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Search on for Wimbledon wannabes

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-30 07:18

As white-shirted juniors trade titanic serves and blistering backhands under the watchful eyes of coaches from the All England Club, you might think you're courtside at Wimbledon.

But this isn't south London, it's the Beijing International Tennis Center, where the second "Road to Wimbledon" event was in full swing on Tuesday.

The initiative provides advanced training for promising players under the age of 14 - the best of whom will go through to a final tournament at London's famous Grand Slam venue in August.

During the event's Beijing leg this week, 16 boys and 16 girls will practice under the guidance of elite coaches like former British men's singles No 1 Jeremy Bates.

"The best players they all have weapons, they do things faster with more power and more consistency," said Bates, the head of women's tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association.

"I am going to focus on three things here: footwork, preparation and contact point."

Later, the boys and girls will be whittled down to two groups of eight to compete on grass courts in Nanjing from May 1-6, with the two winners rewarded with a trip to London to play in the final tournament.

Last year's top Chinese girl, Xiao Zhenghua, won the Wimbledon finale.

"A key part of the promotion is offering junior players the chance to further their careers by gaining overseas experience," said Paul Hutchins, tournament director of Road to Wimbledon.

"It was a delight to welcome the Chinese juniors to the finals, played on the grass courts at Wimbledon."

As the biggest grassroots tennis initiative in Britain, the Road to Wimbledon involves about 7,000 juniors in the UK annually.

From 2014 it was extended to Asia, starting in India.

China's first and only Grand Slam champion Li Na, who won the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open, added her expertise to last year's program, coaching juniors in Nanjing.

Event organizers are hopeful they can unearth China's next global star.

"We are expanding the Road to Wimbledon across Asia. We hope to improve and contribute to Chinese junior tennis," said Hutchins.

"China has already produced a Grand Slam winner in Li, and there is no reason why the country can't produce male and female players who can do well in major events."

Lyu Tiehang, deputy director of the National Sports Training Center of General Administration of Sports, said exposing young Chinese talent to the Wimbledon experience is invaluable.

"Boys and girls with ambitions to thrive at the top level of professional tennis will be inspired and motivated from here," he said.

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