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Perseverance paying dividends

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2017-10-02 07:46

Perseverance paying dividends

China's Zhang Shuai and Johanna Konta of Britain have both overcome long odds in their tennis careers. [Photo by Feng Yongbin/China Daily and Jin Yu/Xinhua]

Forget about the trophies, flowers and paychecks - life as a professional tennis player can be as cruel as double-faulting with a Grand Slam title on the line.

From Chinese ace Zhang Shuai's consecutive first-round losses at Grand Slams over eight years to rising British star Johanna Konta's long climb through the rankings, the ruthless nature of professional tennis has daunted many while rewarding only a few.

A genuine love of the sport is what it takes to withstand the grind before breakthroughs eventually come, as evidenced by the recent rise of both players.

After dropping the opener at a major event 14 times in a row since the 2008 US Open, Zhang had almost surrendered to what seemed a doomed career by considering retirement at the end of 2015 - until a surprising quarterfinal run at last year's Australian Open turned things around.

From there, the 28-year-old bounced back to crack the world's top 30 and she won her second Women's Tennis Association title at the Guangzhou Open last week, reviving her hopes for a strong finish to the season.

"My mental toughness was tested again and again during the losing streak so it became strong enough to carry me through all the frustrations to where I am now," said world No 26 Zhang, who beat Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva 6-4, 6-4 in Sunday's opening round of the China Open in Beijing.

"My love of the game kept me trying even after failing over and over again. My last stand on the verge of despair saved my career."

Her British counterpart Konta, who only recently broke into the top echelon of the sport, can empathize.

"I made peace with the fact that whatever the sport is going to bring me, I am going to enjoy every opportunity to become a more resilient and more ferocious person," Konta told China Daily.

An obscure presence on the tour from 2008-15, Konta shot to fame at last year's China Open when she fought against all odds into the final to become Britain's first top-10 woman in more than three decades, although she eventually lost to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland in straight sets.

After Beijing, the Australian-born Brit won her second WTA title in her birthplace of Sydney, followed by lifting the biggest trophy of her career at the Miami Open in April and a semifinal finish at Wimbledon.

Still, Konta attributes her progress to enduring the shot-by-shot grind, rather than just good fortune.

"I am not a believer in quick fixes," she said.

"It was about going through situations where I developed as a competitor and a person. The biggest factor in my career is time. I need time to mature into the player I am and the best person I can be.

"Thanks to the motivation from the wins, I was able to get myself to a stage where I was able to put things together a little more consistently."

Introduced to the sport at the age of 8, Konta attended the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona to hone her talent to a professional level.

She turned pro in 2008, and had experienced ups and downs due to injuries, nerves and stress - until last year.

"That's where you truly realize that you actually play for yourself," Konta said of what drives her to keep striving for greater heights.

"I play this sport because I love the competition."

sunxiaochen@chinadaily.com.cn

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