A strong Chinese women's contingent will take to the courts at the Australian Open looking to get the new season off to a flying start.
The Chinese will be spearheaded at the first Grand Slam of the year by world No 17 Li Na (pictured), a consistent top-level performer in the latter half of last year. She reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and then rose to No 15 in the rankings, a mark which equaled Zheng Jie's ranking peak for a Chinese player.
As usual, compatriots Zheng and Peng Shuai will be fighting alongside Li in the ladies' singles main draw, just as they did at the past three Grand Slams since Roland Garros last year.
Yan Zi, who partnered Zheng to win Grand Slam doubles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, used to be another frequent main-draw player but her ranking has fallen to 301 and she was not even able to take part in the qualifiers for the Open.
Li, 27, has the best opportunity among the Chinese to reach new heights in Melbourne. She missed the Australian Open last year due to a knee injury but performed well at the next three Grand Slam tournaments and reached at least the third round of each - including her second Grand Slam quarterfinal appearance at Flushing Meadows.
Those consistent performances helped Li, a Wuhan native, reach No 15 in October last year.
Entering the new season, Li has already sent a warning to her rivals by defeating world No 4 and last year's US Open finalist, Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, in the second round of the ongoing Sydney International
However, the knee injury, which forced her to miss last year's Australian Open and the last two months of last season, remains a concern for Li, who now takes to the court in a knee brace.
"I pray I can have a injury-free season," Li said of 2010 after losing to Elena Dementieva of Russia in the second round of the China Open last October.
A similar prayer is being uttered by Zheng, who was sidelined by an ankle injury for six months in 2007.
After the ankle injury, she had to endure a wrist problem that forced her to withdraw from her fourth-round match against Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open last year. "I wish to have a healthy body," Zheng, the world No 35, said.
(China Daily 01/16/2010 page16)