MELBOURNE, Australia – In an era of power tennis, Hsieh Su-wei plays a very different game full of two-handed drop shots, artful lobs and deceptively spinning slices.
She calls it playing "Su-wei" style tennis. And on Monday, she nearly knocked off her second Grand Slam champion at the Australian Open, frustrating Angelique Kerber for more than two hours with her unorthodox game before falling 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in their fourth-round match.
It was the furthest the 32-year-old Taiwanese doubles specialist had progressed at a major since reaching the round of 16 at Melbourne Park in 2008.
Kerber may have prevailed, keeping her 13-match win streak to start the season alive, but said afterward that Hsieh's game can be incredibly tricky.
"I was always like, 'this is impossible how she hit the ball.' All the time she had the better answer. If she goes down the line, then she had the drop shot. She went to the net, and I was — I don't know where I was," she said. "I was just trying to stay a little bit relaxed and say to myself, 'OK, next point."
Kerber wasn't the only one having troubles with "Su-wei" tennis at the Australian Open. After surviving a tight match with qualifier Lin Zhu in the first round, Hsieh upset Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza and then beat former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, each time displaying her deft touch at net and full range of creative shot-making.
Sometimes Hsieh doesn't know where the shots are going to go.
"I call like to play freestyle," Hsieh said. "If I don't have a plan, then I do whatever I can. When the ball comes, I decide at the last moment where to hit, so sometime the girls say, 'Oh, I don't know where she hit.' But sometimes I don't know where I hit, too."
Though she's had modest success in singles, the 32-year-old Hsieh honed her unusual playing style and enjoyed her best results in doubles. She's won the French Open and Wimbledon doubles titles with China's Peng Shuai and was the first Taiwanese woman to reach No. 1 in the doubles rankings.
Hsieh and Peng are still alive in the doubles at the Australian Open, as well, reaching the quarterfinals.
She credits long-time coach Paul McNamee, a former Australian No. 1 in doubles and former tournament director of the Australian Open, with encouraging her to continue playing singles, even after she rose to the top in doubles.
"At the beginning I was ranked 343, around there, and then he pushed me to play some singles tournament. I was thinking, 'Why is he sending me to play the singles?" she said.
The dedication to both games has paid off for Hsieh, who also notched a win over No. 8 Johanna Konta at the French Open last year and will see her singles ranking rise to near No. 70 after the tournament. (Her highest singles ranking is No. 23.)
"You know, it's always good to come back after 10 years and you make fourth round again," she said. "I thinking if I try to work a little bit harder maybe I can, I hope I can have more success."