China’s Zhang Shuai finds focus after exiting Australian Open singles draw

SYDNEY, Feb. 9 (Xinhua) — China’s Zhang Shuai was knocked out of the Australian Open in the first round on Tuesday, losing to U.S. newcomer Ann Li, 6-2, 6-0.

Despite the loss, Zhang remains a promising contender in the doubles format alongside Australia’s Sam Stosur, with the pair teaming up again after winning the event in 2019.

In a post-match press conference, Zhang told Xinhua that she was looking forward to playing alongside Stosur, despite being knocked out of a warm-up event last week.

“Every time we step on the court, we are happy with each other and enjoy our games regardless of the results,” she said.

Not much separated Zhang and Li in the opening stages of their first round match-up, with both making costly mistakes as they went shot-for-shot in Melbourne’s rising summer temperature.

However it was Li that found her rhythm first, pulling ahead as Zhang’s returns landed wide, helping the 20-year-old claim the first set.

Li appeared to move faster and hit harder under the hot Melbourne sun and as Li kicked up a gear, Zhang stalled, falling victim to a powerful and accurate forehand.

“My opponent played well today and suppressed me in many aspects. She also played well in the lead-in matches. I learnt a lot from her that could help me improve. So I still got something positive from today’s match.”

Zhang revealed she was in the process of reconditioning her shoulder which had been causing issues since late last year.

“I have been feeling not quite well about the shoulder since end of last year, and have conducting treatment and recovery since then,” she said.

“So I am happy that I can play on the court and finish the whole game today, which showed it is gradually recovering.”

Zhang and Stosur will face British-Canadian pairing of Heather Watson and Leylah Annie Fernandez in the first round of the doubles draw on Wednesday.

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