On brink of quitting, Chinese player finds key to winning
Alize Cornet of France reacts after a lost point against Zhang Shuai of China during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.(AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Zhang Shuai went eight years without a victory at a Grand Slam tournament. Now, within a span of two days, she has two.
Zhang has turned her career around at the Australian Open with a shocking upset win over No. 2 Simona Halep in the first round and another victory on Thursday against France's Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-3.
When Zhang's ranking fell to No. 200 last year, the Chinese player considered walking away from the game. She had only won four main draw matches all year and had come up short at the Grand Slams again, extending her winless streak to 0-14.
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''So very tough. I was feeling very sad every day,'' she said. ''I almost retire.''
Two wins later, the 27-year-old Tianjin native says it's ''like a dream come true.''
Zhang had once been considered the best hope to step into Li Na's sneakers when the two-time major champion retired and lead the next generation of Chinese players. She had shown tremendous potential early on in her career, notching a win over then-No. 1 Dinara Safina in Beijing in 2009 and rising to No. 30 in the rankings.
But a string of losses last year knocked Zhang's confidence. And after losing in qualifying at the U.S. Open, she thought about quitting tennis for good.
''But, I'm feeling no, I want come back. I want to try one more time, only one more time,'' she said. ''I will try last tournament at the Australian Open. If Australian Open not good, maybe I'll finish tennis.''
Since it might have been her last tournament, Zhang decided to bring her parents with her from China. Her father had never watched her play before.
''I want them come to see the last 20 years what I'm doing,'' she said. ''So, yeah, this is so lucky my parents coming and I win.''
Ranked No. 133, Zhang had to win three matches just to qualify for the tournament. Then she beat Halep, the 2014 French Open finalist, in the first round, bursting into tears on the court and looking up at her parents in the crowd in disbelief.
With unseeded American Varvara Lepchenko up next for a spot in the fourth round, quitting is no longer an option.
''I don't want stop right now,'' she said. ''I want to keep winning.''