Youngster relishes chance of a lifetime The sun is still trying to fight its way above the upper reaches of Ma On Shan when Zhang Ling steps out on the court. Tucked away beneath the trees at the back of the Hong Kong Sports Institute, there's a chill in the air made worse, it seems, by the silence that surrounds the scene, as the few people walking past tuck their faces into their collars and hardly bother to look up at all. The only noise you can hear is the thwack of balls as they pass back and forth over the net as two of Zhang's Hong Kong teammates begin their morning routine. Five hours of practice await before Zhang can call it a day - or at least trade the court for the gym, or the running track to finish off the sort of punishing programme her coaches hope can prepare the 19-year-old to compete with the very best. But there's a special spring in the player's step this morning as she knows what the week ahead promises. Zhang has been chosen to take part in the JB Group Classic, as Team Asia's 'Star of Tomorrow'. Not only will she be flying the flag for local tennis, she'll be surrounded by some of the greatest players in the game today, including Serbian world number one Jelena Jankovic, American grand slam dame Venus Williams and Chinese sensation Zheng Jie. And Zhang plans to make every moment count. 'The players coming here of course most of the time I have just seen them on TV,' said Zhang, as we found a place in the sun to sit and talk. 'I've never played against them or even practised against them. But everyone knows them. It's a good chance for someone like me to learn from them and to watch them from up close. 'They are top players and I would love to get a chance to play against them. That would be so different from just watching them as you can feel how much pressure they put on each shot, when they use their power.' The new three-player team format of the event has ensured Zhang will be in the thick of things. There are singles and doubles rounds in the main event, beginning on Wednesday, with Zhang paired with Team Asia's captain Zheng for the doubles. India's Sania Mirza rounds out the team for the locals and Zhang is hoping for plenty of hometown support once they hit Victoria Park's centre court. 'Hong Kong has been very good to me,' said the Changsa-born Zhang. 'I first came here for a week and we saw it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Since I moved here four years ago everything has been taken care of. I just have to concentrate on tennis - and on improving my game.' In those four years Zhang has become the mainstay of Hong Kong's Fed Cup team, while establishing herself also on the ITF Tour. Last year she won her second doubles event - in Pune - while making two semi-finals and two quarter-finals in singles, adding those results to the two ITF singles titles she won in 2007 (Wellington and Tokyo), and her breakthrough doubles title in Jakarta in 2006. Now comes 2009, the JB Group Classic, and a chance to see how far away she might be from establishing herself in the main event - the WTA Tour. 'I know what I have to work on - everything,' she said. 'But at this stage I am pretty happy. It is always good, after you put the hard work in, to get some good results. 'But you know sometimes when things don't go well, you don't win many points, you are not playing well, it can be hard. But our coaches and teammates really support us. We all live together and train together so the support for me is good.' As well as the main competition, Zhang will join other 'Stars of Tomorrow' - Team America's Coco Vandeweghe, Team Europe's Michelle Larcher De Brito and Team Russia's Alexandra Panova - for exhibition matches tomorrow evening. She already has posted a straight-sets victory over the Russian - at the ITF event in South Korea last April - and officials are hoping similar results will inspire Hong Kong's next generation of tennis hopefuls. For Zhang, meanwhile, this week will also be a time to reflect on what has already been quite a journey. 'When I was young I would get sick all the time,' she added. 'So my dad started thinking that I should start playing sports so my body would get stronger. Tennis then wasn't as popular in China as it is now but for me it is very individual so no one can touch you or hurt you.'