Han Na-lae becomes 1st S. Korean to surive WTA qualifying at home

September 17, 2018

SEOUL, Sept. 17 (Yonhap) — Han Na-lae on Monday became the first South Korean to qualify for the lone Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tournament on home soil.

Han, world No. 230, defeated the 343rd-ranked Barbora Stefkova of the Czech Republic 2-0 (7-5, 6-3) in the second round of the qualifying stage for the Korea Open at Olympic Park Tennis Center in Seoul.

Han had defeated world No. 174 Harriet Dart in the first qualifying match on Saturday. Han is the first South Korean to make it through qualifying for the Korea Open, which began in 2004.

Han Na-lae of South Korea hits a return against Barbora Stefkova of the Czech Republic in a qualifying match for the Korea Open tournament on the Women's Tennis Association Tour at Olympic Park Tennis Center in Seoul on Sept. 17, 2018. (Yonhap)

Han Na-lae of South Korea hits a return against Barbora Stefkova of the Czech Republic in a qualifying match for the Korea Open tournament on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour at Olympic Park Tennis Center in Seoul on Sept. 17, 2018. (Yonhap)

South Korea hasn’t had players who placed high enough to receive tournament berths based on their positions in the rankings, and two or three players have competed as “wild cards” each year.

This year, Han joined three wild card players in the round of 32.

“I learned yesterday that I could become the first Korean qualifier,” Han said. “It feels great. But it also shows you just how far we have to go as a country in women’s tennis.”

Han was scheduled to play her second qualifying match on Sunday but the match was postponed due to rain. Han said she benefited from the extra day of rest because her wonky knees acted up a bit after her victory on Saturday.

The 26-year-old, who reached the round of 16 at the 2014 and 2017 Korea Open, gave a blunt assessment of the state of her game.

“There are so many areas where I need to improve on that I can’t pick just one,” Han said. “I am done gaining playing experience. I have to take the next step.”

In the round of 32, Stefanie Voegele defeated South Korean wild card Choi Ji-hee 2-1 (6-3, 2-6, 6-4). Choi led the Swiss 4-1 in the third set but then dropped five consecutive games.

The 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko is back to defend her crown as the top seed. The Latvian was a huge crowd favorite last year, as she came to Seoul only months after winning the French Open for her first Grand Slam title.

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