Tennis: Chinese women continue giant-killing acts

A jubilant Zhang Shuai celebrating her giant-killing act. The Chinese beat world No. 2 Simona Halep for her first Grand Slam win in 15 attempts.
A jubilant Zhang Shuai celebrating her giant-killing act. The Chinese beat world No. 2 Simona Halep for her first Grand Slam win in 15 attempts.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

MELBOURNE • The Australian Open prides itself as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific, and a couple of Chinese underdogs have been doing Asia proud.

For the second straight day at Melbourne Park, a Chinese qualifier has claimed the scalp of a seeded player in the women's draw.

World No. 2 Simona Halep was sensationally dumped from the year's opening Major at the first hurdle yesterday by Zhang Shuai, who earned her first Grand Slam win in 15 attempts.

Halep, who has been struggling with a niggling Achilles injury, had no answers to Zhang's dominant baseline game with the Chinese No. 4 scoring a stunning 6-4, 6-3 win.

The odds had been heavily stacked in Halep's favour, with Zhang playing 14 Grand Slam matches ahead of Tuesday and losing them all - the worst record of any player in the top 300.

  • Men's singles, 1st rd: Fernando Verdasco (Esp) bt Rafael Nadal (Esp) 7-6 (8-6) 4-6 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-2, Jeremy Chardy (Fra) bt Ernests Gulbis (Lat) 7-5 2-6 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 13-11, Gael Monfils (Fra) bt Yuichi Sugita (Jpn) 6-1 6-3 6-2, Rajeev Ram (USA) bt Kevin Anderson (Rsa) 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (4-7), 6-3, 3-0 (retired), Milos Raonic (Can) bt Lucas Pouille (Fra) 6-1 6-4 6-4, Jack Sock (USA) bt Taylor Fritz (USA) 6-4 3-6 0-6 6-3 6-4, David Ferrer (Esp) bt Peter Gojowczyk (Ger) 6-4 6-4 6-2, Feliciano Lopez (Esp) bt Daniel Evans (Gbr) 6-1 6-0 6-4, John Isner (USA) bt Jerzy Janowicz (Pol) 6-3 7-6 (9-7) 6-3, Bernard Tomic (Aus) bt Denis Istomin (Uzb) 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-4, Gilles Muller (Lux) bt Fabio Fognini (Ita) 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (9-7) 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (7-1), Andy Murray (Gbr) bt Alexander Zverev (Ger) 6-1 6-2 6-3.

    Women's singles, 1st rd: Angelique Kerber (Ger) bt Misaki Doi (Jpn) 6-7 (4-7) 7-6 (8-6) 6-3, Madison Brengle (USA) bt Coco Vandeweghe (USA) 6-3 6-4, Johanna Larsson (Swe) bt Irina Begu (Rom) 6-3 6-2, Jelena Jankovic (Srb) bt Polona Hercog (Slo) 6-3 6-3, Timea Bacsinszky (Sui) bt Katerina Siniakova (Cze) 6-3 7-5, Elina Svitolina (Ukr) bt Victoria Duval (USA) 6-2 6-3, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (Cze) bt Caroline Garcia (Fra) 6-2 6-4, Garbine Muguruza (Esp) bt Anett Kontaveit (Est) 6-0 6-4, Johanna Konta (Gbr) bt Venus Williams (USA) 6-4 6-2, Zheng Saisai (Chn) bt Carina Witthoeft (Ger) 6-1 6-2, Denisa Allertova (Cze) bt Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA) 6-4 6-7 (5-7) 6-3, Sabine Lisicki (Ger) bt Petra Cetkovska (Cze) 6-4 6-4, Ekaterina Makarova (Rus) bt Maddison Inglis (Aus) 6-3 6-0, Karolina Pliskova (Cze) bt Kimberly Birrell (Aus) 6-4, 6-4, Madison Keys (USA) bt Zarina Diyas (Kaz) 7-6 (7-5) 6-1, Ana Ivanovic (Srb) bt Tammi Patterson (Aus) 6-2 6-3, Alize Cornet (Fra) bt Bojana Jovanovski (Srb) 6-1 6-0, Zhang Shuai (Chn) bt Simona Halep (Rom) 6-4, 6-3.

But the world No. 133 was a different player on Margaret Court Arena, punishing the Romanian's scrappy service game while dominating at the net and from the baseline.

"I'm so excited that I played so well," said Zhang, who burst into tears during her courtside interview as the enormity of the upset sank in and the crowd gave her a generous ovation. "I'm so happy, so excited at beating the world's No. 2 player."

The 27-year-old added that it was the "most memorable moment of my tennis life" and revealed that she almost retired last year as her career nose-dived.

However, she decided to try her luck at one more Grand Slam, and it paid off yesterday.

Few would given her any hope once the draw was made, but Halep did not know what hit her as Zhang raced to a 4-0 lead.

The second seed finally got a break in the fifth game and looked to be clawing her way back into the match at 2-4.

However, she lost focus as sweat poured off her and Zhang pounced again to take the set.

Halep, who won the only previous meeting between the pair 6-1, 6-1 in 2012, appeared to regain her composure as the second set unfolded, taking a 3-1 lead.

But Zhang again stepped up her game, reeling off a forehand winner to secure the biggest scalp of her career.

"I think it wasn't my good day but I give her a lot of credit as she played without fear and hit every ball," Halep told reporters. "I didn't have any pain today. I'm still thinking about the Achilles injury. I did everything I could today."

A day earlier, former Australian Open semi-finalist and 24th seed Sloane Stephens fell 3-6, 3-6 to Wang Qiang, who like Zhang hails from Tianjin.

At one point, Stephens, the champion in Auckland earlier this month, lost 10 straight games to the world No. 102.

Wang will face Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam today for a place in the third round.

Chinese players have stamped their authority at the Majors before.

Li Na won two Grand Slam singles titles, including the 2014 Australian Open, while Yan Zi, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai can each boast two Major doubles titles.

But China has struggled to produce a dominant singles player since Li's retirement in 2014.

Nevertheless, of the five Chinese players in the women's singles draw at the Open, only Wang Yafan failed to get out of the first round.

Zheng Saisai, China's highest-ranked player at 83rd, routed German Carina Witthoeft 6-1, 6-2 yesterday.

World No. 162 Han Xinyun will also feature in the second round after Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino retired with the Chinese player up 6-2, 2-1 on Monday.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Chinese women continue giant-killing acts'. Print Edition | Subscribe