Unlikely pair to meet in Open quarters

It’s the most improbable Australian Open women’s quarter-final in more than two decades – and fans won’t know who to cheer for.

On one side of the net, unassuming Australian-born Brit Johanna Konta, who lost in the first round of qualifying at Melbourne Park in 2015 but now finds herself in the last eight.

On the other side, Chinese Zhang Shuai, who arrived at the 2016 Open with a dreadful 0-14 win-loss record in the majors.

She has now won four matches on the trot – including an opening-round upset of world No.2 Simona Halep – and endeared herself to just about everyone.

Not since American Marianne Werdel-Witmayer belted Mexican Angelica Gavaldon in straight sets back in 1995 has an Australian Open women’s quarter-final served up two such unlikely opponents.

Konta has been on something of a roll since reaching the quarter-finals at the traditional Wimbledon warm-up event at Eastbourne last year, although the world No.47 has taken it to another level altogether at Melbourne Park.

“I’ve always said I do not believe in a light-switch moment,” said Konta, who left Australia as a 14-year-old to base herself in Spain, with her family moving to Britain to provide support.

“Everything happens for a reason.

“My journey has been the way it has been for a reason – to accumulate the experiences that I’ve had.”

Konta took down last year’s semi-finalist Ekaterina Makarova 4-6 6-4 8-6 in a marathon fourth-round encounter lasting more than three hours.

Konta’s only previous tour-level meeting with her sometimes practice partner Zhang ended in a loss at the 2013 Guangzhou Open, although she did take the honours in a qualifying clash at the 2012 US Open.

“I think Zhang Shuai is actually on a bit more of an incredible journey than myself,” said Konta.

“She won her first main draw match at a slam and that’s an incredibly special moment.

“(But) in terms of comparing my journey to hers, that’s a very irrelevant question for me to answer.

“I can only speak to you about the matches I’ve had.”

Zhang reached the last eight with a hard-fought 3-6 6-3 6-3 victory over 15th-seeded American Madison Keys, who was battling a painful hip injury.

“Right now after this tournament I need a long break because I’ve already played seven matches (including qualifying),” said Zhang.

“Before (the match against Keys) I’m thinking, `Okay, today is the final’.

“When somebody already wins six match in a grand slam, it’s already the final, right?

“So after this tournament, I’ve already said this year I’m playing less tournaments.

“I don’t want to play too much. I want some more time for my life.”


2013 Guangzhou Open, hard, QF, Zhang 7-5 6-3


Age: 27

Ranking: 133

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US1,670,279 ($A2.39 million)

Career titles: 1

Grand slam titles: 0

Career win-loss record: 62-93

Australian Open win-loss record: 4-4

Best Australian Open result: quarter-final 2016


Age: 24

Ranking: 47

Plays: right-handed (two-handed backhand)

Career prize money: $US847,551 ($A1.21 million)

Career titles: 0

Grand slam titles: 0

Career win-loss record: 26-28

Australian Open win-loss record: 4-0

Best Australian Open results: quarter-final 2016

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