One of the more dubious records in tennis came to an end in Melbourne on Tuesday night, as China’s Zhang Shuai scored her first main draw victory at a Grand Slam by stunning No. 2 seed Simona Halep, 6-4, 6-3.
Zhang, who turns 27 on Thursday, peaked at a career high of No. 30 in 2014 and was seeded at that year’s US Open, was 0-14 in Grand Slams in her career before Tuesday — and 2-28 in sets played in those matches.
Before she was infamous for that, however, she was best known in tennis circles for something a little more positive. Zhang remains the lowest-ranked player to defeat a reigning World No. 1, as she shocked Dinara Safina while ranked No. 226 in Beijing in 2009.
On Tuesday, she added a scalp over the World No. 2 to her resume.
Zhang arrived in Melbourne ranked No. 133 and nearly saw her tournament end before she even had a shot at ending her main draw futility and scoring the biggest upset of the women’s event thus far. In the final round of qualifying, Zhang trailed French veteran Virginie Razzano by a set and saw herself trailing 4-6, 6-2, 5-6*, but she rallied for the final three games to advance into the tournament.
No such slow start was on display on Tuesday — Zhang won the opening four games, blasting winners past Halep seemingly at will. The Romanian dug in, however, breaking as Zhang served for the opener and it seemed for all the world as though the World No. 2 had gotten things back on track. The qualifier had other ideas, and cracked three more winners off the ground to take the opener, 6-3.
Things turned around for Halep in the second set as she built a 3-1* lead and held two break points for *4-1, but Zhang held on and reeled off the next five games and sealed the victory with a forehand winner down the line, her 31st of the match.
Overcome after her monumental upset, Zhang couldn’t hide her emotions from the assembled crowd on Margaret Court Arena.
After the match, it became clear why: after struggling on tour for the better part of a year, Zhang had plans to retire from tennis following the Australian Open if things continued on the path they were going. She brought both of her parents Down Under, with her father traveling with her for the first time.
Zhang’s display not only captivated those in Melbourne Park and those watching abroad, but her fellow WTA players:
In the second round, she’ll take on Alizé Cornet, who’s ranked exactly 100 placed above her — just the way Zhang seems to like it.
What did you think of Zhang’s stunner? Sound off in the comments!