Flying the flag: top Chinese players looking to make an impression at Hong Kong Tennis Open
Mainland players come to Hong Kong searching for a maiden tour victory at Victoria Park
Among the field of big name stars at the forthcoming Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open will be two Chinese players who have made steady progress up the world rankings in recent years with a weight of expectation on their shoulders.
Wang Qiang and Zheng Saisai, China’s current number two and three respectively, will both be aiming for a first taste of WTA singles success at the Victoria Park competition.
It’s now been almost two years since Asia’s first grand slam champion Li Na retired and there’s been precious little to keep Chinese tennis fans interested in the intervening period.
When Li retired in September 2014, eight months after sealing a second grand slam title in Melbourne to add to her French Open triumph of 2011, the popularity of the sport was at unprecedented levels in China.
Li was widely credited with the explosion in the population growth of tennis on the mainland, and it was hoped that her success would usher in the emergence of more talent from the Middle Kingdom.
So far, that hasn’t come to pass. Players like Wang and Zheng are making steady progress with their games – both have seen their world rankings climb since 2014, but neither has secured a breakthrough singles win on the WTA Tour yet.
Wang’s biggest achievement to date, aside from her 12 secondary ITF Tour victories, was a gold medal showing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. She defeated Thailand’s number one player Luksika Khumkum to secure a career highlight. But at 24 years old, the Tianjin-native needs to turn her potential into results.
Similarly, Zheng has had a steady if unremarkable rise in the last couple of seasons. Her career has seen success in doubles with three WTA Tour victories, but she too is looking for a breakout moment to kick-start her singles account after three semi-final appearances on tour.
Most recently she eliminated world number four Agnieszka Radwanska at the Rio Olympics, and will be competing in Hong Kong for a second time after reaching the quarter-final stage in 2014.
Both players will see the Victoria Park event as a great opportunity to step out of Li’s lengthy shadow.