Tennis: After Li Na, new star Wang Qiang leads rise of China's new-generation women

Wang Qiang of China hits a return during the women's singles quarter-final match at the WTA Wuhan Open tennis tournament in Wuhan, on Sept 27, 2018.
Wang Qiang of China hits a return during the women's singles quarter-final match at the WTA Wuhan Open tennis tournament in Wuhan, on Sept 27, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

WUHAN, CHINA (AFP) - China's women tennis players are starting to get results to match their potential and are ready to follow in the footsteps of former great Li Na, according to rising star Wang Qiang.

Wang has been in hot form in recent months, winning her first WTA Tour 250 title at the Jiangxi Open in Nanchang in July.

She won her second at the Guangzhou Open last week and on Wednesday (Sept 26), roared on by adoring crowds, became the first home-grown player to reach the quarter-finals of the Wuhan Open as she extended her win-loss streak on Chinese soil this year to 13-1.

On Thursday, she went one better by thrashing Puerto Rico's Monica Puig 6-3, 6-1 and will play either Estonian Anett Kontaveit or Czech Katerina Siniakova for a place in Saturday's final.

"I'm really happy to be competing in China, getting a lot of support from fans," she said after beating Australia's Daria Gavrilova in straight sets to reach the last eight.

The 26-year-old's run of success also included retaining her Asian Games gold medal in Indonesia in August, beating Chinese compatriot Zhang Shuai.

And this week Wang upset world No. 7 Karolina Pliskova in the second round.

Wang, who recently became China's No. 1, promised there was more to come from her country's women, who bear the burden of following Li, Asia's first Grand Slam winner and a trailblazer for tennis in the world's most populous nation.

"After the emergence of Li Na, I think we are on the rise," said the world No. 34.

"You see young players. At a tournament (of this level)... you see great performances. I think in the near future, in international tournaments, we'll see more Chinese players."

Li, who triumphed at Roland Garros in 2011 and won the Australian Open in 2014 before retiring later that year, is one of Wang's idols.

"She is a goal. She's a role model for many athletes, especially Chinese players," said Wang, who trained in Wuhan when she was a child, and planned to become a teacher if a career in tennis did not work out.

"If I can play as well as she did, I will have a very perfect life."

Several promising talents have emerged in China, but none has come even close to matching the success of Li.

But Wang, who grabbed headlines at the French Open this year with her straight-sets demolition of former No. 1 Venus Williams, says she is growing in confidence after a successful 2018, and playing in front of home crowds in recent months has helped boost her game.

"In terms of technique, in the past year I think I've been doing quite similar (things) but I'm really more confident," said Wang, whose family paid for her to train in Japan during her formative years, instead of sticking with China's state-run sports system.

"I believe in myself. That's the most important element."