Australian Open

Zhang Shuai ‘ready for anyone’ after comeback victory over US Open champ Sloane Stephens in Australian Open first round

China’s world number 34 beats American on day of upsets at Melbourne Park while Venus Williams crashes out at hands of Belinda Bencic

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 3:24pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 January, 2018, 9:31pm

China’s Zhang Shuai said she was ready to take on all-comers yesterday after her stunning upset victory over US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the Australian Open, as world number five Venus Williams also suffered a shock defeat.

Zhang saved match point to beat American Stephens 2-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 to advance to the second round of the year's first grand slam. The 37-year-old Williams, who reached the final last year, lost 6-3, 7-5 to Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic.

“She’s a tough player,” said Zhang, who has happy memories of Margaret Court Arena – Zhang reached the last eight there after coming through three qualifying rounds two years ago.

“I’m so happy to play on this court and play a great player.”

And the Chinese star had a warning for the rest of the field. “I know how hard I have worked so I’m ready for every match, every player.”

Thirteenth seed Stephens extended her sorry losing streak since winning at Flushing Meadows in September to eight matches against the 34th-ranked Chinese number two, a surprise quarter-finalist in Melbourne two years ago.

Stephens came back from a long-term injury to record her US Open victory but has struggled since with form and fitness. Things looked back on track for the woman known as “Sloane Ranger” as she raced to the first set 6-2 in 38 minutes.

But Zhang would not lie down and gradually got herself on top, winning the second set on a tiebreak for the loss of only two points.

She then scooted away to victory in an hour and 58 minutes over an increasingly frustrated Stephens.

She will face either of the unseeded pair Denisa Allertova of the Czech Republic or France’s Pauline Parmentier in the second round.

World No 5 Williams, a seven-time grand slam winner playing in her 77th major, struggled against a player who had never before beaten her to deprive the tournament of one of its biggest names.

It is the first time since 1997 that there will be neither of the Williams sisters in the second round, with Serena not playing after giving birth to her first child.

“I would like to have played someone easier,” said Bencic.

“When I was a little girl watching on TV I would never imagine I would play them [the Williams].”

Also out is American big-hitter Coco Vandeweghe, a semi-finalist last year at Melbourne Park and Flushing Meadows. She slumped out to Hungary’s Timea Babos 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

Surviving the first day was French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko, the seventh seed from Latvia who beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-4.

She was 4-1 down in the second before knuckling down to race home and a second-round clash with China’s Duan Yingying.