Sports / Tennis

A home court away from home

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2013-01-20 07:51

Melbourne Park has become the home of breakthroughs for Chinese tennis.

From the nation's first major champions at a Grand Slam event - the 2006 doubles title won by Zheng Jie and Yan Zi - to its first berth in the singles final - Li Na in 2011 - the Australian Open has been a happy hunting ground for Chinese players.

"I really have to say Melbourne is my favorite Grand Slam," Li said earlier this week. "I really look forward to coming back every year because I can see all my friends back here."

China's second-highest ranked woman, Peng Shuai, also reached the fourth round in Melbourne, and Zheng making the semifinals with Li in 2010.

The close proximity to China and the familiar courts play a role.

"The surface the Chinese play on is the same," said Steve Ayles, the commercial director for Tennis Australia. "It's a similar hard court here to the ones most of the Chinese players have been brought up on. It's kind of a reason they perform better here."

Des Tyson, the Australian national junior coach who briefly instructed Li in 2006, said it's natural for the neighboring Chinese to play well Down Under.

"Perhaps they feel very comfortable in Australia," he said. "There is a large Chinese population here. They enjoy the conditions here, it's a similar time zone, no jet lag and it's only an 8 or 9 hour flight.

"Maybe there is good Chinese food here."

Peng agreed that the food makes a difference.

"The city's Chinatown is close to the courts," she said. "So it may be the most convenient Slam for us to find a Chinese restaurant. It's always good to have your country's food abroad."

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