MELBOURNE • A fairy-tale run is guaranteed to extend deep into the Australian Open's second week, after China's Zhang Shuai yesterday booked a date with fellow surprise package Johanna Konta.
A week ago, world No. 133 Zhang was Australian Grand Slam champion Sam Stosur's ball girl. Yesterday, the Chinese became the first woman qualifier since 1990 to reach the Australian Open quarter-finals after she beat a hobbling Madison Keys 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.
The 15th-seeded Keys had won the opening set comfortably but was broken by Zhang in the third game of the second and immediately took a medical time-out for treatment to what appeared to be an injury to her left leg.
The American then found it difficult to move around the court and her 27-year-old opponent used that to her advantage as she made Keys chase the ball.
Keys, a semi-finalist last year, looked on the verge of retiring several times in the deciding set but battled on grimly despite being in obvious pain.
DAY 6 RESULTS
Men's 4th rd: Andy Murray (Gbr) bt Bernard Tomic (Aus) 6-4 6-4 7-6 (7-4), David Ferrer (Esp) bt John Isner (USA) 6-4 6-4 7-5, Milos Raonic (Can) bt Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) 6-4 6-3 5-7 4-6 6-3, Gael Monfils (Fra) bt Andrey Kuznetsov (Rus) 7-5 3-6 6-3 7-6 (7-4).
Women's 4th rd: Zhang Shuai (Chn) bt Madison Keys (USA) 3-6 6-3 6-3, Johanna Konta (Gbr) bt Ekaterina Makarova (Rus) 4-6 6-4 8-6, Victoria Azarenka (Blr) bt Barbora Strycova (Cze) 6-2 6-4, Angelique Kerber (Ger) bt Annika Beck (Ger) 6-4 6-0.
Zhang struggled to control her nerves as the prospect of a place in the last eight loomed, with fans at the Rod Laver Arena shouting "quarter-finals", but she eventually got the job done.
"Bad luck, Madison. She was injured and I'm very lucky today," said Zhang, who will leapfrog world No. 83 Zheng Saisai to become the new Chinese No. 1 next Monday.
"It was so difficult to concentrate because I could see she was in pain. But it's so exciting for me."
She nearly retired from the sport last year after losing all 14 of her previous Grand Slam matches before this year's tournament.
Now she has accounted for Romanian world No. 2 Simona Halep, 33rd-ranked Frenchwoman Alize Cornet, 51st-ranked American Varvara Lepchenko and Keys, who left centre court sobbing.
Zhang's reward is a showdown with Konta tomorrow.
Konta also made history yesterday, becoming the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final since 1984 after coming through a slugfest against 21st seed Ekaterina Makarova, a semi-finalist last year.
The unseeded Konta ground down the Russian 4-6, 6-4, 8-6 in 3hr 4min on Margaret Court Arena - the second-longest women's match of the tournament.
The draining victory marked the Australian-born 24-year-old's furthest progression at a Grand Slam, and is the best British effort at a Major since Jo Durie made the Wimbledon quarter-finals 32 years ago. Durie also reached the Australian Open quarters in 1983.
The only other British women to get as far were Virginia Wade, who won the tournament in 1972, and Sue Barker, who made the semi-finals twice.
"Goodness gracious," said Konta, the world No. 47 who stunned American eighth seed Venus Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam winner, in the first round. "Mentally, emotionally and physically, I left it all out there on the court.
"I ran down every ball and kept fighting for every point and fortunately managed to capitalise on some opportunities and close it out in the end."
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Day 9: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, 8am & 4pm