Blazing their own trail: Hong Kong Tennis Open-bound duo Wang Qiang and Zheng Saisai undaunted by Li Na legacy
The Chinese pair are set to line-up at the Victoria Park tournament next month alongside the likes of new world number one Angelique Kerber and a resurgent Caroline Wozniacki
The next generation of Chinese women’s tennis talent is determined to blaze its own trail and not become preoccupied with reaching the high standards set by the most successful of their number, Li Na.
Wang Qiang and Zheng Saisai, China’s number two and three respectively, will compete at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open in October and say they are happy to work hard and let their destiny take care of itself.
Perhaps that is wise when faced with a legacy like that of Li. In an era of incredible players she managed to make an indelible mark on the game after claiming two grand slam victories in France and Australia.
She spent six years ranked inside the top 20 in the world, including 25 weeks at a career high ranking of number two, and secured nine singles titles on the WTA tour. And all of this while becoming one of the most popular figures on the circuit.
Hers are big shoes to fill, but China’s next generation doesn’t feel the pressure.
“I would rather be myself,” says Tianjin-native Wang. “If I can do well, the rest will come.”
Zheng, however, is more reflective of the legacy that Li left behind when she retired in 2014.
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“What Li accomplished is an amazing achievement,” said the 22-year-old. “I use it as my motivation every day.
“But I am a long way from being able to step into her shoes. There are many other promising young players in China, we are all pushing each other to be better.”
Organisers are describing this year’s Hong Kong Tennis Open field as the most competitive yet at the Victoria Park tournament.
It’s hard to disagree when you note that as well as the newly minted world number one Angelique Kerber, a resurgent Caroline Wozniacki – who the German edged out in the semi-finals of the US Open – will play in Hong Kong for the first time since 2011.
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Realistically, the Chinese players say they are hoping to gain invaluable experience against the world’s best and will use the tournament to help them realise more longer-term goals.
“I hope to break into the top 50 in 2016,” says the world number 62 Wang. “I think if I can perform to my training level in Hong Kong it will be a good result.
“In fact, I don’t have high expectations for the results in Hong Kong, I’m more concerned with the process.
“I need to become a more consistent player, through matches, tournaments and the season. I’m aiming to play at a consistent level.”
Zheng, who represented China at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, says a promising junior career that saw her reach number seven in the world has given her hope of making a breakthrough on the senior tour.
“The group I played with in the juniors featured Daria Gavrilova and [Olympic champion] Monica Puig, who are having very solid careers right now on the tour,” said Zheng.
“But for me there is always two things: enjoying what I am doing everyday and staying injury free. All the other things will just fall into the right place.”
Watch: Highlights from the 2015 Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open final