2016 Australian Open

Tennis: Armed with a 'lucky locker', Zhang dreams of Aussie Open title

China's Zhang Shuai running to hit a shot during her third-round match against Varvara Lepchenko of the US at the Australian Open. She is on a six-match winning streak after coming through qualifying and will face 15th seed Madison Keys in the fourth
China's Zhang Shuai running to hit a shot during her third-round match against Varvara Lepchenko of the US at the Australian Open. She is on a six-match winning streak after coming through qualifying and will face 15th seed Madison Keys in the fourth round today.PHOTO: REUTERS

MELBOURNE • China's Zhang Shuai is daring to dream she can extend her amazing run all the way to the Australian Open title, crediting the use of compatriot Zheng Jie's "lucky locker" for her inspirational performances.

Against the odds, the qualifier has upset three dangerous players to advance to the fourth round - world No. 2 Simona Halep, 33rd-ranked Alize Cornet and Varvara Lepchenko, ranked 51st.

It is all the more remarkable given that 27-year-old Zhang, ranked 133, had lost all 14 of her previous Grand Slam matches before this week and was on the verge of retiring.

She has taken inspiration from her friend Zheng, who is not at the tournament this year but won the women's doubles title in 2006 with partner and compatriot Yan Zi and stormed to the singles semi-finals four years later.

Zheng always used the same locker, and Zhang has it this year.

"I want to keep winning," said Zhang. "Zheng Jie, she was always very lucky. She played well in the Australian Open. But this year she didn't come.

"This year, I use her lucky locker. I don't remember the locker number, but she said, 'OK, I give you my lucky locker. I hope you can be lucky this year'. So I think I got a lot of luck from her this year."

Zhang, on a six-match winning streak after coming through qualifying, is hoping her luck does not run out today, when she faces 15th seed Madison Keys, a semi-finalist here last year.

"There is absolutely no fear of losing now," she said after becoming just the fourth Chinese woman to reach the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament.

"I'll just be happy playing every point. From here, the point of playing tennis is to be happy, to enjoy it and not feel any pain.

"No matter how much I fail in future or lose matches, tennis will be a happy thing for me."

The 27-year-old from the northern port of Tianjin has even set her sights on lifting one of tennis' biggest prizes.

Asked if she seriously thought she could press on and actually lift the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, Zhang replied: "Before, no. But today, maybe yes."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Armed with a 'lucky locker', Zhang dreams of Aussie Open title'. Print Edition | Subscribe