Wang Qiang the new Li Na? China No 1 making her own mark as she keeps on rolling at Hong Kong Open
The 26-year-old is in the form of her life, having won Asian Games gold and reached a career-high ranking – and China’s greatest ever player is impressed
It can’t be easy for Wang Qiang living in the huge shadow cast by Li Na, even more so when China’s most successful tennis player is still getting all the attention.
Former French Open and Australian Open champion Li has been a regular visitor at the Victoria Park in the past few days, as a special guest invited by organisers for the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open.
Reportersflocked to interview her at a press conference after she had entertained a packed crowd on Centre Court for Tuesday’s charity exhibition match.
Wang would be right to feel a little aggrieved, after earlier breezing past Hong Kong No 1 Zhang Ling 6-0, 6-2 on the same court, not to get more of the spotlight.
“I think I had a good performance the last few weeks, so I just take that into this match,” Wang said afterwards. “I just try to play my tennis, play aggressive.”
It’s been a golden summer – quite literally – for Wang, who topped the podium at the Asian Games, won titles in Jiangzi and Guangzhou, and reached the semi-finals at Wuhan and the China Open in Beijing.
The 26-year-old’s efforts saw her reach a career-high No 24 when the latest rankings were announced this week.
“I’m really happy to come back to Hong Kong, I really love it,” Wang said. “I feel I’m playing my best tennis. I think I have more confidence that before.”
Like Li, who triumphed at Roland Garros in 2011 aged 29, success seems to be coming late on for Wang.
“Growth in China usually comes quite later than for Europeans or Americans, if she’s [Wang] really determined to do it she can,” Li told the South China Morning Post.
“I want to congratulate Wang Qiang this year. She performed really well at the China Open and if she’s wants to keep improving she has to have a have smart strategy and plan.”
After succumbing to injuries, Li retired aged 32 in 2014, the same year she won her second grand slam in Melbourne.
“Not only Wang Qiang but also Zhang Shuai played really well this year,” Li said. “Of course, if they want to make more progress, they need a stronger body.
“Injuries are the worst thing for athletes. And they also need a smarter strategy for competitions. A tennis player needs to compete for 11 months a year. You have to make a proper plan for the competition.”
Asked whether she might be set to play the best tennis of her career in her later years like Li, Wang smiled.
“I will try,” she said. “Li Na for me is gold. She’s a really good player. I want to be like her. For now I think the young players in China are doing really well. I think we have a good future for tennis in China.”
Being tagged as “the next Li Na” just may not be very helpful.
“They won’t find another Li Na,” Li said. “Even if someone can set the same record and use the same playing strategy, they can’t be me.
“Furthermore, everyone has different life experiences. Because of that, everyone has their own style of play. But I’m still positive about tennis in China and I hope it will get better and better.”