Zheng Jie's play could ignite China tennis explosion
China's Zheng Jie hopes her historic run to the fourth round of the French Open will inspire a new generation of girls in her country to take up tennis.
Zheng's gutsy campaign came to a heartbreaking end on Sunday with a 6-4, 7-5 defeat at the hands of experienced Argentinian and 14th seed Paola Suarez, but the 20-year-old believes there are many good things to come out of the event.
"I think because of what I have achieved here it will have a good influence in China and that more and more people will take up the game," said Zheng, whose performances here bettered the previous best Grand Slam effort by a Chinese player.
That belonged to Li Fang, who made the third round at the 1992 Australian Open as a qualifier.
"Hopefully too, now I will be able to get more notice in other parts of the world and play well again in the future.
"There are more and more Chinese girls involved in tennis and with government support and with more players taking part in tournaments abroad, the future should improve with better rankings."
Zheng reached the fourth round with wins over Madagascar's Dally Randriantefy, French 31st seed Emilie Loit and then Italy's Tathiana Garbin, the conqueror of top seed and defending champion Justine Henin-Hardenne.
She had her chances against Suarez, leading 3-2 in the first set and breaking to edge ahead 4-2 in the second before squandering a set point in the 10th game.
Suarez, 27 and with four career titles under her belt, made the Chinese player pay for her mistake by sweeping through the next three games to take the match in one hour and 40 minutes and reach the quarter-finals here for the second time.
"I made too many mistakes today," admitted Zheng, who was playing in her first French Open.
"I lost vital points and didn't take my opportunities when they came along, especially in the second set when I had game points and a set point. Hopefully, I will learn from the mistakes and do better next time.
"I have achieved a great result here but it was also due to support from the government, the country and my home town. I have also been training very hard."
Zheng has enjoyed a formidable year. She has improved her ranking from 162 to 58 in the world and defeated former world No 15 Jelena Dokic on her way to the Doha quarter-finals in March before making her first Tour semi-final at the Japan Open last October.
Zheng's next goal will be to better Li Fang's career-high singles ranking of 36 in 1998 and to repeat her form at Wimbledon.
But there's one slight problem. "I have never played on grass before, but I hope to get better results at Wimbledon," she added.