Melbourne (AFP) - Zhang Shuai said a group of promising Chinese players who have grown up training together were ready to shine as she breezed into the Australian Open second round on Monday.
She rescued her failing career with her run to last year's Melbourne quarter-finals and, now seeded 20th, she impressed again with a 6-0, 6-3 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus.
The 27-year-old world No. 23 said she was nit the only player from Tianjin who could make an impact, as close friend Duan Yingying also won her first match.
"I'm really happy for everyone. So many young players now are playing so well. We come from the same city," Zhang said. "Since eight or nine years old, we've been training in the same training centre. We've been training together a long time so I'm really happy to see so many players from my country and my city play well.
"I hope they can play better and better."
China has been waiting for another player to make their breakthrough after the 2014 retirement of Li Na, whose two Grand Slam titles brought tennis to a mass audience in the country.
Duan, also 27, won in straight sets 6-3, 6-4 against Rebecca Sramkova, and can achieve her best Grand Slam performance yet if she beats America's Varvara Lepchenko in round two.
Peng Shuai, who also lives in Tianjin and reached the US Open semi-finals in 2014, joined Zhang and Duan in the second round with a 6-0, 7-6 (7-5) win over Daria Kasatkina. And Tianjin's Wang Qiang is among four Chinese women who will play their first-round matches on Tuesday.
Before last year's Australian Open, Zhang had never won a Grand Slam main draw match and was on the verge of quitting tennis.
She said she felt confident on her return to Melbourne, where she will play America's Alison Riske next.
"I don't want to compare it with last year because last year I did so well and I just want to enjoy this year. I played really well today," she said.
"I'm feeling very confident on court because I like it here so much. I hope I can keep the feeling I had today and play better and better. I'm looking forward to my next match."