Sport Tennis

Tennis craving Chinese success

Written by Ben Blaschke

For a fleeting moment last September, Chinese tennis fans dreamed that they might again boast a grand slam singles champion as Peng Shuai stormed into her first grand slam semi-final at the US Open. Yet the joy was short lived.

Cruelly forced to retire midway through her semi-final against Caroline Wozniaki due to heat stroke, Peng’s results since have been modest – a fourth round appearance at the Australian Open encouraging but nothing better than the second round in four other tournament appearances in 2015.

Peng Shuai

Peng Shuai

China, and perhaps even more so the WTA itself, is desperate to find another Chinese champion following the retirement of two-time grand slam champion Li Na last year. There isn’t a sport on the planet that wouldn’t love to crack the massive Chinese market but history shows us that the only way to really grab their attention is to have a player at the very top. Snooker star Ding Junhui is a prime example, having single-handedly sparked an explosion in the sport’s popularity right across China in recent years, while Li has done the same for tennis with participation having doubled over the past five years.

But now is not the time to lose that momentum. Back in 2010, WGM predicted some exciting years ahead for Chinese pair Li and Zheng Jie after both reached the Australian Open semi-finals, but while we were right about the former, Zheng has gone downhill since and is now ranked 119.

There are currently 44 Chinese women with a WTA ranking – the less we say about the men’s game the better – and four inside the top 100 with Peng the best of them at world number 19. The others are Zheng Saisai at 73, Zhang Shuai at 77 and Wang Qiang at 88.

Li Na with her 2014 Australian Open trophy

Li Na with her 2014 Australian Open trophy

But what potential do they have to improve on those current rankings?

Peng, at 29, is quickly running out of time to take the next step. Zhang Shuai has struggled at the elite level with 13 grand slam appearances resulting in 13 first round losses. That leaves Zheng Saisai, still just 21, and Wang Qiang at 23 as the immediate hopes with both having reached the second round of the US Open last year.

But can they match the feats of the great Li Na. Time will tell – and in the meantime tennis chiefs around the world are holding their breath.