Zhang Shuai: The biggest surprise of the 2016 Australian Open
The recently concluded Australian Open saw many upsets early in the tournament. Many unseeded players cut short the path of favorites and other seeded singles players. This was more prevalent in the Women’s singles tournament than the Men’s.
Many top players like Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, etc were beaten by relatively unknown players. Unseeded British player Johanna Konta was the biggest surprise of the tournament as she defeated the likes of Venus Williams and last year’s semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova to make it all the way to the semifinals, thus becoming the first British woman to make it to a Grand Slam singles semifinals in 32 years.
Although Johanna Konta was a big surprise package of the tournament, there was another surprise package who was a real standout among other unseeded players and that was Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai.
China was a totally unknown name in tennis until players like Li Na, Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie produced some brilliant performances to popularize China in tennis. Li Na won two Grand Slam Singles titles while Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai have made the semifinals of the Wimbledon and the Australian and US Opens.
At this year’s Australian Open, Zhang Shuai made a name for herself as she proved out to be a real giant killer, making it all the way to the quarterfinals before her path was cut short by Britain’s Johanna Konta.
Zhang was seeded 18th at the qualifying rounds of the Australian Open. She won her first two matches in straight sets before facing Virginie Razzano in the final qualifying round. Razzano won the first set 6-4 but Zhang fought hard to take the second set 6-2 and a tightly fought third set 8-6.
Coming into the Australian Open, Zhang was ranked 133rd in the world. She was drawn in Section 8 and would face two-time quarterfinalist and World No.2 Simona Halep. On the very second day of the Australian Open, Zhang caused the biggest upset of the tournament as she beat Halep in straight sets.
The win marked her first ever win in a Grand Slam tournament as she had lost in the first round of the fourteen previous Grand Slam tournaments she featured in.
In the second round, she was up against World No. 33 Alize Cornet whom she defeated, again in straight sets. She continued her good form as she beat 51st ranked Varvara Lepchenko in the third round to set up an encounter with last year’s semifinalist and World No. 15 Madison Keys in the fourth round.
Keys took the first set 6-3, thus ending Zhang’s three match streak of not dropping a set. However, Zhang fought back and took the second set 6-3. She went on to take the third set with the same score to make her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, thus becoming only the fourth Chinese player to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam.
In the quarterfinals, the Chinese ace was up against Britain’s Johanna Konta who was another standout among the unseeded players, demolishing former World No.1 Venus Williams and last year’s semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova on her way to the quarterfinals. Zhang’s dream run in the Australian Open finally came to an end as Konta won the match 6-4, 6-1.
All said and done, Zhang had a terrific run in the Australian Open and established herself to be a real giant killer as all the opponents she defeated were ranked above her and inside the top 100. She proved to be a real standout among unseeded players. As a result of her performances in the Australian Open, she moved up 68 places to be ranked 65th in the world – making her own breakthrough into the top 100.