Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun and Hsieh Su-wei arrived at the US Open going in different directions, but they both played nearly flawlessly in their first-round singles matches on Tuesday at the year’s final Grand Slam event.
Lu had his best result of the year last week in reaching the quarter-finals of the Winston-Salem Open and sustained the momentum with a 6-4, 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 win over Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain to reach the second round of the US Open for only the second time in seven attempts.
Hsieh, on the other hand, came to Flushing Meadows having lost five consecutive singles matches dating back to Wimbledon and admitted to feeling apprehensive before play on Tuesday.
However, she upset 31st seed Klara Zakopalova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3 to advance in the women’s singles.
Lu, currently 60th in the men’s world singles rankings, and Hsieh, ranked 40th among the women, are the only two Taiwanese players who made the main singles draws at this year’s US Open.
“The key to victory today was that I played a little more aggressively after discussing strategy with my coach before the match,” said Lu, who faced only two break points the entire match, while converting three of nine break points on the Spaniard’s serve.
After a first set in which Lu controlled play before finally breaking Gimeno-Traver in the ninth game, he was nearly derailed by racket problems.
Strings on two of his rackets broke early in the second set, and the stringing on his third racket felt a little loose and took some time getting used to.
Lu also had to counter a change in strategy by the Spaniard, who resorted to his slice backhand to mix up the tempo.
“I was pretty happy that even though he made some adjustments, I was able to deal with them and continue executing my strategy,” Lu said.
The victory represented a milestone of sorts for the Taiwanese veteran, who turned 30 on Aug. 14.
It gave him a first-round win in each of the four Grand Slams in a single year for the first time in his career, after never having reached the second round of more than one Grand Slam in any calendar year.
However, for him to set another milestone — advancing to the third round of the US Open for the first time — Lu will have to beat 13th seed Tommy Haas of Germany.
“He’s a high-ranked player and tough to beat, but I still have to come up with a strategy to take him on,” Lu said. “Anything can happen. As long as I do my best, and get myself ready physically and mentally, there’s always a chance of winning.”
Winning in singles was not something Hsieh had been doing much of lately, but she came up big against Zakopalova, dismantling her higher-ranked opponent in 66 minutes and facing only two break points — unusually low for her — the entire match.
Hsieh, who teamed up with China’s Peng Shuai to win the women’s doubles at Wimbledon, becoming the first senior Taiwanese tennis player to win a Grand Slam title of any kind, said her focus on doubles had thrown off her singles game in recent months.
“I was having a hard time finding a balance between singles and doubles, but I worked with my coach to reach a balance between the two,” Hsieh said. “I had to keep reminding myself playing singles not to hit the ball in the doubles court in trying to get my feel back.”
Hsieh’s next opponent is 21-year-old Camila Giorgi of Italy, who also won her first-round match in straight sets.
Giorgi, ranked 136th in the world, had to qualify for the main draw, but the 27-year-old Taiwanese was taking nothing for granted.
“The young kids today are tough to play. They hit the ball really hard, and once they catch on to what you’re doing, they counter very quickly,” she said.
Both Lu and Hsieh said they got a boost from the many Taiwanese fans who turned out at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, to support them.
“Knowing that people are in your corner helps you pick yourself up at key moments or when things get tough. When you’re playing well, it helps you play even better,” Lu said.