HONG KONG: Li Na’s shining example and the explosion of tournaments in China after her Grand Slam wins has triggered the emergence of a new generation of Chinese players, the country’s top two women have said.
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 winner, 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,” Zhang said at the Hong Kong Open.
“When she won the Grand Slams, I think more people decided to try tennis and try to believe in themselves.”
She added: “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 has 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,” she said.