Zhang emulates Li Na at Roland Garros despite visa fight

Paris (AFP) –


Zhang Shuai on Saturday became the first Chinese woman to reach the last 16 at Roland Garros since former champion Li Na in 2012 although a visa wrangle almost forced her to skip the tournament.

Zhang defeated French wildcard, and world number 357, Clara Burel 7-6 (7/2), 7-5 and will next face either Czech seventh seed Petra Kvitova or 18-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez.

The 39th-ranked Zhang admitted, however, that her participation in Paris had been in doubt after a lengthy wait for a visa to allow her to travel from New York, where she had been taking part in the US Open, to Europe.

"I only had one chance to come to Europe," said the 31-year-old.

Her visa was finally granted on the Friday before the start of the Rome clay court event.

"I get passport from the embassy, we buy the tickets after and we fly to Rome. We have to quarantine 24 hours, and then I practice only one hour. So next day we start to play the match."

Not surprisngly, Zhang lost her opener in Rome but was buoyed by making the quarter-finals in Strasbourg on the eve of Roland Garros, beating Burel on the way.

On Monday, Zhang will be looking to equal her best performance at the Slams.

She has made the quarter-finals twice - as a qualifier at the 2016 Australian Open before a second last-eight run at Wimbledon last year.

Zhang, the only Chinese woman in the draw in Paris this year, has tasted Grand Slam success before, winning the Australian Open doubles title with Sam Stosur last year.

It was a dramatic contrast to her mood at the end of 2015 when she was pondering retirement from the sport.

"It's always tough on clay for Chinese players and Asian players because we play better on faster courts," said Zhang.

"But I don't think too much about the court. I just relax."