Zhang rel­ishes mile­stone win

China Daily (USA) - - ACROSS AMERICA - By RANDY WALKER in New York For China Daily

Zhang Shuai is one of the most in­spi­ra­tional sto­ries in the ten­nis world in 2016.

She was on the verge of quit­ting the sport at the start of the year, with an 0-14 ca­reer record at the four ma­jor tour­na­ments af­ter a decade of play­ing pro­fes­sional ten­nis.

How­ever, the 27-year-old from Tian­jin won three qual­i­fy­ing matches at Jan­uary’s Aus­tralian Open, then up­set world No 2 Si­mona Halep in the open­ing round for her ma­jor sin­gles match win of her ca­reer.

She didn’t stop there, reach­ing the quar­ter­fi­nals in Mel­bourne — achiev­ing one of the best re­sults of all time for a Chi­nese ten­nis player at a Grand Slam tour­na­ment.

On Tues­day at the US Open, Zhang cre­ated a new per­sonal mile­stone, de­feat­ing Ellen Perez of Aus­tralia 6-1, 6-1, for her first ca­reer main-draw sin­gles vic­tory in New York in her 10th trip to the event.

“I’m so ex­cited. This is my first win. I’m feel­ing so happy,” said Zhang. “I have been wait­ing for this win for a long time.”

Zhang’s win along with Wang Qiang’s 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 up­set over No. 23 seed Daria Kasatk­ina of Rus­sia on Tues­day gave Chi­nese women a 5-1 record in first-round matches this year at the USTA Billie Jean King Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­ter in Flush­ing, Queens.

Peng Shuai was the only Chi­nese woman not to ad­vance out of the first round, los­ing 4-6, 7-6 (11-9), 6-3 to Vavara Lepchenko of the United States. Peng failed to cap­i­tal­ize on four match points in the sec­ond set.

Zhang needed only 50 min­utes to com­plete the one-sided vic­tory against her 20-year-old Aus­tralian op­po­nent, a col­lege player from the Univer­sity of Ge­or­gia who is ranked No 724 in the world, the low­est-rated player in the field. Zhang com­mit­ted only one un­forced er­ror in the match.

Zhang pre­vi­ously lost in the first round in the US Open main draw in 2008, 2011 and 2014. She also lost in the event’s qual­i­fy­ing rounds in 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015.

She is ranked No 51 on the WTA tour, mak­ing her the topranked player from China, a far cry from just eight months ago when she con­sid­ered quit­ting pro­fes­sional ten­nis en­ter­ing the Aus­tralian Open.

“I was think­ing I should re­tire,” she said. “I’m not a great ten­nis player; maybe I can never win even one match at the Grand Slam,” Zhang said on Tues­day of her mind­set at the start of the year. “I didn’t be­lieve in my­self any­more. I was feel­ing sad. I have no idea how I can play great ten­nis. In Mel­bourne, I tried one more time.”

Peng was mak­ing her first ap­pear­ance at the US Open since her mem­o­rable ap­pear­ance in the 2014 women’s semi­fi­nals when she lost to Caro­line Woz­ni­acki, re­tir­ing in the sec­ond set due to se­vere cramp­ing.

Peng, who sat out most of 2015 af­ter back surgery, was once again dis­tressed in her loss on Tues­day, stretch­ing be­tween points early in the fi­nal set and not be­ing able to run down many balls hit wide to her left or right. She nearly closed out the match in straight sets, hold­ing four match points — two while serv­ing for the match at 5-3 in the sec­ond set, and two more in the sec­ond-set tiebreaker at 7-6 and 9-8.

Lepchenko, an Amer­i­can im­mi­grant from Uzbek­istan ranked 68th, raced out to a 5-0 lead in the fi­nal set, cap­i­tal­iz­ing on Peng’s im­paired con­di­tion. Peng con­nected on nu­mer­ous go-for-broke win­ners when in the 0-5 hole and held serve twice; she broke Lepchenko’s serve once be­fore fi­nally suc­cumb­ing in the ninth game. Peng is cur­rently ranked No 259 but was able to use her “pro­tected” rank­ing of No 27.

JOE SCARNICI / GETTY IM­AGES / AFP

Zhang Shuai of China re­turns a shot to Ellen Perez of Aus­tralia dur­ing her first round women’s sin­gles match on the sec­ond day of the 2016 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King Na­tional Ten­nis Cen­ter on Tues­day in Queens, New York.

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