Impressive win in Zhuhai marks Zhang as player most likely to emulate Li Na

By Mark Dreyer Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/1 23:18:39

China's Zhang Shuai hits a forehand return to Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province on Tuesday. Photo: CFP

China's Zhang Shuai hits a forehand return to Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland at the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province on Tuesday. Photo: CFP

While China was showing off its brand-new J-20 fighter jet at the Zhuhai air show, across town another Chinese fighter was powering to victory on the tennis court.

Zhang Shuai dispatched world No.18 Timea Bacsinszky with a dominant 6-1, 6-1 performance that sets her up with a good chance to progress to the semifinals.

While the top eight ­players in the world recently faced off in Singapore for the WTA ­Finals, the next tier of players are competing for the WTA Elite Trophy.

Eleven players, ranked from 11-23 in the world, have been joined by Zhang, a wild card, and are divided into four groups of three, with each group winner progressing to the last four.

But while the reasons for adding a local player to the tournament are obvious, Zhang is no slouch.

Long seen as the player most likely to fill the void left by Li Na, Zhang suffered a dip in form last year, but is now up to 28th in the world, just one place down from her career high last month.

In fact, her improvement can be traced back to the start of the year, when she was forced to qualify for the Australian Open.

But after battling through three qualifiers, she won a further four games in the main draw, including wins over the 2nd seed Simona Halep and 15th seed Madison Keys.

Her run eventually came to an end in the quarterfinals against Johanna Konta - whose own improvement this year has arguably been even greater than Zhang's - but her sustained performances over that two-week period in Melbourne had a huge impact, according to Belgian tennis coach Olivier Grignard, who has worked with some of the top Chinese female players in recent years.

"The win took the pressure off Zhang," Grignard says. "Because she finally realized she was good enough to make it. Getting to Li Na's level is another matter, but Zhang has a lot of potential and I'm sure she will continue to improve her singles ranking in the future."

Zhang is leading a growing Chinese pack of players and, while she's the sole Chinese representative in Zhuhai, the nation has 10 women in the world's top 200. Despite some obstacles still facing the sport, that number, Grignard says, will only increase.

"Tennis is not yet part of the Chinese sporting fabric like badminton and ping-pong," he says.

"Chinese players, coaches and the national federation all need time to learn and mature, but China will soon be one of the most powerful nations in women's tennis."

Mark Dreyer is the editor of China Sports Insider. A former reporter at Sky Sports and Fox Sports, he regularly comments on China's sports industry in global media. dreyermark@gmail.com



Posted in: TENNIS,EXTRA TIME

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