A miraculous but also dominant run has Shuai Zhang in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open on Monday. Zhang is a 26-year-old from China who registers at No. 133 in the world. With that ranking, she obviously had to go through qualifying just to get into the main draw. She took care of all three qualification rounds in straight sets and has not looked back in any way. Zhang booked a spot in the last 16 of a major for the first time in her career by crushing Simona Halep, Alize Cornet, and Varvara Lepchenko without losing more than seven games to any opponent. In fact, Zhang had never won a single main-draw match at a major prior to this event.
Up next for the underdog is a fifth career meeting with Madison Keys. The head-to-head series stands at 2-2, with Zhang leading 2-1 on hard courts. They did not face each other last season but have squared off three times since the start of the 2013 campaign. After splitting a pair of 2013 showdowns, Zhang prevailed 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 one season later in Acapulco. Keys comes in at 17th in the world. The 20-year-old American has advanced this fortnight with defeats of Zarina Diyas, Yaroslava Shvedova, and Ana Ivanovic, dropping sets to Shvedova and Ivanovic along the way.
“We’re so happy for her now,” Keys said of her opponent. “She’s won [three] main-draw matches. That’s great for her. Obviously she’s playing well if she’s had the upsets that she’s had.”
This would be another huge one. After all, Keys is a proven winner at all levels of the game. She even reached the semifinals of the Australian Open last year. Zhang is not going to end the best tournament of her career without a fight, but Keys will eventually hit her off the court.
Prediction – Keys in three sets