Impressive Zhang charges into Australian Open last 16

MELBOURNE, Jan. 21 (Xinhua) -- China's highest-ranked player Zhang Shuai brushed aside American qualifier Katie Volynets 6-3, 6-2 on Saturday to storm into the women's singles fourth round of the Australian Open.

Zhang Shuai of China plays a forehand against Elena-Gabriela Ruse of Romania on Day 6 of the Rothesay Classic Birmingham at Edgbaston Priory Club, Birmingham, England, June 16, 2022. (Photo: CFP)

The 23rd-seeded Zhang gained a crucial break in the sixth game of the second set and then ran away with a one-sided victory in 63 minutes.

She had 20 winners in a polished performance on her 34th birthday to overwhelm 21-year-old Volynets, who had caused a major boilover in the second round by beating the ninth seed Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.

"Very good and amazing," said Zhang, who reached the last 16 in consecutive Grand Slams after her fourth-round finish at last year's US Open.

"I talked with my coach, before that we always finish like [in] the first round, and the second round. Now, many times we can reach the third round.

"I'm really happy that because we've worked [on] a lot of things and everything is on the right way, so we will keep going [further in the tournament]."

Zhang is getting closer to matching her fairytale quarterfinal runs at the Australian Open in 2016 and at Wimbledon in 2019.

To do that she will need to defeat former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, who beat Russian Varvara Gracheva 6-4, 6-2.

Zhang will need to defy history of having never beaten the 30th seed Pliskova from seven previous matches with the last being in 2018.

"We played a lot of times against each other, I never won. So there is not any pressure," Zhang said.

"Also today, really every day, I'm happy when I'm on court."

In the last 16, Zhang joins her compatriot Zhu Lin, who knocked out the sixth seed Maria Sakkari 7-6 (3), 1-6, 6-4 in the biggest win of her career.

The 87th-ranked Zhu next plays the 24th-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who won the Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013.

The 33-year-old Azarenka wound back the clock with an upset third-round victory over the 10th seed Madison Keys 1-6, 6-2, 6-1.

Zhang, however, couldn't continue her winning form in the mixed doubles alongside Robin Haase of the Netherlands as they fell to Australian wildcards Andrew Harris and Alana Parnaby in a 4-6, 7-6 (6), 10-8 thriller.

In the women's doubles, China's Wang Xinyu and Japan's Moyuka Uchijima fell to American second seeds Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff 7-5, 6-1.