Young players swinging to be the 'next Li Na'

By Lei Lei and Sun Xiaochen ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-07-11 09:02:47

As the annual Wimbledon tennis championships drew to a close over the weekend, junior Chinese stars served up a treat of their own in Beijing in the hope of one day standing on the Grand Slam stage.

While top players like Serena Williams and Andy Murray have been wowing fans worldwide with their performance sat the All-England Club this summer, Chinese spectators have been left craving a homegrown star to fill the void left by LiNa.

They may soon have one, as a young generation of talent is now emerging as the country's tennis development system evolves with greater grassroots participation and more professional coaching programs.

One up-and-comer is Wang Xiyu, a 15-year-old who makes no secret of her ambition to take the court against the world's best in the not-too-distant future.

"My goal is to play at and win a Grand Slam event, although it's a long shot for me at the moment," Wang said after winning the girl's singles title at the 2016 Agile Cup on Saturday. The tournament, an annual event on the International Tennis Federation's junior circuit, has been held in Beijing since 2012.

Wang is working toward her dream with help from the 1123 Junior Tennis Academy, which was founded in 2010 with the aim to produce the next Li Na, who retired in 2014 due to a knee injury.

Li became an instant icon in Asia after winning her first Grand Slam singles title at the 2011 French Open. She went onto win a second at the 2014 Australian Open.

Inspired by her success, more young people have been picking up tennis, including Wang, who signed up at the 1123 academy along with six other hopefuls to train with an international crew of coaches, fitness trainers and physiotherapists.

Academy founder Yi Ping, a former player in her 50s, is confident her training program, which is far different from the traditional State-run system, can deliver world-class tennis players.

"With the game becoming more popular, we've realized that the traditional ways should move aside for more professional and individualized methods," she said.

The game's transformation into a mainstream sport in China is reflected in the growing number of international tournaments it hosts - the country will stage a record 11 events on the Women's Tennis Association and Association of Professional Tennis circuits this year.

However, Alejandro Dulko, a coach at the 1123 academy from Argentina, said young Chinese players need more game time overseas to adapt to the tough challenge of international tennis.

"I want them to play more in Europe as they need to get more used to the level there," he said, adding that he recently accompanied four players to take part in junior events at Wimbledon.

"We can't compare Li with other players. They (the girls) have the talent and are working hard, so I hope they can do as good as she did. I'm here to try to help them to get there," he said.

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Young players swinging to be the 'next Li Na'

China’s Wang Xiyu, 15, makes a shot during the final of the 2016 Agile Cup on Saturday in Beijing. Zou Hong / China Daily

(China Daily 07/11/2016 page1)

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