Halep, 30, appeared to be on course for a third-round berth in Paris after winning the first set in routine fashion. She then moved a break up in the second before Zheng stormed back, levelling the set score before moving 3-0 up in the decider.
It was then that Halep’s trainer was called onto the court to measure the Romanian’s blood pressure and heart rate. Her trainer was called out again but couldn’t steady Halep as she fell to Zheng, revealing in her post-match interview that she had suffered a panic attack.
“I was playing well at the start,” Halep said. “I had a break in the second set, but then something happened. I just lost it. I didn’t expect because it was just a panic attack.
“I didn’t know how to handle it, because I don’t have it often. Yeah, I don’t really know why it happened, because I was leading the match. I was playing well. But [it] just happened, and as I said, I lost it. I couldn’t focus.”
The defeat marks just the second occasion since 2014 in which Halep has failed to advance beyond the second round at Roland Garros. The two-time major-winner reached the final in Paris in 2014 and 2017 before being crowned champion in 2018.
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Despite her disappointment, the current world No.19 appeared in good spirits following her exit. Halep described the episode as “just a tennis match” and conceded she had probably put too much pressure on herself as she “really wanted to do well.”
“After the match was pretty tough,” she added. “But now I’m good. I’m recovered, and I will learn from this episode. Nothing like dangerous, in my opinion, but it happened. So it’s good that now I can smile.”
Zheng advances to the third round where she’ll face Alize Cornet, who upset a seeded opponent of her own in No.13 Jelena Ostapenko. Halep’s exit was the latest in a string of surprise exits early on in Paris, with No.2 Barbora Krejcikova, No.4 Maria Sakkari, No.5 Anett Kontaveit and No.6 Ons Jabeur already out.