Tennis Prose



Zhang Zhuai Saved Her Career at 2016 AO

By Scoop Malinowski

A forgotten story of extraordinary determination and persistence is Zhang Shuai’s incredible career-saving surge at the 2016 Australian Open.

Before that, Shuai was struggling to make any impact on the WTA World Tour.

Then at age 27, Shuai suddenly erupted with the best tennis of her life.

Zhang started 2106 season at the Shenzen Open in China where in the first round as a wildcard, she defeated another wildcard (Russian Irina Khromacheva) before losing to top seed and eventual champ Agnieszka Radwańska.

Prior to the 2016 Australian Open, Zhang was considering quitting because of her lack of success and continued mediocre results, particularly in Grand Slams – she didn’t win a match in her previous fourteen attempts in Grand Slam main draws.  But suddenly the fortunes of Zhang changed and she successfully qualified for the AO main draw by beating Mandy Minella, Tereza Martincova and Virginie Razzano. In the first round, Zhang played the best match of her life and shockingly upset the world no. 2 Simona Halep in straight sets.

Think about that. Zhang was 0-14 in Grand Slam matches, her career was going nowhere fast, and now she suddenly beats the second best player in the world. Miracles do happen. Both Zhang and her coach were crying a river after the monumental victory and before the on-court interview. Zhang again broke down in tears during the on-court interview.

After beating Halep, Zhang did not suffer a mental letdown or complacence after such a career-altering win. She continued to play the best tennis of her life. She proceeded to beat Alize Cornet, Varvara Lepchenko and then in the fourth round knocked off Madison Keys in three sets. In the quarterfinals, Zhang was defeated by Johanna Konta in two sets.

So, down and out, with little hope and self belief, somehow Zhang magically produced her finest performances of her life. The QF run by Zhang was only the fourth time ever that a Chinese player reached a Grand Slam quarterfinal (Li Na, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai are the others).

Zhang’s career changed after her historic Melbourne magnificence. Her best ranking was achieved later in 2016 at no. 23 (she is currently ranked 26).

Zhang reached the QF of Wimbedon 2019. She won the Australian Open in 2019 and US Open 2021 doubles titles with Australian Sam Stosur. Zhang played the Wimbledon doubles final this year with Elise Mertens but lost 62 64 to champions Krejcikova and Siniakova.

Today at 33, Zhang can be proud of her career, which includes three WTA singles and 12 doubles titles, as well as over $9m in career prize money earnings.

She is also a remarkable inspiration for all tennis players – and a living example that even when you are down at your lowest point, it is still possible to get up and do your best.

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  • catherine · November 15, 2022 at 3:12 pm

    Scoop – that previous thread was a Blast from the Past. I haven’t changed my view on Kerber – she’s never been that tough mentally.

    How old was Swiatek in 2016 ? Alcaraz ? Amusing to think of.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 15, 2022 at 3:30 pm

    Catherine, how can you question the mental toughness of a multiple Grand Slam winner? Sure she had a lot of losses and some bad tournaments, but they don’t overshadow her monumental wins.

  • catherine · November 16, 2022 at 2:33 am

    Scoop – maybe I phrased that wrongly. But as I think I said at the time when we were discussing her a fair bit, she’s a complicated person in whom ‘toughness’ is a quality that comes and goes. Luckily she was able to pull things together to get the GSs, become a H of Famer, become the German icon I feel she always longed to be.

    Fans were very important to Angie. ‘you mean the world to me’ was something she said many times in different ways. It was real feeling, not just words. She absorbed the emotion.

    She’s called her book ‘Eine Frage des Willens’, which means more or less ‘a question (matter) of will. That part of herself she understands pretty well.

    (I was going to write something about her but probably not now. Her career’s not ending nice and neatly and some very important parts of her life are private. Which is her right.)

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 16, 2022 at 8:09 am

    Catherine, wondering if Kerber book is just German? Would be very surprised if there is an English version. While she is a great player and nice to watch her popularity is limited. She never was a ticket seller here in America

  • catherine · November 16, 2022 at 9:01 am

    Angie’s book is now available on Amazon but only in German – like you, I’d be surprised if there was an English translation.

    We may see extracts or quotes from it though, if they’re considered newsworthy.

    I expect her fans will snap in up in Germany.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 16, 2022 at 9:04 am

    The wta site does a poor job helping to promote player’s books, they should post features with excerpts, would add a new element instead of the same old match articles and cliches, “I’ve been working hard on and off court for these results…”

  • catherine · November 16, 2022 at 2:12 pm

    I think this might be a matter of expense – copyright etc. But the WTA could certainly interview players about their books and review/promote them. A lot of fans would be interested.

    Not only is the WTA site utterly dreary, it’s also often out of date. Tennis moves quickly.

    I suspect there just isn’t the money to hire better writers and digital content editors.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 16, 2022 at 4:44 pm

    The wta site is a big disappointment, it could be so much better. It does not do the sport justice and the ATP site puts it to shame. I offered them Wta biofles years ago and they didn’t accept. That site should be 100 times better.

  • catherine · November 17, 2022 at 2:46 pm

    If I see another chat with an ex-player publicising/pushing a line of beauty products on the WTA site I think I’ll scream. Ivanovic is the latest. An over-subscribed market I’d guess.

    Radwanska has also featured in this showcase of entrepeneurs but at least she was doing something different – flogging hotel rooms for tourists to Warsaw.



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