Zhang Shuai has lost 13-STRAIGHT matches, suffered an on-court panic attack and admits she misses Chinese food… after the row over opponent’s ‘disgusting’ behaviour, at 34, she could even quit tennis

new balance


It is never pleasant to watch a player retire from a match due to no longer being able to continue. Fans want a definitive end to the contest, a deserved winner with no excuses.

But seeing China’s Zhang Shuai withdraw in tears from her last-32 clash with home favourite Amarissa Toth, 20, at the Hungarian Open earlier this week was particularly difficult viewing.

After losing her previous 12 matches, Shuai was standing firm against her younger opponent with nothing to separate the pair in the opening set.

Then, at 5-5, came the match-defining moment of controversy. Shuai’s shot was called out, but it was close and the 34-year-old wanted to check the mark on the clay surface.

As Shuai approached the net to inspect, Toth rubbed out the mark with her foot and the call stood despite screenshots suggesting the ball was in and the point should have gone in Shuai’s favour. 

China's Zhang Shuai, pictured at Wimbledon, could be set to walkaway from tennis following the recent incident at the Hungarian Open

China’s Zhang Shuai, pictured at Wimbledon, could be set to walkaway from tennis following the recent incident at the Hungarian Open

Shuai was forced to withdraw from the tournament this week, after she suffered a panic attack during her last-32 match

Shuai was forced to withdraw from the tournament this week, after she suffered a panic attack during her last-32 match

The panic attack was onset after her opponent, Amarissa Toth (pictured), rubbed out a contentious line call before it could be checked by Shuai

The panic attack was onset after her opponent, Amarissa Toth (pictured), rubbed out a contentious line call before it could be checked by Shuai

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A screenshot indicated the ball was on the line and the call should have gone in Shuai's favour

A screenshot indicated the ball was on the line and the call should have gone in Shuai’s favour

Shuai was incensed, but received no sympathy from the umpire who simply told her to get on with the next point.

Shuai, pictured at Roland Garros, recently admitted to struggling with her mental health

Shuai, pictured at Roland Garros, recently admitted to struggling with her mental health

Shuai protested the decision, with the home crowd booing and jeering her in support of local girl Toth. It must have felt like she had the whole world against her.

At the next change of ends, it all became too much for Shuai as she sat in her chair crying and suffered a panic attack. She was in no position to continue, and opted to retire from the match, going over to shake Toth and the umpire’s hand before leaving the court. Others in her position would not have shown the same courtesy.

Shuai may have received little support in the stadium at the time, but online it was clear who her fellow professionals and fans were backing.

One fan labelled Toth’s behaviour as a ‘new low for sportsmanship’, while Australian player Ajla Tomljanovic called the Hungarian’s conduct ‘disgusting’ and Wimbledon finalist Ons Jabeur agreed that it was ‘not acceptable’.

Meanwhile, tennis icon Martina Navratilova directed her fury at the umpire, insisting she was ‘unfit to call matches’ following her handling of the situation.

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Shuai will appreciate her peers rallying around her, but this is undoubtedly a difficult moment in her career.

She is used to operating at the highest level, having won two Grand Slam doubles titles alongside Australia’s Sam Stosur in 2019 and 2021. 

Shuai remonstrated with the umpire, who has been criticised for her handling of the situation by Martina Navratilova

Shuai remonstrated with the umpire, who has been criticised for her handling of the situation by Martina Navratilova

Shuai is experiencing a difficult moment in her career after losing 13 straight matches

Shuai is experiencing a difficult moment in her career after losing 13 straight matches

The popular veteran has also thrived as a singles player, making the fourth round at all four majors, and the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Now she has lost 13 straight matches to slip down the rankings, and earlier this month she openly admitted she may have reached her limit.

‘After my grandparents passed away, I started thinking about the meaning of life,’ she said.

‘I am 34. I’ve played tennis for 29 years. I’ve tried all my best, but everyone has a limit. I feel deeply tired, especially mentally. I miss Chinese food in China.’

After almost three decades of playing the sport it is little wonder that Shuai is weary. She has battled her way to a fine career, and the least she deserves is respect. She didn’t get that from Toth on Tuesday.

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Toth finally issued an apology to Shuai on Thursday, after initially being remorseless for her actions, just hours after the Hungarian tournament organisers controversially claimed that China had been ‘manipulating’ the video of the incident to make Toth look bad.

It was a bizarre defence, and one that Toth, thankfully, appears to have distanced herself from. 

But where does this leave Shuai? Will the former world No 22 want to keep playing or has she finally been pushed beyond her limit?

It promises to be a difficult decision for her as she contemplates her future. Perhaps a return to China for some home comforts would benefit her.

Toth (pictured) finally apologised for her actions on Thursday after initially being remorseless

Toth (pictured) finally apologised for her actions on Thursday after initially being remorseless

There is always the option of a break from the game, in the hope that some time away could give her a new lease of life.

High-level sport is a brutal business both physically and mentally, and Shuai knows all about that now after 20 years as a professional.

Her best days may now be behind her, but can she muster up one final push to finish on a high?

Fans will certainly hope so. After everything she has been through on and off the court, her tennis story deserves a happy ending. 

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