How Wang Yafan took a break and renewed his life

NEW YORK — Wang Yafan stuttered when asked what he had been up to in the seven-month hiatus from the professional tour.

Coffee shops? Video games? Books? Karaoke?

The 29-year-old from China smiled shyly and shrugged.

„Yes.”

What matters most to her right now is that she has quietly emerged as a force to be reckoned with on the Hologic WTA Tour. Since returning to the tour in January, Wang has compiled a 57-10 record at all levels. On Monday, Wang played her first Grand Slam main draw in two years and defeated No.7 Caroline Garcia 6-4, 6-1 in the first round of the US Open for her 11th straight match win.

„After four years, this is my first time in the US Open main draw,” Wang said. „So I don’t think about losing or winning, just enjoy. There are a lot of people here. Play my best tennis.”

US Open 2023: Draw | Order of play | marks | 411

Wang reached a career-high No.47 in 2019, but played intermittently due to China’s strict Covid restrictions. He had recently married, and the country’s 28-day quarantine rules prohibited travel.

His last tournament before the Covid shutdown was a quarterfinal run at the 2020 Monterrey. He tried to power through the 2021 season, but won one main-draw event in 16 events. He stopped his season after Wimbledon that year, and when he resumed on the ITF circuit in 2022, being on tour was untenable.

„Because of Covid, we have to travel, but my husband can’t come with me,” Wang said. „If I play, I will have to stay outside China for a year or two. I also had some injuries. Also, if I go back to China, I will have to quarantine for 28 days. That is too long for me.”

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After Wang sat on the sidelines for seven months, the country lifted its travel restrictions. Wang returned to the tournament with a new outlook on tennis and life.

„For me, the difference is that I think more if I lose a match or win a match,” Wang said. „Now I think 'just play.’ I don’t think about losing or winning. It doesn’t matter.

„If I lose, it’s the same life. If I win, it’s the same life. So I’m in a better frame of mind. I’m trying to enjoy tennis and not put too much pressure on tennis. I think it’s different for me.”

That more relaxed approach, paired with major technical adjustments to her improved serve, has seen Wang win five ITF titles and, most recently, the WTA 125K title at Stanford a week before US Open qualifying.

„I didn’t think I could win the championship,” Wang said. “I started at Qualis [in Stanford] Before that, I lost in the first round.

„Before the tournament, we’re thinking of going straight to New York, maybe not playing this week. But it’s good that I got there.”

Starting a 24-match winning streak on the ITF Tour, Wang has now won 38 of her last 41 matches. She is also on the verge of returning to the top 100. Next, Katie faces Boulder for a place in the third round of a Slam for the first time.

Wang is part of a group of Chinese women making a comeback at the US Open. Last year, Zheng Qinwen, Zhang Shuai, Wang Xiyu and Yuan Yue advanced to the third round in New York, the first time four Chinese players advanced to the majors.

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This year, the Chinese players went undefeated 7-0 in the first round on both the men’s and women’s sides. On Tuesday, Wang Xinyu advanced to the second round with a 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 win over Cleveland champion Sara Soripes Dormo. Zhu Lin followed that up with a 6-3, 6-3 win over former No.1 Victoria Azarenka.

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