Chinese Zhang Shuai's fairy-tale run continues
Giant-killing Zhang Shuai's dream run at the Australian Open gathered pace yesterday with the Chinese qualifier storming past Varvara Lepchenko and into a fourth-round clash with 15th seed Madison Keys.
Ranked 133rd, Zhang had lost all 14 of her previous Grand Slam matches before this week, but has now won three in a row and was never in danger against the experienced American, cruising through 6-1, 6-3.
The 27-year-old has now accounted for world No. 2 Simona Halep, 33rd-ranked Frenchwoman Alize Cornet and 51st-ranked Lepchenko as she produces some of the best tennis of her career.
"It's been an amazing tournament," she said after the match, close to tears and lost for words.
"I just can only think about the next point. I wish I can play another match like this."
She landed 80 per cent of first serves on her way to clinching the opening set against Lepchenko on Margaret Court Arena, reeling off six straight games after dropping her opening serve.
She kept up the momentum in the second set to line up a crack at Keys, a semi-finalist in Melbourne last year who came from a set down to beat Ana Ivanovic in a match delayed when the Serb's coach needed medical treatment.
Zhang first came to prominence in 2009 when she became the lowest-ranked player to defeat a reigning world No. 1 - Dinara Safina at the China Open - and she was once ranked 30th in the world.
But her serial failure at Grand Slams and a horror 2015 in which she fell eight times in the first round and six times in qualifying convinced her it was time to call it quits.
Her team told her to give it one more shot at Melbourne Park this year and she now has a chance for make the quarter-finals.
"This is the best team in my life," said Zhang as she fought back tears in a courtside interview.