Li carries weight of China hopes again

Updated: 2012-06-24 07:42

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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 Li carries weight of China hopes again

(from left to right) Li Na, Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie shoulder China's hope at Wimbledon. AFP

It's a rare time when a Grand Slam event acts as a warm-up for something even bigger.

Moreover, that will happen this year at Wimbledon as the quadrennial Olympics tennis competition will be held on the lawns of the All-England Club next month.

China's top three aces, Li Na, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai, have earned direct berths into the singles main draw at Wimbledon and will hone their grass-court skills as a lead-up to the Olympics.

Last year's French Open champion, Li, remains the country's best hope at Wimbledon although she has never gone beyond the fourth round at a major since her epic Roland Garros victory.

Still, the 11th seed is hoping to reach her peak form at Wimbledon as she is keen for another major title and also an Olympic medal in London a few weeks later.

"I am really looking forward to it because it will be my last chance to play in the Olympics," Li said during the French Open last month.

Despite more consistent performances, including two runner-up finishes and four quarterfinal berths this calendar year, Li's combustible game remains a headache for her fans as she lost to unseeded Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan after holding a 6-3, 2-0 lead in the fourth round at Roland Garros.

Last year, Li suffered an early exit at Wimbledon, losing to German big server Sabine Lisicki in the second round, but she remains comfortable playing on the surface.

"I am not doing that bad on grass, so I am confident of my chances," said the 30-year-old.

Li reached the quarters twice at Wimbledon - in 2006 and 2010 - and claimed her first grass title at Birmingham two years ago.

The Hubei native skipped all the lead-up grass-court tournaments to Wimbledon, spending two weeks in Germany for fitness training after the French Open.

For the other two Chinese hopes, injuries have once again dented their chances.

Zheng, a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 2008, showed her liking for grass at Birmingham last week by making the semis as a qualifier.

However, the 29-year-old failed to maintain that momentum and lost to Czech Klara Zakopalova in the opening round at Eastbourne last week after suffering a foot injury.

Zheng's Olympic doubles partner, Zhang, was also sidelined by injury after her round-32 loss to eventual champion Maria Sharapova in Paris.

The 26-year-old attained her best singles result (fourth round) at Wimbledon last year but appears unlikelyto repeat the feat as she has a niggling knee injury.

Peng could be focusing more on the doubles with Zheng in the hope of delivering the country's second tennis Olympic gold medal.

"Winning Olympic gold is a dream for players and officials, like me. But I will not push them and I just hope they fight hard," China's tennis chief, Sun Jinfang, said recently.

Chinese women have tasted doubles success with Grand Slam victories (won by Zheng and her former partner Yan Zi) at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006, and a gold medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics (Li Ting and Sun Tiantian).

sunxiaochen@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 06/24/2012 page11)