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The waiting game

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2020-05-25 09:13
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Wang Qiang, pictured in action in Qatar in February during her last tournament before the WTA Tour's suspension, says she is using the sport's shutdown to recharge, mentally and physically. [Photo/GETTY IMAGES]

Shutdown presents both opportunities and obstacles for China's top aces

With their jet-set lives on hold, China's tennis pros are navigating uncharted territories in these uncertain times.

The globe-trotting nature of the men's and women's tours means the coronavirus pandemic poses more problems for tennis than most sports.

The shutdown of the tours was this month extended until July 31, raising anxiety levels for players starved of earnings and struggling to stay motivated.

It's over three months since Wang Qiang last won some prize money-at the Qatar Open in February. However, after years of hard graft and constant travel, China's women's No 1 is treating the hiatus as a timely recharge.

"To be honest, I feel quite good to be able to sit back after having traveled and played over many years to a point where fatigue and injury had taken a toll on my body," Wang told China Daily during a telephone interview last week.

"Plus, I've been able to enjoy more quality time with my family and spend some of my life elsewhere rather than just on the tennis court, which I couldn't do for years. This is not bad for me at all," said the 28-year-old Tianjin native.

Since returning from the United States in early March, Wang has maintained a moderate fitness program and kept her game ticking over by getting some on-court practice in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, where her main sponsor and promoting agency are based.

Both the Women's Tennis Association and the men's Association of Tennis Professionals had initially targeted a mid-July resumption, and Wang admits that this month's decision to delay the restart until August has forced another rethink of her priorities.

"After they pushed it back, I felt like I needed to take a break from my current program. Physically I am recovering but mentally I am exhausted," Wang said, referring to the conditioning routine she's been sticking to over the past two months.

Having earned over $4.6 million in prize money since turning pro in 2006, Wang is probably in a better position than most to ride out the shutdown.

She remains committed to supporting her team, including French coach Thomas Drouet, who is currently stuck in France due to travel restrictions but still keeps in contact with Wang to offer her training guidance online.

In response to a French media report that Drouet was considering delivering pizzas to cover his daily expenses without receiving full wages, Wang told China Daily that she's paid Drouet a full month's salary in advance to help him alleviate the financial burden.

"Financially, I am OK even though we all have to tighten our belts these days. I'd rather provide him as much support as I can than sitting back doing nothing," said Wang, who pulled off her biggest career win against 23-time major champion Serena Williams in the third round of this year's Australian Open under Drouet's watch.

"I can still handle the situation for a certain period of time," said the 2014 Asian Games singles champion.

Feeling slightly more anxious to get back on tour is Wang's national teammate, Zheng Saisai. In fact, Zheng's quite literally itching for a return to normality.

The world No 34 has been stuck in the United States since early March, when she flew to New York to meet her mother following the cancellation of the Indian Wells tournament in California. "I really miss the days practicing on court and going after tournaments week in and week out," said Zheng, who hasn't hit shots on a tennis court for over two months with all facilities closed in New York, the United States' virus epicenter.

"My hands start to get itchy and I really hope to get back to business soon."

The Shaanxi native has been keeping safe by staying indoors with her mother at their apartment in Saratoga Springs, New York.

She has still managed to stay in shape by running in the morning and working out in the afternoon, however admits that Mom's scrumptious cooking has offset a little of that hard work.

"My mom really fed me well … maybe too well in the first month of our home isolation so I quickly gained some weight," Zheng said.

Like many of her fellow pros, social media has been a valuable outlet for Zheng during lockdown, with the 26-year-old joining the online buzz to keep her followers connected and entertained.

One of Zheng's posts-a video showing her competing against her pet dog in a shuttle-run contest-featured in the May 15 episode of the WTA-ATP digital show Tennis United, hosted by fellow pros Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Vasek Pospisil.

"I think I have a responsibility to stay closer with fans online especially during the shutdown of the game," said Zheng.

Although some other professional sports, such as soccer, have tentatively begun to resume the action, tennis is unlikely to return to normalcy any time soon.

Last month, former women's world No 1 Amelie Mauresmo of France predicted that the rest of the 2020 season might be wiped out, saying that action should not resume before players get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

"International circuit= players of all nationalities plus management, spectators and people from the 4 corners of the world who bring these events to life. No vaccine= no tennis," the two-time Grand Slam winner said in a widely shared tweet.

Medical experts have said that vaccines against the respiratory virus would likely not be ready until next year, raising doubts whether any further tournaments can be played this year.

Wimbledon has been canceled for the first time since World War II, while the French Open, originally due to be held from May 24-June 7, is now scheduled to take place from Sept 27-Oct 11, shortly after the US Open is set to end.

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