China's Zheng Jie capped a breakthrough year yesterday with gold in the women's singles at the Asian Games, fighting off a challenge from Indian darling Sania Mirza.
Zheng, who won Wimbledon and the Australian Open doubles titles with compatriot Yan Zi earlier this year, took the first set 6-4 before Mirza fought back in the second only to be denied in the crucial third.
The 23-year-old second seed won 6-4, 1-6, 6-1.
She said the match had been difficult as the mostly-Indian crowd were cheering for Mirza who upset top seed and Chinese teamamte Li Na a day earlier to reach the final.
"I played my best tennis of the tournament today," Zheng said. "This was a tough match because everybody was supporting Sania but I just kept going and tried to play aggressively in the third."
Zheng is gunning for two out of two in the women's doubles final with Yan today.
Mirza said she had plenty of chances but failed to capitalize.
"I played my best tennis yesterday," the fourth seed said.
"I could have played better in every department today but that's just the way tennis goes. I have to be happy with silver," the 20-year-old added.
Mirza also has another chance at gold as she was scheduled to team up with veteran Leander Paes in the mixed doubles on center court yesterday.
They won bronze together at the 2002 Asian Games.
Nerves appeared to grip Mirza early in the final, perhaps with the weight of an expectant nation on her shoulders.
She sent her normally powerful crosscourt forehands into the net, and gave up her service game with two double faults to go 2-4 down.
But Zheng also started to wobble, double-faulting in the very next game to hand Mirza a break before the Indian held for 4-4.
The world No. 33 regained her composure quickly, holding easily and again breaking Mirza to take the first set in 38 minutes.
In the second, a reinvigorated Mirza came out firing, breaking the Chinese in the third game and again in the fifth to race to a 4-1 lead, pumping her fists to signal a fight back was on the cards.
A medical time out from the Chinese second seed for treatment to her left thigh did nothing to break Mirza's momentum, as she broke with a mixture of deep forehands and drop shots.
In the crucial third, Zheng took a strangehold on the match, breaking immediately and fending off a fierce challenge from Mirza to hold serve, prompting the Indian to smash her racket on the ground in frustration.
Mirza eventually handed her the set 6-1 and the match with a double fault.
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