With the WTA Finals in Asia for the first time in their 42-year history, the disappointment over Li Na’s absence from the field is palpable.
But Zheng Saisai’s form over the course of the inaugural Rising Stars invitational has certainly softened the blow as the 20 year old has given the crowds a telling glimpse of the future for Chinese tennis.
Two of the four players who were voted to participate in the Rising Stars event – Zheng and Zarina Diyas train together in Guangzhou under coach Alan Ma.
Zheng, currently ranked No93 in the world, has made some waves in recent weeks, making the quarters in Hong Kong before reaching her first WTA semi-final in Tianjin, taking out world No14 Jelena Jankovic in the process.
The crafty bespectacled Chinese enjoys lots of variety in her game, mixing things up with slices, drop shots and lobs, which came in handy as she marched into the final of the Rising Stars tournament, only to be stopped by her good friend, Monica Puig of Puerto Rico.
She admits that Li Na’s two grand slam victories have inspired an entire nation if not continent and that she remembers when the now-retired star captured the French Open in 2011.
“I was playing the junior French Open and I flew back and when I arrived I saw that she beat somebody to be in the semis. I remember I posted about it, it was amazing, it was really big for China,” said Zheng.
“Because Li Na has got this chance, we have more belief that we can do it also.”
Besides drawing inspiration from Li Na, Zheng also received some important advice from another Chinese who has had a great season – Peng Shuai, who made the US Open semi-finals last month.
“She just told me ‘just play, don’t think too much. Just work hard every day and you will see’,” said Zheng.
Diyas, who went from world No163 to No34 this season, is from Kazakhstan but spent 12 years training in Prague.
The 21-year-old moved to Guangzhou 18 months ago and has given rave reviews about the conditions for tennis in her adopted residence.
“It’s different but it’s very good. We have great training facilities. It’s very professional there, we have a good team, good sparring, the weather is good.. I really like it there,” said Diyas, who made the fourth round at Wimbledon this year.
“I think in the future Asian tennis is going to get higher and higher because there are a lot of good players in Asia.”
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