MELBOURNE -- A year after her finest Grand Slam to date, Madison Keys left this year's Australian Open in tears.
Playing on an injured left leg, Keys fell to Zhang Shuai 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the fourth round in Melbourne.
In the second set, Keys began hobbling noticeably and called for treatment. She was unable to engage in long rallies and grimaced between points.
With speculation she might retire, No. 15 Keys returned to the court, but the pain only seemed to increase. Already down a break, Keys doubled-faulted two times in a row, handing her Chinese opponent the set.
Keys limped to her changeover chair, understandably frustrated, but this time did not call a trainer.
Somehow, she managed to go up an early break at 2-1 in the third on a crushing 91 mph forehand return but was immediately broken back.
After a quick hold from Zhang, a qualifier, Keys took another medical timeout. In the next game, she was visibly crying in pain. At that point, Keys could hardly move, lunging at shots just out of her reach.
Zhang, 27, ultimately pulled away, ending the match on an overcooked forehand from Keys. The American hobbled off the court, her face in a towel, distraught at the outcome.
"So difficult to concentrate," Zhang said in her on-court interview. "When I saw [Keys], I say, 'How can you play?' Then some people keep talking 'quarterfinal, quarterfinal.' It makes me very nervous."
More than an hour after her three-set loss, Keys gingerly walked to an area adjacent to the women's locker room with the assistance of her publicist.
Keys, too injured to make the longer jaunt to the main interview roof, expressed her disappointment.
"Kind of end of the first set and it just got worse and worse," she said. "And I think just probably pulled, tore, an abductor."
In her last round, Keys strained an abdominal muscle, an injury she said also bothered her against Zhang.
"Yeah, I thought maybe I could figure it out," Keys said. "Somehow get through and have a day off. Obviously, that didn't happen."
When asked why she didn't retire, Keys expressed her displeasure for pulling out of matches early but also said she didn't want to take away from Zhang's moment.
Amazingly, the 133rd-ranked Zhang had never advanced past the first round of a major in 14 previous attempts. Zhang, who had earned a total of $1.6 million in her career heading into Australia, will leave this event with an minimum addition of $375K.
How far has Zhang come?
Before the tournament, she was 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur's ball girl.
"I will be your ball girl forever!" Zhang shouted as she walked off the court.