Aussie Open quarter-final preview: Konta and Zhang Shuai set for showdown on Rod Laver Arena
Eastbourne's Johanna Konta will be gunning for a place in the semi-final of the Australian Open in the early hours of Wednesday morning (1.30am UK time).
Konta, the British No.1, will be the first British woman to contest a Grand Slam quarter-final for 32 years when she takes on Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai on the Rod Laver Arena for a place in the last four.
Konta, 24, has already beaten seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in straight sets in the opening round and then enjoyed a comfortable 6-2, 6-3 win over Zheng Saisai.
Denisa Allertova was also dismissed in straight sets in round three before Konta was pushed all the way to see off Russian Ekaterina Makarova 4-6 6-4 8-6 in just over three hours.
Konta said, “Against Makarova I just had to keep calm and really knuckle down. She is a good player and a good competitor and the match could easily have run away from me. I feel happy I got the reward in the end.
“It’s really just about, keep walking, just keep breathing. The fewer thoughts the better. I’m going to eat, sleep eat and sleep and then repeat (ahead of her quarter-final match).”
At this stage last year Konta was struggling for form and was ranked 144th in the world. Victory against Zhang Shuai will propel her into the top 30.
Her 27-year-old opponent Zhang has also been a surprise package in the first Grand Slam of the year. Despite having once been a top 30 player, until this fortnight, Zhang had lost all 14 Grand Slam matches she had contested.
She has won on the WTA Tour, and is a regular winner on the ITF circuit but before this week she had the worst Grand Slam record of any player currently inside the top 300. Had she not won a tournament in Tokyo at the end of last year, it was reported that she would have retired.
The early signs for this tournament didn’t look great for Zhang as she was drawn to face No.2 seed Simona Halep in round one. But she delivered a fine performance in the first Tuesday night session on Margaret Court Arena and the qualifier, ranked 133 in the world, won 6-4 6-3. She hasn’t looked back since and has progressed all the way to the quarter final.
Zhang said, “Before the draw, I already guessed I would play Halep, because all the time I play the top players. I’m so lucky I didn’t finish last year. I like tennis. I like this tour. I like everybody, but after this tournament I need a long break because I have already played seven matches.”
Andy Murray, who has reached the final of the Australian Open four times added, “She’s (Konta) just got to keep doing what she’s doing. Keep her head down, keep working hard, stay calm.”