Facing the Roland Garros Champion and World #2 Ashleigh Barty held no fears for Qiang Wang. The Chinese #1 swept the Australian aside in straight sets in the fourth round of the 2019 US Open.
This is the first time that the 27-year-old from Tianjin has reached the quarterfinals of any Grand Slam event, but it is no surprise that this breakthrough has occurred in 2019. There has been a steady improvement in her game for the last few years, especially under the tutelage of the much-missed Australian legend Peter McNamara.
The rise of Qiang
Qiang Wang started playing on the ITF circuit as a 14-year-old in 2006, a not uncommon sight in the Far East. ITF tournaments are frequent in this area and entries for talented youngsters are regular.
It took her until 2010 to win an ITF tournament and she ended that year inside the top 300. Six more ITF titles later and Qiang was on the brink of the top 100, but was finding it difficult to make the breakthrough onto the main tour. Her first regression in the rankings came in 2015 and led the Chinese athlete to make a key decision in her career.
McNamara and Qiang: A dream team
It was the spring of 2015 when Qiang announced on social media that she would begin working with experienced Australian coach Peter McNamara. The multiple-time doubles Grand Slam champion had been working with the likes of Grigor Dimitrov and Matthew Ebden but decided to take the challenge of taking Qiang to the next level.
The partnership didn’t have immediate success, just one $25k ITF tournament win in 2015, but the seeds were being sown for gradual and lasting improvement.
2016 brought with it three excellent high-level ITF tournament wins and but Qiang had cracked the top 100 at last. She went on to win her first WTA International level tournament in 2017 in Zhengzhou, defeating then Chinese #1 Shuai Peng in the final.
Qiang was then a regular fixture in the latter stages of WTA International tournaments all over the world.
The Golden Run to the Top 20
The Qiang/McNamara partnership came to an amicable end in early 2019, just five months before McNamara succumbed to his illness. Prior to this, however, the Chinese #1 had already achieved an incredible run of success in late 2018.
She won her 2nd WTA International title in Nanchang in July 2018, but from September of that year, she began a remarkable sequence of results.
In consecutive weeks she reached the semifinals in Hiroshima, followed by victory in Guangzhou, semifinals in the Premier event in Wuhan, semifinals in Beijing, final in Hong Kong and, most impressively, an appearance in the final of the WTA Elite Trophy final.
In that final she met, ironically, Ashleigh Barty, losing in straight sets. Qiang has clearly learned a lot from that defeat as she turned the tables in devastating style at Flushing Meadows.
Does Qiang have the ability to win the US Open?
The quarterfinals bring her a match against the dominant player of the last decade, and current tournament favourite, Serena Williams. They have never met on the tennis court so it is impossible to judge how the match may go from history, but there’s no doubt that Williams will be seen as strong favourite to progress.
Qiang hailed the influence of her dearly departed former coach Peter McNamara after the victory against Barty. She told her post-match press conference, “He always believed in me. He told me I could be a top player”.
There’s no doubt that Qiang Wang is now a top player in the game. Let’s hope that Qiang can continue to use that inspiration on the court against Serena Williams to make herself, McNamara, and the whole of China, proud.