Tennis: Emerging generation of Chinese players inspired by trailblazer Li Na

Retired Chinese player Li Na during a tennis event for children in Hong Kong on Oct 7, 2018. The two-time Grand Slam champion retired in 2014.
Retired Chinese player Li Na during a tennis event for children in Hong Kong on Oct 7, 2018. The two-time Grand Slam champion retired in 2014.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Li Na's shining example and the explosion of tournaments in China after her Grand Slam wins have triggered the emergence of a new generation of Chinese players, the country's top two women have said on Thursday (Oct 10).

Wang Qiang, 26, and Zhang Shuai, 29, said confidence was now growing among Chinese players after a quiet spell since trailblazer Li, a two-time Grand Slam champion, retired in 2014.

Wang Qiang, ranked 24th, and 40th-placed Zhang head a list of four Chinese players in the current top 100, and there are 11 in the top 200 including 17-year-old US Open junior champion Wang Xiyu.

"Li Na has given us all a lot of hope. When she won the Grand Slams I think more people decided to try tennis and try to believe in themselves," Zhang said at the Hong Kong Open.

"Now we have so many tournaments in China I think a lot of young players have more opportunities to make a higher ranking."

Zhang, who turned professional in 2006, said the game was now a big hit among Chinese fans. China hosted seven WTA Tour-level tournaments this year.

"For sure it's more popular than it was five years ago because unlike with other sports, almost every week there is a big tournament," she said.

Wang Qiang, seeded sixth in Hong Kong, said Li's achievements stood as a "goal" for her career, and had kick-started the development of tennis in China.

"Other players are now doing really well so I think China has a good future," said the China Open semi-finalist.