Zhang aims to end 22-year drought

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 21 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 21 August, 2010, 12:00am

Local ace Lynn Zhang Ling will be hoping to break a two-decade drought for her adoptive Hong Kong when she vies for a place in the main draw of the US Open next week.

With her WTA ranking at an all-time high, Zhang has been accepted into the high-paying qualifying event and is hoping to become the first Hong Kong player to appear in a grand slam event in decades.

Zhang (pictured) is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Patricia Hy (now Hy-Boulais), who represented Hong Kong at all four majors in 1987, and Paulette Moreno, who reached the second round at the 1988 Australian Open as a qualifier.

'I'm really excited at the prospect of playing at a grand slam event,' said mainland-born Zhang, who was initially the only female player approved by the Hong Kong Olympic Committee to take part in the Asian Games in Guangzhou in November.

'It is very important for me and for my career as a tennis player. I have been ranked between 300 and 400 for more than two years, and this is a big and good step for me,' she said.

Zhang, 20, has a career-high WTA ranking of 197, making her eligible to play in the US Open qualifiers, which have a 128-strong draw.

The men's and women's qualifiers are played from August 24-27 and offer prize money of US$1 million. Sixteen men and 16 women will qualify for the main draw.

'She has done well in the past few months and gone from 400 into the top 200,' said Janet Hardisty, Hong Kong Tennis Association (HKTA) general manager. 'Her ranking enabled her to enter.'

Ray Kelly, HKTA director of coaching and development, hailed Zhang's entry as a huge shot in the arm for the sport in Hong Kong, but cautioned that she would have a tough time breaking into the main draw. 'The fact that she is playing in the qualifiers of a grand slam is a huge achievement and it is great for Hong Kong to say, 'We can do this,'' Kelly said. 'But realistically, she is likely to be up against it.'

Kelly added: 'It will all depend on the draw. Lynn won't be seeded and she is likely to come up against a player ranked above her. But if she stays focused and is not overawed by the occasion of playing for the first time at the US Open and being in New York, anything can happen.'

Zhang hopes this will the first step in launching a professional career and carrying Hong Kong's flag on the world stage.

'It is such a great chance for me to watch and learn from top players,' Zhang said. 'I am so excited. My short term goal is to be in the top 150, then I will be able to play many more top-level events and improve my ranking even more.'

She added: 'Once my ranking improves, it will allow me to play all the grand slam qualifying tournaments and hopefully not too long after enter the main draw directly.

'It will also give me more chance of playing in big WTA events.'

Zhang, who has won a couple of ITF Futures events, has also entered to play in a WTA tournament in Guangzhou next month.

'She is one of our best hopes for the future,' Hardisty said.

Meanwhile, Hardisty revealed that despite the Hong Kong Olympic Committee reversing its original decision and also allowing Venise Chan Wing-yau to take part in the Asian Games, Hong Kong would still not be able to field a women's team.

'We need a minimum of three players. We are happy that Venise has now been approved, but still disappointed that Jessica Yang Zijun and Polly Lam Po-kuen have been turned down,' Hardisty said.