Peng Shuai played her first Grand Slam event at Wimbledon in 2004, 10 long seasons ago. It took until Tuesday for her to finally make it to a Slam semifinal.
She gave the fine young Swiss player, Belinda Bencic, an education in strategy, execution and concentration. Shuai won handily, 6-2, 6-1, and at age 28 will find out what it's like to be in a major semifinal. Bencic, at 17 and blossoming into an elite player, has plenty of time to get to the top of the game. Peng's time is considerably shorter, but her play here suggests she has arrived, even if it's just for a short stay.
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"It's really happy what I did now," Peng said. "Thinking from the beginning of the year, I was doing a lot of fitness and also I keep [practicing], try to improve my game. Maybe this time I find a way or I catch like the right time."
It must be the right time for her. She hasn't lost a set through five rounds. She ousted the fourth seed, Agnieszka Radwanska, in the second round, after beating her Chinese countrywoman, Zheng Jie, in the first. Peng, a product of the Chinese government's massive investment in tennis, could become the second Chinese player to win a Grand Slam event. Li Na won the Australian Open in January and the 2011 French Open. Zheng made the Wimbledon semis in 2008.
And here's Peng, a Wimbledon and French Open doubles winner, with a shot at a major win. A shot, surprisingly, at her first WTA Tour-level win ever. She has reached six finals, but in 198 career WTA events, she has never won. That's a record among active players.
Shuai is nothing if not a battler. Already big into tennis at a young age, Shuai said she had heart surgery at age 12 to correct a congenital condition, a situation that could have ended her career. She has fought through injuries, fought through a dispute with the Chinese tennis federation (read that government) that threatened to damage her chances. But through her insistence that she determine her own career rather than following the Communist Party's agenda, she helped create a policy called "Danfei," flying solo.
Addressing that situation Tuesday, she said: "I feel like the time should be like go my way; they feel like [it] go to maybe their way . . . But the good news [we] find a way, and now is really going good."
Through it all, she prevailed to become a dependable pro, and she has been a darn sight better than that at the Open. She taught Bencic a thing or two Tuesday.
"I think she has a dangerous game with both hands and the ball is really coming different from her racket," Bencic said. "I had a bit of troubles with this today. Also, angles are great . . . She served good and she didn't let me come [into] the match."
With her relatively greater success in doubles, Peng said, "They ask me are you a singles or doubles player? I feel I am a tennis player. So now is good."