World No.40 Zheng Jie was pushed to the limit on Court 8 by countrywoman and Australian Open wildcard Yuxuan Zhang, winning 6-1 3-6 6-4 on Monday.
What started out appearing to be a walk in Melbourne Park quickly turned complicated for Zheng, who won the first set in 27 minutes but saw her game drop off in set two. The women traded service breaks before Zhang claimed a 5-2 lead.
But the world No.356, who is just 18, couldn’t serve out the second set, watching her much more experienced countrywoman break back for 3-5.
It was then Zheng’s turn to come up short. She missed a forehand long after a lengthy rally, giving Zhang the second set in 48 minutes under the late afternoon sun.
Zhang, playing in her first Australian Open, won through the Chinese AO Playoff to gain her wildcard.
The third set was a see-saw affair for the two women, as Zheng raced to a 4-2 lead only to see it erased to 4-all. It was there Zheng broke, the 29-year-old able to serve the match out in the following game.
Zheng, who won just one more point than her compatriot in the match, will next face Australian hope Sam Stosur in the second round. A week ago, Zheng beat Stosur in a three-set thriller in Sydney.
Monday’s match was often plagued by errors, Zheng hitting 44 unforced errors and Zhang 41, with 14 breaks of serve in total.
Zheng, however, won nine of 16 points at the net, giving her an upper hand against a hard-hitting opponent by taking the court away from her and finishing off long rallies decisively.