Zheng to continue helping youngsters

Ma Yue
The now-retired Zheng Jie says her devotion to youth tennis would continue as "there has to be someone doing that."
Ma Yue
Zheng to continue helping youngsters
Ma Yue / SHINE

Zheng Jie, the Australian Open ambassador, at an event in Shanghai. 

The now-retired Zheng Jie says her devotion to youth tennis would continue as “there has to be someone doing that.”

Zheng was in Shanghai this week as an ambassador for the Australian Open, with the Grand Slam setting up a temporary tennis court at Shanghai’s Columba Circle in Changning District to promote the tournament among Chinese fans.

Zheng retired in 2015, but has been organizing a youth tennis tournament the “Zheng Jie Cup” since 2010. Zheng used her own money at first but now has sponsors and support from the government. It has become an eight-stop tournament this year, involving nearly 3,000 players under the age of 12 from around the country. “Talented young players spotted at the tournament will be sent for training camps in Japan and France. So this is a great platform for them,” she revealed.

Zheng said there is a big gap between China and its neighbor Japan in terms of tennis development. “In Japan, those teaching the youth are retired professionals who used to be ranked between No. 50 and 100, which creates a solid foundation for the young generation.

“In my training camp, we can find 20 to 30 kids who have real potential out of about 2,000. But in Japan, the 20 kids can be found in about 50.

“Our sports bureau’s tennis management center has realized the gap, but cultivation of young players takes time and the result cannot be seen overnight. It’s not easy, but there has to be someone doing that.”

But China’s young players are not too far behind their foreign counterparts. For example, 17-year-old Wang Xiyu won the US Open Junior singles and Wimbledon Junior doubles titles this year. Another 17-year-old, Wang Xinyu, won the ticket to her Grand slam debut at this year’s Australian Open by winning the Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff.

“The youth tournament results show their ability, but it doesn’t mean they will have a guaranteed future,” said Zheng. “A professional career requires a lot of devotion. Working hard is not enough. You need good coaches and recovery team, and have to avoid injuries.”

Being one of the most successful tennis players in China, 35-year-old Zheng’s highest singles ranking was No. 15 which she achieved in May 2009. She reached the semifinals of the 2010 Australian Open.

She won four WTA singles titles and 15 doubles crowns, including the Australian Open title in 2006 partnering Yan Zi. Her career-high doubles ranking was No. 3.

“I have great memories of the Australian Open,” said Zheng, who achieved her best singles, doubles and mixed doubles performance at the tournament. “It’s a Grand Slam with tradition, which was showcased in a lot of details. At the locker room, the staff would remember my preferred locker and keep it aside for me.”

Apart from Zheng, other Chinese players, including Li Na, boasted career-best performances in Melbourne.

“We have discussed as to why Chinese players tend to get good results in Australia,” said Zheng. “Maybe it’s because western players have the Christmas holiday tradition, while the Chinese New Year is after the Australian Open. We go for it right after winter training and are usually at our best. So this is the tournament from where we want to grab more points.”

The 2019 Australian Open is scheduled for January 14-27. At Shanghai’s Columba Circle, a real-size floating Rod Laver Arena court has been set up in a swimming pool, with the Australian Open trophies — the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup and the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup — on display.

Other interactive events include virtual reality tours of Melbourne Park and family zone where kids and parents can pick up a racquet to play tennis. The facilities are open to the public until Sunday.

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