In a stunning turn of events at the Hana Bank Korea Open, two lesser-known South Korean players ousted the Grand Slam champions in the first round. Back Dayeon, a wild card, made a remarkable comeback from being 5-2 down in the third set, saving a match point, to defeat No.2 seed Jelena Ostapenko 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(4) in a thrilling match that lasted 2 hours and 13 minutes. Meanwhile, Jang Su-Jeong defeated No.5 seed Sofia Kenin 6-1, 6-4 in just 1 hour and 31 minutes.
This is the first time since 2013 that two South Koreans have won their opening matches in Seoul. In 2013, Jang emerged victorious against Klara Koukalova and Ons Jabeur to reach the quarterfinals, while Lee Ye-Ra defeated Daria Saville in the first round.
Highlights: Jang d. Kenin
Jang’s upset win over Kenin marks her first victory against a Top 50 player since her triumph over Koukalova. It is also the first time she has beaten a Top 30 opponent in her career. This victory comes after their previous encounter in the first round of the 2018 Newport Beach WTA 125 event, where Jang emerged victorious with a score of 7-6(6), 6-3.
Jang showcased her exceptional counterpunching skills and finesse in drop shots during the match. The former Australian Open champion, Kenin, struggled to find her rhythm and consistency, despite her recent strong performances in the San Diego final and Guadalajara semifinals last month.
Back, ranked No.569, made her WTA main-draw debut by qualifying for Seoul this year. She entered the tournament on a hot streak at the ITF level, winning 22 out of her previous 26 matches, including two ITF W15 titles and reaching two additional finals. However, she had never faced a Top 200 opponent before, and Ostapenko’s experience showed as she dominated the first set.
Back’s strategic shift towards a slice-heavy defensive game enabled her to turn the tables. Ostapenko’s unforced errors started to increase as she was forced into extended rallies, ultimately resulting in her downfall. With 68 unforced errors outweighing her 43 winners, Ostapenko couldn’t maintain her momentum.
Ostapenko seemed to regain control of the match as she won four straight games from a break down in the deciding set to lead 5-2. However, Back mounted a comeback, saving a match point at 5-4 with a brilliant forehand pass. This set the stage for a third-set tiebreak, a situation that Ostapenko had successfully navigated the previous year against another South Korean wild card ranked below 500. However, Back proved to be too strong this time, and an Ostapenko backhand sailed long on match point, giving Back a career-best victory.
In the next round, Back will face Kimberly Birrell, who defeated qualifier Sachia Vickery 6-4, 6-4. Jang will have the opportunity to return to the quarterfinals, a decade after her previous appearance, when she faces Emina Bektas. Bektas saved a match point to overcome Laura Pigossi in a thrilling 3-hour and 8-minute match, with a final score of 6-7(5), 6-4, 7-5.
Highlights: Pegula d. Hruncakova | Lys d. Schmiedlova | Bektas d. Pigossi
No.1 seed Jessica Pegula managed to avoid the upsets, defeating Viktoria Hruncakova 6-2, 6-4. Pegula started strong, dropping only five points in the first five games. Although Hruncakova showcased occasional breathtaking power, she couldn’t maintain the consistency needed to challenge Pegula. In the next round, Pegula will face 19-year-old Ashlyn Krueger, the recently crowned Osaka champion, in an all-American matchup.
Jessica Roberts serves up the latest in the world of tennis. With a love for the racket sport, she reports on tennis matches, player rankings, and Grand Slam events, ensuring readers stay informed about the tennis world.