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Maria Kirilenko of Russia prepares to serve to Peng Shuai of China during their match at the Australian Open in Melbourne on Thursday. Kirilenko won 7-5, 6-2, and a devestated Peng left her post-match news conference in tears, blaming a perceived spat with her coach. Toby Melville / Reuters
Known to some as the happy slam, the Australian Open does manage to break some hearts now and then.
With last year's image of a tear-soaked Li Na coping with a fourth-round loss to Kim Clijsters still fresh, Peng Shuai's post-match breakdown on Wednesday served as a reminder that Melbourne hasn't often been a great place for Chinese tennis players.
Peng, ranked 40th in the world, saw her campaign at the year's first Grand Slam end in the second round after losing to 14th seed Maria Kirilenko, 7-5, 6-2, under the blazing 35 C sun at Hisense Arena.
Early exits always hurt, but Peng's defeat seemed to hit her particularly hard.
When asked what her coach had to say about the match, the 27-year-old burst into tears and tried to hide her knit brow with a towel before escaping the table accompanied by a media relations representative.
"I think (my coach and I) might have some troubles," Peng said. "He just stood out there staring at me for 10 minutes and said nothing. I don't know what's going on. It's not about the game itself but the problems between us."
It's no longer news when the emotional Tianjin native cries. She did so after losing the final of the 2005 National Games, and again when she bowed out of the 2010 US Open with a wrist injury.
Still, it's rare to hear her say any negative about coach Alan Ma, who has been working with the promising star since 2010.
Under Ma, Peng has become the second best player in China, reaching as high as No 17 at the end of 2011.
Last year, a change of rackets and injuries to her knee, finger and shoulder slowed her progress.
Ma, who runs a tennis academy in Florida, pushed her to keep at it, and she reached the quarterfinals of the Shenzhen Open earlier this month.
Chinese reporters tried to reach Ma via text message for comment, but he neither returned the queries nor appeared at the venue.
(China Daily 01/18/2013 page24)