The Australian Open starts today and for the first time a Taiwanese player will be seeded in the singles at a Grand Slam event.
Thanks to her ranking as one of the top 32 players in the world, Hsieh Su-wei is the No. 26 seed in Melbourne, a stark contrast to 12 months ago, when she failed to even qualify for the main draw. However, it was not long after last year’s event that she won her first WTA tournament, and the 27-year-old from Hsinchu went from strength to strength, ending last year as the highest-ever ranked Taiwanese singles player.
Hsieh has suffered early exits in her two warm-up tournaments for the Australian Open, losing in the second round in Shenzhen, China, and going out in round one in Hobart, Australia, to Peng Shuai, despite being the top seed.
Apart from a slow start, Hsieh was happy with her performance against Peng, although the result did not go her way, as her Chinese opponent won a hard-fought match 6-2, 6-7(4/7) 7-6(7/4).
Speaking after the defeat, Hsieh was upbeat about her form as she looked forward to the first Grand Slam of the year.
“It’s the first time for my country [to have] somebody seeded at the Australian Open and I feel I’ve played better and better [against] top players in the last week, so I’ll just try my best,” she said.
Hsieh should feel at home in Melbourne, having trained there with Aussie coach Paul McNamee before Christmas, and has enjoyed success at Melbourne Park in the past, reaching the fourth round in 2008 before being beaten by Justine Henin.
A showdown with world No. 78 Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino awaits Hsieh in round one, in what will be the 20-year-old Spaniard’s first-ever match in the main draw at Melbourne. It will also be the first time Hsieh and Arruabarrena-Vecino have played each other.
Taiwanese No. 2 Chang Kai-chen has the chance to pull off an upset in her match against Sam Stosur, the No. 9 seed from Australia. Although the home crowd will be firmly behind the 2011 US Open champion, Stosur has suffered five consecutive losses in home tournaments and only has two matches under her belt since having ankle surgery six weeks ago. Even more ominously for the Aussie, Chang beat her in Osaka, Japan, in October last year on the only occasion the pair have met.
Chan Yung-jan is Taiwan’s other representative in the women’s singles, having made it through to the main draw by winning three matches in the qualifying tournament, without dropping a set. She faces Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia next.
In the men’s tournament Taiwanese hopes rest with Lu Yen-hsun, whose form in the warm-up tournaments has been similar to Hsieh’s. After a first round exit in Chennai, India, he beat 43rd-ranked Benoit Paire at the Heineken Open in Auckland, New Zealand, and then gave world No. 5 and defending champion David Ferrer of Spain a fright before losing their second-round match in three sets.
Lu has made the third round at Melbourne twice, most recently last year, when he beat Rik De Voest and Florent Serra before losing to former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro.
Lu’s first round opponent this year is 90th-ranked Ruben Ramirez Hidalgo of Spain, who has never been beyond the first round at Melbourne in three attempts. Should Lu prevail, he faces a tough match in round two against 18th seeded Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov or France’s Gael Monfils.