NEW YORK: Her coach compares her to Rafael Nadal, and China’s Wang Qiang will need to conjure up a performance worthy of the Spanish star when she tackles 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams in Tuesday’s US Open quarter-finals.
Wang, 27, is trying to emulate Li Na, the former French and Australian Open champion, and Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai as just the fourth Chinese player to reach the last four of a major.
Obstructing her path is six-time US Open champion Williams, one win shy of a century at Flushing Meadows, but Wang’s coach, Thomas Drouet, insists the 37-year-old American is no longer the dominating force of the past two decades.
“I think the key in that match is she mustn’t try to beat Serena Williams and what she achieved. If she tries to beat history and what Serena achieved before in Arthur Ashe Stadium, she has no chance,” Drouet said.
“Her only solution is to beat the girl of now, what she is now. If we think of what Serena is now, she has a chance.
“If she tries to beat the girl that has won 23 Grand Slams, she will see it too big (a challenge). I want her to see that Serena is not like that.”
Williams captured her last Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open while pregnant and hasn’t won the US Open since 2014.
Drouet implored Wang not to submit to mind games with a player seeking her 24th major title to match Margaret Court’s all-time record.
“Don’t play this game with her,” he said, plainly spelling out the advice he would give Wang. “Don’t be scared of her. You are playing Serena Williams of 2019.”
Wang has not lost a set en route to the quarter-finals, her deepest run after a number of third-round showings at the Slams, and dispatched reigning Roland Garros champion Ashleigh Barty in the last 16.
– ‘I’m not a magician’ –
“I don’t think she played her best tennis,” Drouet said after a 6-2, 6-4 defeat of the Australian second seed.
“She didn’t have to play her best tennis, she was just so accurate. She played the right tactics.
“I make her think a lot in practice about why you do this or that. When you play the correct plan and you take your opponent out of their comfort zone, you don’t need to play your best tennis. You just need to be accurate.”
Drouet — a former Davis Cup player for Monaco who lists 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Peng among his former pupils — only came on board as Wang’s coach this summer.
Wang’s previous coach had been Peter McNamara, the late Australian Davis Cup tennis star and Wimbledon doubles champion.
McNamara, a popular figure on the men’s and women’s tours, passed away in July at the age of 64 after a battle with prostate cancer.
“I remember when she started with Peter, God bless him. I was always impressed with the work. She had the discipline and the respect she gave to the coach,” Drouet recalled of his decision to collaborate with Wang.
“I don’t pretend I’m a magician, I just have this discipline and work ethic every day, both in a good day, like in a bad day, and I felt she had this naturally. When I started with her we really connected well.”
Describing Wang “as very quiet and shy”, Drouet has quickly won her trust and produced immediate results — a semi-final run in the Bronx and a breakthrough Slam display in the neighboring borough of Queens has left her on the cusp of the top 10.
“I think she’s that kind of player that has this capability to analyze what’s happening and I think on the WTA tour it’s a big weapon. She’s also a very athletic girl.
“Point by point she makes her opponent tired. She’s like Nadal is doing, he’s not going to rush. He is making the opponent tired and then he can finish him.”
If Wang can do likewise, she might end Serena’s latest pursuit of history at a venue where she won her first Grand Slam title 20 years ago.