MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Second seed Simona Halep continued a day of shocks at the Australian Open on Tuesday when she was knocked out in the first round by Zhang Shuai, going down 6-4 6-3 to the inspired Chinese qualifier.
Halep’s stunning defeat by a woman 131 spots below her in the world rankings came after eighth seed Venus Williams and men’s fifth seed Rafa Nadal had been sent packing on day two of the tournament.
The 24-year-old, who came to Melbourne nursing an Achilles injury and suffering from a cold, was on the back foot from the start as Zhang raced into a 3-0 lead in the opening set on Margaret Court Arena.
The Romanian, who won the only previous meeting between the pair 6-1 6-1 in 2012, rallied to get back to 5-4 but Zhang broke her serve to go one set up.
Halep took a 3-1 lead in the second set before Zhang stormed back and sealed victory when Halep failed to get her forehand return back after 78 minutes.
“I think it wasn’t my good day but I give her a lot of credit as she played without fear and hit every ball,” Halep told reporters.
“She beat me. It’s tough but it’s only one day, only one match and I have many matches ahead of me.
“I didn’t have any pain today. I’m still thinking about the Achilles injury … (but) I did everything I could today. Everyone can lose, everyone can win.”
Zhang’s victory was her first in a grand slam main singles draw at the 15th attempt and she shrieked after securing the upset before being reduced to tears.
“I’m so excited and happy,” Zhang said in a courtside interview.
“Beating a top two player… I’m so excited. So happy. Today is the best moment of my career.”
It was the second opening round upset by a Chinese qualifier at the tournament after Wang Qiang, who like Zhang hails from Tianjin, beat former Melbourne Park semi-finalist Sloane Stephens on Monday.
Zhang, who played doubles with China’s first grand slam champion Li Na at the Olympics, will face France’s Alize Cornet in the second round on Thursday, her 27th birthday.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ed Osmond)