuai won 2-1. (Xinhua/Cheng Min)
By Sportswriter Spencer Musick
WUHAN, China, Sept. 25 (Xinhua) -- It was a day of jaw-dropping upsets and strong performances from local talent here at the 2017 Wuhan Open, with several top-seeded players eliminated in straight-set losses.
The first shocker of the day came as 12th-seeded Madison Keys of the United States was knocked out by qualifier Varvara Lepchenko, 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Keys was broken twice in the first set as she let her opponent storm to a 4-0 lead before she finally started showing signs of life.
Things began to look a bit better for Keys in the second set, as she made her tenacious opponent work a great deal more. Action on the court ground to a halt in the second set as Keys' complained of wrist problems, and although her signature returning work indeed showed flashes of brilliance, it quickly became apparent that the overall momentum would remain on Lepchenko's side.
Lepchenko says that she was expecting a tougher fight after she took the first set with relative ease.
"Well the first set, I gained the advantage very fast, and I knew the second set would be a little more difficult as usual when the players try to come back after losing the first set and they will try to gain the advantage in the second set. So I knew that and I prepared in my mind to keep on fighting in the second set," Lepchenko told Xinhua in a post-match interview.
Another shocker came as US open champion Sloane Stephens was stunned by local player Wang Qiang in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2.
Qiang had a strong showing in the first set, playing aggressively at the baseline to push Stephens around the court. The took the first set 6-2 with relative ease before meeting resistance from her American opponent in the second set.
"I didn't play a great match," Stephens said in the post-match press conference. "My opponent played very well. Sometimes, you have those days. Today is just not a good day," she added.
Stephens also echoed the sentiments of many other top players on the tour, stating that the Asia leg brought with it a higher degree of difficulty.
"Asia is always tough for me. Its difficult. It's the end of the year. Even though I've played 5 tournaments, I feel like I've played 25. (I'm) a little tired," Stephens remarked.
It was a great day on court for local talent, with Zhang Shuai taking out Croatian Donna Vekic 7-5, 5-7, 6-1.
No stranger to shock exits this season, 5th-seeded Briton Joanna Konta was yet another casualty falling in the evening session to Australian Ashleigh Barty 6-0, 4-6, 7-6(3).
The biggest upset of the day, and the most hard-fought on both sides, saw defending champion and 11th-seed Petra Kvitova fall to China's Peng Shuai in a nail-biter of a three-and-a-half-hour match in which each set needed a tiebreaker, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (5), 7-6 (3).
Both Kvitova and her Chinese opponent played strong tennis throughout, with both players showing flashes of sheer brilliance, and neither managing to decisively grab the momentum until the latter stages of the third set, when a visibly exhausted Kvitova showed signs of cramping.
Next up for Peng is Puerto Rican Olympic Gold medalist Monica Puig, who earlier in the day also needed three sets to dispatch her opponent Mona Barthel 6-0, 6-7 (0), 6-4.
The only top-seeded player who managed to avoid embarrassment was 9th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who saw off Slovakian Magdalena Rybarikova, 6-4, 7-5.
Other action saw France's Caroline Garcia recover from a one-set deficit to take out Germany's Angelique Kerber 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Garcia goes on to meet American Christina McHale in round two.