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Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open

Naomi Osaka a sure-fire hit for Hong Kong Tennis Open – home fans will flock to watch new Asian hero

There’s plenty of homegrown talent on display at Victoria Park next week, but Japanese star will be centre of attention, says Hong Kong number one Zhang Ling

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 12:20pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 October, 2018, 12:20pm

As the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open rolls into town again, there is no question about who the star attraction will be next week.

China’s Wang Qiang, Zhang Shuai and Zheng Saisai will get plenty of support from local fans at Victoria Park, having already been announced for the main draw.

But even Hong Kong number one Zhang Ling – the world No 395 who has been given a wild card to the tournament – knows all eyes will be on a certain someone.

“I think Naomi Osaka, she just won the US Open in quite a dramatic match,” Zhang said when asked who will be the fans’ favourite.

“She’s upcoming, she’s young, she has Asian blood – that will be good for all the fans to come and watch.”

The 20-year-old Osaka, who is of Japanese and Haitian descent, stunned the tennis world by beating Serena Williams in the Flushing Meadows final last month.

There was plenty of controversy, with American Williams calling chair umpire Carlos Ramos sexist after he gave her a warning, docked her a point and then a game for three code violations.

But Osaka, Japan’s first grand slam champion, has taken the drama in her stride, reaching the final of her home tournament at the Pan Pacific Open, and the quarter-finals in Beijing where she plays Zhang Shuai on Friday.

The fans aren’t the only ones who will be excited by the arrival of Osaka, who achieved another significant milestone this week.

“Congratulations to Naomi for qualifying for her first WTA Finals in Singapore and we are excited to see her play in front of Hong Kong fans in just a few days,” said Chris Lai, tournament director and CEO of Hong Kong Tennis Association.

Everyone will, of course, also be eager to see Zhang Ling in action, too. The 28-year-old arrived back from Australia on Wednesday, having competed in three International Tennis Federation tournaments in preparation for the Hong Kong Open.

“It’s the biggest event for Hong Kong – to play in your hometown is quite exciting,” she said. “I know many fans will come watch and support our local players.

“I feel very honoured and very lucky ... to play in my hometown against all the top world-class players.

“Physically, I feel good right now. A little bit tired because the flight from Australia was quite long, but I have a few more days to get ready, so I’ll be prepared by then.”

Before speaking to the media inside the stadium, Zhang smiled and waved at a few players heading to the nearby registration desk, and she soon found herself playing the role of tour guide.

“Normally, they just ask where to eat, where to go shopping,” she said. “I’ll give them some suggestions, and some of my close friends and I will take them to some restaurants.

“Some of the players – it’s the first time they’ve come here, and they have heard about Hong Kong many times. I just wish they can really discover Hong Kong and enjoy their time here, in the competition and in the city.”

Even though she required a wild card to make it to the tournament, Zhang believes last month’s Asian Games in Indonesia, proved Hong Kong tennis is moving in the right direction.

“For sure, we have more and more players doing well, even from the juniors,” she said. “Now with the full-time players we have a very solid team.

“You can see from the results at the Asian Games, even though we didn’t get a medal, there were three different matches where we were just one match away from a medal. That shows you we’re going in the right way.”