Hong Kong – China's Zhang Shuai looked in ominous form at the Hong Kong Open Friday as she swatted aside last year's runner-up Daria Gavrilova in straight sets – and said she was growing in confidence with every victory.
The world number 39 overwhelmed her Australian opponent – who is ranked five places above her – with the sheer power and precision of her ground strokes and ran away with a comfortable 6-1, 6-3 victory after little more than an hour on court.
Zhang, China's number two, will make her debut in the Hong Kong semis Saturday when she takes on Ukrainian teenager Dayana Yastremska.
"The first and second rounds gave me a lot of confidence – that's why today I played really well," Zhang, 29, said.
Last year's Hong Kong quarter finalist added she was happy soaking up the atmosphere on Centre Court.
"I'm really happy so many fans have come to Hong Kong. I'll try my best tomorrow!"
Gavrilova, 24, said she was tired after two three-set matches in the earlier rounds and said she suffered a painful knee during the pre-game warm-up which required heavy strapping.
But she said that was not why she lost.
"I felt like she had her A-game today," Gavrilova said.
"I was dropping the ball too short and not finding the corners, I was getting myself into too much trouble by hitting the ball in the middle of the court really."
She added: "I was feeling it and my legs were a bit tired but I'm kind of used to it and this wasn't the reason I lost."
Zhang, who has won two career WTA singles titles and was knocked out of Beijng by Japan's Naomi Osaka at the quarter finals, will be favourite to win against 18-year-old Yastremska, currently ranked 102.
The 2016 Wimbledon girls singles finalist conquered her nerves as she fought back from an early setback to win only her second WTA quarter-final earlier Friday.
The 18-year-old quickly went down 4-0 to outsider Kristina Kucova – the world number 317 who knocked out Jelena Ostapenko in the first round – before recovering to win 7-6 (8/6), 6-2.
"Even though I was losing 4-0 I had a fighting spirit and I knew that I would find my game if I stayed patient," Yastremska said.
"The crowds were supporting me so I felt that energy and I was very motivated to come back."
She added: "I was very nervous and I made a lot of mistakes, but I realised that I'm nervous and I just had to get through it."
Earlier this year, the big-serving teenager became the first player born this millennium to break into the WTA top 100 rankings.
China's number one Wang Qiang takes on world number five Elina Svitolina in the late match.