Australian Open Quarterfinal Preview: Johanna Konta - Zhang Shuai

The bottom half of the women's draw at the Australian Open contest the quarterfinals tomorrow. In a highly unexpected encounter, Johanna Konta will face the qualifier Zhang Shuai.

Recent Results

Despite a sensational finish to 2015, which saw her reach the US Open fourth round and the quarterfinals at Wuhan, Konta struggled in her preparations for the Australian Open. The Brit lost her opening matches at both Auckland and Hobart before turning it around in Melbourne. In the first round, she upset the odds by beating the lacklustre eighth seed Venus Williams 6-4, 6-2. After two straight forward victories, the 24 year old was forced to battle for over three hours to subdue last year's semi finalist here, 21st seed Ekaterina Makarova 4-6, 6-4, 8-6.

Shuai had reached the second round in Shenzhen preparing for the Australian Open, losing to the eventual champion Agnieszka Radwanska. The Chinese player has since had an even more incredible route through the draw than Konta. In the final round of qualifying, she was forced to break serve to stay in the match against Virginie Razzano, winning 4-6, 6-2, 8-6. Few would have predicted that she would then outhit the second seed Simona Halep 6-4, 6-3 in the first round before emulating the winning formula to oust the Hobart champion Alize Cornet 6-3, 6-3. Despite playing her seventh match of the tournament, it was her opponent who was injury hampered in the fourth round and Shuai took advantage to upset last year's semifinalist here, 15th seed Madison Keys 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Past Experience

Konta had never even qualified for the Australian Open before but has felt at home all week given her Australian heritage. The world number 47 was born and raised in Sydney before moving to the United Kingdom in 2005, becoming a British citizen in 2012. A winner of 15 ITF titles, Konta became the first British woman to reach a major quarterfinal since Jo Durie at Wimbledon 1984 and the first to do so in Australia since Durie in 1983.

Shuai hits a forehand. Photo: Getty Images/Mark Kolbe
Caption

A former world number 30 in 2014, Shuai considered retirement after failing to make last year's US Open main draw. Ranked down at 133 and having never won a main draw match in a Grand Slam before, the outlook was bleak for Shuai heading into the Australian Open. However, against Halep, Shuai reminded everyone of the player who became the lowest ranked ever at 226 to beat a reigning world number one, when she beat Dinara Safina in Beijing 2009.

Head-to Head

The two are tied at 1-1 in their head-to-head, but they haven't played since Guangzhou 2013, when Shuai won 7-5, 6-3 en route to the title.

Given the inspirational runs both players have made during this event, those meetings aren't too important. Konta has a tidy, compact game centred around a solid serve and groundstrokes. Over the course of the past seven months, her on court mentality has improved tremendously and has enabled her to gain wins against the likes of Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep.

Shuai plays a game typical of Asian players centred around flat, early groundstrokes. The pressing question is whether she is physically up to the challenge having already played seven matches this tournament. If she's at her best, she should be able to expose the Brit's comparatively slow movement but if not, Konta's heavy serve and baseline game could prove too much.

Prediction: Johanna Konta in three sets.

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