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Having gone through ups and downs of professional tennis for 12 years, Peng Shuai, China's youngest star on the WTA Tour, remains fresh and positive about the game.
"Yeah, it's getting emotional to think that I've played the game for more than a decade. But I have never considered myself a veteran. I still feel young and keep my mindset at around 20," said Peng, who turned 27 last week.
Peng Shuai of China hits a return during her first round of women's singles match against Rebecca Marino of Canada on the second day of 2013 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, Jan 15, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]
Drawing early attention after advancing to the Wimbledon third round in 2006, Peng joined Li Na and Zheng Jie at the forefront of the game in China.
However, a change of rackets and multiple injuries (knee, finger and shoulder) slowed her down last year and punctured her not-too-tough on-court mentality.
Still, the current world No 32 is ready to thrive on the circuit again.
"I really found my passion for the game when I was 18. But everything just happened so quickly. It now seems like every time I look back, a couple of years have just passed. But I am more mature on court now," Peng said after thrashing Rebecca Marino, 6-3, 6-0, in the first round of Australian Open.
Despite being five years older than the Canadian, Peng showed more energy in her smooth 52-minute victory, in which she hit five more winners than Marino while watching her opponent make 23 unforced errors.
The flying start has booked her a second-round clash against Russian world No 15 Maria Kirilenko, who leads their limited head-to-head clashes 2-1.
"I played her last year at Wimbledon and lost in three sets. But it's different from grass to hard court. So this time, I will try my best to beat her," Peng said.
After bowing out in the second round at Melbourne last year due to health reasons, Peng said she has learnt to take greater care of her body.
"I have done solid winter training with enough fitness preparation," she said. "I will also pick my tournaments smartly this year. Hopefully, I can regain the momentum of 2011."
Li's French Open victory was obviously the crowning moment for Chinese tennis in 2011, but Peng was the country's most consistent performer.
The Tianjin native reached the last 16 at each Grand Slam except the French Open while also making four WTA semis and one final during the year. She finished the season with a fine 53-21 record, the sixth best of 2011.