Perseverance is the key word for Tara Moore, who has been rewarded with a maiden WTA quarter-final.
The world No.280 now stands as the only British player left in the draw at the Aegon Open Nottingham having put in an explosive performance to dismantle eighth seed Christina McHale 6-2, 6-2.
Five consecutive breaks marked the tense opening exchanges but McHale had no answer for the power and precision catapulted across the net from Moore.
Several winners from Moore’s impressive armoury had the ardent home crowd in raptures.
“I didn’t expect to play that well, I definitely came out swinging and I’m definitely in good form and I’m very happy with the way I performed,” reflected a delighted British No.4.
“It’s amazing, considering last year I was in a completely different situation (fell in Birmingham, Eastbourne and Wimbledon qualifying), I’m just really happy to be playing that level of tennis and hopefully everybody enjoys it as well.”
In particular, Moore is sparkling on the grass having reached the final at the ITF Eastbourne trophy last week and has now stormed through qualifying to earn a place in the final eight.
”It’s been a really long process, I think I’ve had lot of ups and downs and I think it’s finally coming together which has been a combination of hard work and perseverance,” said Moore, who is determined to build on this success.
“I’m hoping if I can continue this form, tomorrow’s match will be one of many big matches in my career. I’m the lowest ranked player in the draw so I’m going to play with no pressure.”
However British No.1 Johanna Konta’s title pursuit in Nottingham was hampered by injury as an inspired Saisai Zheng progressed into the quarter-finals, setting up a clash with Moore.
The world No.18’s pelvis rotated out of position at the start of the second set, leading to muscle spasms, but valiantly fought on for two hours in the blistering heat.
“I picked up a little niggle during that match but I felt it was something that I could manage and keep pushing through, that’s why I felt I could finish the match,” explained the Australian Open semi-finalist.
“Yes it was affecting me during the points, I clearly wasn’t able to distribute the weight as well as I usually do. I normally put more weight on my right hand side and I wasn’t able to do that.”
The second seed clattered down a trio of toe-tapping returns to instantly break for 2-0 however Zheng utilised the drop shot to level on the scoreboard.
The world No.86 outlasted Konta in a series of brutal rallies to steal a 5-4 lead. A brace of cross court backhand winners from the Brit couldn’t prevent Zheng serving out a 6-4 opener.
Despite picking up the pelvis complaint and relinquishing serve, Konta showed staggering resilience to move 2-1 ahead courtesy of some deft net play.
Carving out a 4-2 advantage looked to have forced a decider but Zheng was resolute in defence and curated the vital points to pin back Konta at 5-5.
A mammoth rally saw Zheng clip a delightful acute passing shot into the corner which was the catalyst for the pivotal break. Konta spurned three chances to force a tie-break and instead Zheng canvassed the net to complete a memorable 6-4, 7-5 victory.
“It’s not the first time I’ve been in that situation, I definitely would have liked to have dealt with the whole match a little better,” said Konta, who was adamant the injury was not the sole reason for defeat. “Credit to her, she made me play a lot of balls and there were a lot of high quality points. I just need to take care of it, realign myself and be ready for the next match.”
The British No.1 confirmed she expects to recover to play at Birmingham and Eastbourne on the grass, meanwhile Zheng was delighted to oust the second seed in straight sets.
“That was a really tough match today. We both struggled in the first set with lots of breaks, every point was a battle and I had to fight until the end,” said the exhausted world No.86. “I’m really happy to be into the quarter-finals here for the first time.”
Australian Ashleigh Barty is relishing being back on the Tour and building momentum on the grass after dispatching Andrea Hlavackova 6-0, 4-6, 6-4.
The qualifier has kick-started her WTA comeback with six wins at Eastbourne and is targeting further progress in Nottingham
“Absolutely, pleased to know I can still play at this level, maybe it’s going to be a bit touch and go but it’s nice to be straight off the bat and back into it. We didn’t expect to be here now 11-1 on the grass, quarter-finals at WTA event second week in. So it’s nice to sting it together,” said the 20-year-old.
“It’s a really good start. We probably couldn't ask for anything more at the moment. It’s a positive just to be moving on in the tournament, to get an opportunity to play more matches. It’s just exciting to be out there playing again.”
Having lost enjoyment for the sport, Barty quit tennis in late 2014 and was even invited to play ‘Big Bash’ cricket in Brisbane.
“I really enjoyed my 18 months at home. I met some really nice people in cricket, It was a fantastic experience to play in the WBBL. Nothing forced me back into tennis by any means, I just felt like it was the right time and my family and closest friends have supported me 100 percent.”
The former junior Wimbledon champion and doubles runner up at SW19 next faces top seed Karolina Pliskova, having beaten the world No.17 at Nottingham back in 2012.
“I remember very little! I won’t take too much from a match that was four years ago when I was 16, I’m a different person and different player now but we’ll go out there to start a fresh.
“Karolina is obviously a quality player and has had a fantastic two years, so it will be a really tough challenge but I’m looking forward to it.”
Tamira Paszek is certainly making the most of her ‘lucky loser’ chance in the draw and has now booked a ticket in Friday’s quarter-finals to face fourth seed Monica Puig.
The Austrian led 6-3, 3-1 over Heather Watson’s conqueror Magdalena Rybarikova, but she had to retire with a knee injury.