Zhang Shuai glad she resisted desire to retire after breaking new ground at China Open
China’s top player Zhang Shuai was on the brink of retirement 12 months ago, considering swapping tennis balls for coffee beans and opening a cafe.
On Thursday she booked her spot in the China Open quarter-finals – the first time she has made it past the third round of her home tournament in seven attempts.
She claimed the scalp of fifth-ranked Simona Halep en route – for the second time this year.
After a poor season in 2015 Zhang had slipped down the rankings to 186th – her lowest position in seven years and had fallen in the first round of the China Open, again.
“Last year in the China Open I was feeling really, really tired. I almost retired,” she said on Thursday.
“I’m so lucky I continued to play. I tried one more tournament, Australia Open, and everything changed.”
She beat Halep in the first round at Melbourne Park in January – her first win in a grand slam event main draw, which left her sobbing on the court.
She cruised as far as the quarter-finals where her fairy-tale run was halted by Briton Johanna Konta.
The year that nearly didn’t happen turned into the best of Zhang’s career.
She reached the second round of the French Open, qualified for the Olympics and battled to the third round at Flushing Meadows.
She came into the China Open 150 points higher than where she started the year – ranked 36th.
“This year everything changed. I am feeling much more confident on court. When I want to go cross-court, the ball goes cross-court. When I want to go down the line, the ball goes down the line. I can control everything on court,” the 27-year-old said.
Fourteenth-ranked Konta may once again hold the key to the Chinese player’s dreams as the pair will meet in the Beijing quarter finals on Friday.
It is the second time in as many weeks they have played after the Briton ousted her from the second round of the Wuhan Open.
But having made it to the quarter finals in Beijing, Zhang is expected to reach a career-high ranking of 28 when the new leaderboard is released on Monday.
“As of today, I see my progress. This is what makes me happy. I hope that I can maintain my efforts. This is how I’m going to climb the rankings,” Zhang said.