Second-seeded Simona Halep falls to Zhang Shuai in first round

Emotional Zhang on upset: Best moment of career (2:25)

An emotional Zhang Shuai reacts to winning her first-round match over No. 2 seed Simona Halep at the Australian Open. (2:25)

MELBOURNE -- Simona Halep is the latest big-name player to go down.

Just as the grounds at Melbourne Park had begun to decompress following losses by Venus Williams and Rafael Nadal, Halep fell to qualifier Zhang Shuai 6-4, 6-3 in the opening round of the Australian Open.

Zhang had never won a Grand Slam match in 14 tries; it was the most first-round losses with no wins for any player ranked in the top 300.

In terms of seeding, the loss by No. 2 Halep should qualify as the biggest upset of the day. Amazingly, this was her second first-round loss in her past three majors and the third time in five years that she's lost her opening match in Australia (2012, 2013, 2016).

"I think it wasn't my good day, but I give her a lot of credit because I think she played really well," Halep said. "She played without fear, and she hit every ball.

"So she had good rhythm. Yeah, I think I played a little bit too short in the first set. Then she was dominating me because she felt the ball really well."

Victoria Azarenka ended the rash of upsets as the No. 14 seed crushed Alison Van Uytvanck 6-0, 6-0 in just 53 minutes.

With the win, Azarenka completed the career Slam double-bagel. Her last whitewash at a major came at the 2013 US Open against Dinah Pfizenmaier.

Azarenka won back-to-back Australian Opens in 2012 and 2013 and is the second favorite to claim this year's title behind Serena Williams.

Halep became the first women's top-two seed to suffer an opening-round loss in Australia since 1979, when Virginia Ruzici fell to Mary Sawyer.

Ruzici is currently Halep's agent.

Halep injured her Achilles at the Brisbane International, forcing her out of that event. However, the Romanian came into this event fresh off a semifinal appearance in Sydney last week.

"Today I haven't pain," Halep said. "I had not pain. I didn't feel the pain. I had many problems in this period before coming here, so I can say that I am a little bit down mentally because I was very sick home. Then I came here with Achilles again. So it's tough to be positive, 100 percent and try everything. But I did. I think I did everything I could today. It was all I could do today. So I am OK, but disappointed, of course."

Since a strong summer swing last season that saw her advance to the finals in Montreal and Cincinnati and then the US Open semifinals, Halep has struggled to find her form.

Despite being the top seed, she failed to get out of the round-robin stage of the WTA Finals in late 2015. Soon afterward, she hired ESPN analyst Darren Cahill as her coach.

Against Zhang, Halep could not find a rhythm on her serve, converting only 50 percent of her first deliveries.

Last season she admitted she was tinkering with her motion, and it was evident she hasn't figured it out yet.

"I don't want to make this match like dramatic," Halep said. "It happened. You know, everyone can lose. Everyone can win. I know that. I have just to take it like it is and go ahead."

After the match, Zhang struggled to find her composure, noticeably tearing up as she addressed the crowd.

"I think in my life, it's the best tennis," she said. "To win against a top-two player, I'm so happy, so excited."

For Zhang, this is a nice early birthday present. On Thursday, she will turn 27.