At the recent ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, Peng was always out of sight – even on the eve of her last round match, when no one was guaranteed a place in the semi-finals. “Peng has just disappeared,” explains one insider at the tournament.
Chinese star’s rise to prominence has been remarkable. Back in 2009, the seven-times Aussie Open champion Li Na was now a rising star, but an uneven attitude toward the game led to her undoing. “Peng is an unbelievably good tennis player,” said Li of her close friend. “She’s also extremely good in class.” But her grand-slam glory never materialized.
By 2015, she was approaching her 30th birthday, and many wondered if her best days were behind her. But she showed signs of a renaissance at the US Open, teaming up with a young Chinese doubles partner and becoming the oldest American qualifier in 33 years. Peng’s form had also shown some cracks in the first rounds, but she won three matches in straight sets in the knockout round against two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and the former world No. 3 Victoria Azarenka.
In Auckland, she continued her remarkable run, stealing a set from the talented American Sloane Stephens before losing to Anastasija Sevastova, a Latvian with a tough draw.
In Beijing this week, Peng won an impressive first round match against the sixth-seeded Ekaterina Makarova and is in a three-way tie for the next highest seed among Chinese women: seventh-seeded Peng Shuai, No 11 Chang Kai-chen and No 20 Wang Qiang.