With her beaming smile, wry sense of humor and confidence to do things her own way, Hsieh Su-Wei captured the public’s heart at this month’s Australian Open.
The Taiwanese star, ranked as one of the world’s best doubles player, reached the quarterfinal stage in Melbourne, the furthest she has ever gone as a singles player in a grand slam.
Despite being knocked out by eventual champion Naomi Osaka, it was an experience the 35-year-old very much enjoyed, even in defeat.
“Every moment is all very special, doesn’t matter if it’s winning or losing, because sometimes when you lose, you will learn a lot,” Hsieh told CNN Sport.
“Like [when] I played Naomi, I saw the number of her serve speed, I felt like: ‘Wow.’ You need to be looking forward, looking on the good parts. I’m this kind of person.
“I try to go a little bit better because, you know, with my style, I would not serve like Naomi, but I will try to improve.”
Unlike most players on the professional tour, Hsieh is without a kit or racket sponsor meaning she pays for all her equipment herself.
According to coach Paul McNamee, she can go years without changing her racket, something which many players do multiple times during a single match.
Speaking with reporters at the Australian Open, McNamee said Hsieh had once gone three years without changing her racket and only thought it was time for a change when the strings began to break.
Playing without a sponsor
Ranked 50th in the world on the singles tour, Hsieh remains relaxed about the possibility her success in Melbourne could see a flurry of sponsorship opportunities come her way.
“People say it’s struggling with a sponsor situation, but I’m not thinking in that way because there’s always a sponsor coming to me, but I don’t have a manager,” said Hsieh, who has career earnings of over $9 million.
“So for me, if I don’t find someone who I can work [with], then I better focus on tennis because I’m a tennis player. You cannot forget what you’re doing and what is your first priority. So I just make decisions. Very simple.
“I don’t think it’s a big deal to have it or don’t have it.”
Rising up through the junior ranks in Taiwan, a country without much tennis infrastructure, Hsieh demonstrated her early potential but her father, and mentor, could never get a sponsorship deal over the line.
She said her slight build used to put potential sponsors off, with them asking her to come back when she had grown some more.
Undeterred, Hsieh started to play professionally at the age of 16, though life on tour wasn’t easy though. She struggled to sign up for tournaments and was having to plan everything herself. That was until she met McNamee.
The former Australian tennis player took a Hsieh under his wing in 2011 and unburdened her of the administrative headaches. It allowed Hsieh to focus on her game and unleash her true potential.
“He’s kind of like my teacher, my parent, my family and a good friend,” Hsieh said on McNamee’s influence.
“He’s always behind me, next to me, it was very helpful. I feel so much support and so much warmth.
“I feel very happy because when you are working with the people who are always kind and positive, you get a lot of good energy.”
Australian Open run
Hsieh has won three grand slam doubles titles, making her one of Asia’s most successful players, and her unorthodox style of play makes her a consistent thorn in the side for some of the sport’s elite.
She seems to play on instinct which, if nothing else, often makes for a great match for those watching.
However, despite her record run in Melbourne this year, Hsieh wasn’t feeling in great form in the build-up to the tournament.
“It’s very strange because before the tournament started, 24 hours before, I was not really getting into the feeling with tennis and suddenly, on Sunday, I just felt like, oh, I should play like this and then I get it on,” said Hsieh, who was one of 72 players placed in a strict 14-day quarantine ahead of the Australian Open’s start.
“This is what happens. Sometimes tennis is like a feeling, mental[ity] or you just need to change a little bit and it happens.”
Her refreshing approach to life, and to the sport of tennis, shows no sign of slowing down as she gets older.
But be careful not to mention her age too much, as one reporter found out to his cost in Melbourne.
After Hsieh upset the odds by beating 2019 US Champion Bianca Andreescu in straight sets, on-court interviewer Brett Phillips congratulated her on the victory and, after mentioning her age, asked how many years she thinks she can keep playing.
Hsieh delivered a rapier-like riposte to the question, followed by her trademark smile.
“Just little reminder [for] you. In Asia, we normally don’t say the girl’s age in the public,” she said, putting her finger to her mouth to shush the interviewer.
Age is just a number
Age is simply a number to the Taiwanese star.
“I’m not focused on that, so it’s no problem for me, I just do what I need to do,” she said.
“I try to make my work a little bit different. Every year I try to find something different to make it happen, to be more solid or move better.”
Now based in Paris, France, with her boyfriend and coach Frederic Aniere, Hsieh wants to make the most of her remaining years in the game.
She’s proved throughout her career that she’s capable of mixing with the best singles players on the WTA Tour and fans will certainly be hoping to see more of her in grand slams to come.
“For me, it’s very important to keep healthy, to be happy and to work hard. You just need to be patient,” she said, adding that living in the Paris gives her the perfect opportunity to indulge in her second love; food.
“Find other stuff you’ve never tried because I’m the person who likes to try all the food and I like to try other skills on the court.
“Practice something you never use on the court because you never know when maybe you’re going to use it.”