Sports / Newsmakers

Taking aim at making net gains

By Sun Xiaochen in Rio De Janeiro (China Daily) Updated: 2016-08-10 08:22

Young players shoulder China's future in tennis

Taking aim at making net gains

Zheng Saisai hits a return to Darya Kasatkina of Russia en route to her second-round loss on Monday. Wei Xiaohao / China Daily

With tennis interest booming across the nation, Chinese players fully embraced the challenge of the Olympic tournament - despite knowing they faced some very long odds.

Since 2004, when Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won China's first and only gold medal in women's doubles at the Athens Games, the sport's growth in the Olympics-obsessed country has been aimed at medal-winning performances in the global showcase.

The desperate yells of Li Na to quiet her boisterous home crowd during the semifinals at the 2008 Beijing Games and the sobs of veteran Zheng Jie after losing in the second round of women's doubles with partner Peng Shuai at the 2012 London Games only served to underline the cruel realities of one of the world's toughest competitions.

Despite offering no ranking points or prize money, the Rio tournament still attracted a glittering cast of professional players, including Serbian world No 1 Novak Djokovic, Wimbledon champion Andy Murray of Britain and the mighty Serena Williams of the United States to compete under their national flags.

China's new generation of world-class players likewise needed no added incentive.

"The Olympics come every four years, while the Grand Slams take place four times a year. Obviously everybody wants to perform well here because it is such a rare opportunity," China's Zheng Saisai said after losing 6-1, 6-4 to Russia's Daria Kasatkina in the second round of singles on Monday.

"But I came here with no pressure. I just want to enjoy the unique experience. Plus, I earned my bonus by stunning a much-higher-ranked opponent," said Zheng, who defeated Polish favorite Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets in the opening round.

Zheng's teammate, Zhang Shuai, who lost in the second round to Luara Siegemund of Germany, said an Olympic defeat is no longer a reason for self-recrimination.

"The field at the Olympics was pretty strong with lots of big names, so it's normal to lose in any round. It's not a huge disappointment," said Zhang, the world No 50.

"Meanwhile, we have more pro events at home and overseas to show off our skills. Losing here is not as unacceptable as before."

China sent five players to Rio. Four, including veteran Peng and young ace Wang Qiang, have already been eliminated from the singles competition.

Zheng will partner with Xu Yifan in the second round of doubles against Italy's Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci while Zhang and Peng will compete against Czechs Andrea Hlavackova and Lucie Hradecka.

"Tennis started to gain attention in China with breakthroughs in women's doubles in Athens, so hopefully we can emulate that here in Rio," said Zheng.

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