Zhang: Dream run feels like victory

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 China's Zhang Shuai waves to fans after losing to Britain's Johanna Konta at the Australian Open quarterfinals yesterday.

Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai said yesterday she might have lost in the Australian Open quarterfinals but in her eyes, her fairytale run was as good as winning the title.

The 27-year-old, ranked 133rd in the world, has had an incredible tournament at Melbourne Park, winning three qualifying matches and then four more in the main draw. It was completely unexpected from a player who last year, disillusioned with her form, considered retiring and had lost all 14 of her previous grand slam matches before this tournament.

"I'm feeling so tired. Everything was feeling very slow on court," she said, after losing to Britain's Johanna Konta 4-6, 1-6 on Rod Laver Arena.

"But in my heart I'm feeling I already won the tournament because I won seven matches. It doesn't matter win or lose today, I'll just keep going."

Zhang had a giant-killing tournament, upsetting second seed Simona Halep and injured 15th seed Madison Keys on her way to her first grand slam quarterfinal. It was the best grand slam performance by a Chinese player since the retirement of Li Na, who won the 2011 French Open and quit the sport as reigning Australian Open champion in late 2014.

Zhang's ranking is now projected to soar into the top 70, making her China's No. 1 player and pushing her closer to her goal of a spot at the Rio Olympics, which includes the top 56 players. However, she is not convinced about her chances of making the cut for Rio, saying: "I have to win a lot matches in the big tournaments with a lot of great players. This is so tough for me. I think it's tough for everybody. But I did a great job these two weeks. I'm so happy."

Her march to the quarterfinals is a remarkable turnaround for a player who was acting as ball girl for her friend, Sam Stosur, just days before the opening major of the year.

Zhang hailed Stosur, the 2011 US Open champion, as an important influence, with the Australian appearing in her player's box to cheer her on. "She's helped me a lot in my life," she said.

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