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By Richard Pagliaro

(March 16, 2010) INDIAN WELLS — The smallest woman left standing in the draw showed her elasticity in another three-set tussle today.

Holding serve to force a third-set tie breaker against Alicia Molik, Zheng Jie turned and walked slowly to the back of the court as if seeking shelter from the searing sun against the back wall of court 4.

Then, the 5-foot-4 1/2 Chinese turned around and confronted tennis' version of sudden death by racing forward relentlessly.

Four times in the first five points, Zheng stormed forward  fearlessly in building a 5-0 lead. Finally, Molik tried to take the net away only to watch Zheng pounce from a low crouch and lash a backhand pass up the line to seal a 6-3, 4-6, 7-6(1) victory that vaulted her into the BNP Paribas Open quarterfinals.

It is the third quarterfinal of the season for Zheng, who reached her second Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open.

The 18th-seeded Zheng, who reeled off four consecutive games to knock Maria Sharapova out of the draw, 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 in the third round, will play either second-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or 16th-seeded Nadia Petrova in the quarterfinals.

Wild card Molik beat Zheng, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, in Dubai last month and was bidding to reach the Indian Wells quarterfinals for the first time.

When she's in form, Zheng displays aggressive footwork, hovering right on top of the baseline and firing back shots from compact swings that rob opponent's of reaction time. She effectively attacked Molik's one-handed backhand throuhough the breaker, opening the court by playing ot Molik's forehand then attacking net behind aggressive approach shots to the 29-year-old Australian's backhand.

That tactic worked wonderfully in the breaker as Zheng applied constant pressure. The only point she lost was on a forehand approach down the line. Initially called out, the linesperson immediately corrected his own call, but the chair umpire over ruled and it was 5-1. Zheng shurgged it off, cracked a forehand winner crosscourt and screamed "come on!" at earning a handful of match points.

Zheng didn't have too much time to celebrate: after a few hours off she's headed back to the doubles court with partner Yung-Jan Chan to take on the top-seeded team or Cara Black and Liezel Huber.

 

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