Boys get it fairly easy and girls don't in China. They fight very hard, the girls, you can see their mentality on the court, their character and intensity and determination to prove themselves as a tennis player. - Wu Yibing
We have written before about how China dominates in the sports of badminton and table tennis - but tennis? We sure have heard of the achievements of one Chinese tenni player Li Na - double grand slam title winner which were firsts for someone from our continent. What about the tennis scene on the nation-wide level in China? 'Rapid growth' is definitely something that comes to my mind when I think of it - I mean China has 30,000 tennis courts and an estimated 14 million people in China regularly play tennis, up from 1 million when the sport returned to the Olympics in 1988; and tennis is now the third-most popular sport on television in China, behind football and basketball. Very interesting developments indeed, so read on to find out more!
Strong state support from the start
Given the lack of internationally captivating achievements coming from players from China in tennis, it has mostly gone unnoticed that the Chinese state was one of the first to be act on its interest in developing strong tennis players. When tennis became a fully-fledged Olympic sport, the government started to invest money in the sport. This quickly became a trend in many parts of the world, as such state sponsorship of the sport was followed by the likes of Russia, Serbia and Croatia - all very strong tennis nations. Funds were allocated to the sending of teams of players overseas. Such determination of the state paid off, when the women's national team reached the elite World Group in the Fed Cup not too long after such efforts were launched. With the financial issues taken care of by state support, the players and their coaches were able to concentrate totally on training and preparation.
Relatively slow start though
It must however be noted that there was a huge gap between the beginning of such state efforts and the achievement of any actually internationally recognizable breakthrough by the Chinese players. The first breakthrough came only in 2003, at the Heineken Open in Shanghai, when wildcards Zeng Shaoxuan and Zhu Benqiang became the first players from China to reach a tour-level doubles final. The irony indeed!
Where the true breakthrough came
Despite the men making the initial breakthrough, it was the women who really drew the very first spectacular achievements for the nation. First came gold at the Olympics, when Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won the doubles gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics. Chinese history was then written again two years later in 2006, when Zheng Jie and Yan Zi won doubles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Li Na in the same year at Wimbledon, became the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam singles quarter-final and also the first player from China to be ranked in the world's top 20. The achivements continue after what must have been an unsettling break for many, when during the 2010 Australian Open, Li Na and Zheng Jie made history again for becoming the first two Chinese players to reach the top four of a Grand Slam tournament simultaneously. Then, just one year later, Li Na became the first player to reach the final of the Australian Open. Though she failed to capture the title, Li reached her second consecutive Grand Slam final at the French Open and won her first Grand Slam singles title, becoming the first player from Asia to win a grand slam!
What about the men?
No Chinese men has yet broken into the top two hundred, but there is a great new hope in a young one. His name is Wu Yibing and he was the champion of last year's US Open boys' singles title. If the present trend (more players from our continent becoming more prominent on the world stage) continues, Wu Yibing will no doubt be a star similar to what Chung is - also, Wu Yibing's talents showed much younger than Chung's.
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