|Zi Yan of China, left, and compatriot Jie Zheng
pose with their winning trophy after winning womens doubles match
fina against Lisa Raymond of the United Stetes and Samantha Stosur
of Australia at the Australian Open Tennis Tournament in Melbourne,
Australia, Friday, Jan 27, 2006. (AP)|
China's Yan Zi and Zheng Jie have won the country's first-ever Grand
Slam title, grinding down top seeds Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur to
win the Australian Open women's doubles title.
It was a sterling come-from-behind victory by the 12th seeds
and the perfect Chinese New Year present for a country considered by many
to be the future of tennis.
They had looked out for the count after losing confidence to see the
first set slip away in 41 minutes, but regrouped and regained composure to
take the second set on a tiebreak, saving two championship points.
They doggedly held on to win the third set for a memorable 2-6, 7-6
(9/7), 6-3 win in 2hr 15mins.
It was the first time anyone from China has won a Grand Slam final in
any discipline and capped a breakthrough 12 months in which Yan and Zheng
won two other doubles championships, at Hobart and Hyderabad last year.
They reached the semi-final or better at seven tour events last year,
cementing China's growing reputation as a tennis force following Sun
Tiantian and Li Ting's historic Olympic doubles gold at Athens in 2004.
Along with Sun and Li, Yan and Zheng, who began playing together in
Shanghai in 2001, are rising stars, and not just on the doubles circuit.
Each of them won a Tour singles title last year.
American Raymond and Australian Stosur used their experience to grind
down Yan and Zheng in the opening set, forcing errors and capitalising on
the Chinese women's poor serving.
The early indications were that the 12th seeds could cause an upset,
breaking service in the first game and holding to race to a 2-0 lead.
But their confidence crumbled, losing eight games in a row to lose the
first set and find themselves 2-0 down in the second set and facing the
prospect of an early end to the match.
Raymond and Stour were proving to be a brick wall, bouncing everything
back that was thrown at them but as the rain battered the roof of the Rod
Laver Arena, the Chinese women refound their touch.
They held serve and then broke to even it up at 3-3.
They held serve for a 4-3 lead and it went with serve until Zheng was
broken to give Raymond and Stosur a 6-5 lead.
Raymond, who has won 50 doubles titles, was odds-on to serve out for
the match but she buckled to give Zheng and Yan a glimmer of hope that
they grabbed, saving two championship points in the tiebreak to take it to
a third set.
Raymond and Stosur, looking to become the first doubles pair in nearly
two years to win consecutive Grand Slam titles following their US Open
success, were sapped of confidence and couldn't come back.
The Chinese pair raced to 3-1 lead in the decider, were pegged back to
3-3 before storming to China's greatest-ever tennis success.