China's women's tennis set to improve in 2006
By Zhao Rui (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-01-12 07:19
China's women tennis players have successfully remained in the limelight in 2005 after the Olympic gold at Athens, but the country's leading official is taking more measures to strengthen the team for the future.
Kim Clijsters of Belgium (L) kisses Zheng Jie of China after their match at the Champions Challenge 2006 in Hong Kong January 5, 2006. Clijsters won 3-6 6-2 6-2. [Reuters]
"We have to make changes as the team is facing a bottleneck," said Sun Junfang, director of the Administrative Centre of Tennis. "We did make some progress but the training we have done is not enough to lift the players into the top 20."
In the newly-released competition schedule for 2006, the squad are set to play in more high-profile events, including all four Grand Slams, seven WTA Tier I and seven Tier II Opens.
"In 2006, we will be focusing on big games rather than Tier IV or Challengers that we played in last year."
Led by tennis maverick Peng Shuai, China's female squad had unexpected success in 2005 which is highlighted by the jump in rankings. Four Chinese women players made it into top 100 for the first time as Peng reached a record 31 with Li Na two spots behind.
But problems exist. Hampered by the lack of ability to win big events, Chinese players had to play in a high number of tournaments, which contributed to frequent injuries.
Despite of the National Games, which gave her a two month break from the Tour, Zheng Jie, No 47, competed in as many as 25 tournaments in nine months, including WTA Opens and Challenges.
By any measure, most of the top players would not take on such an action-packed schedule. World No 1 Lindsay Davenport competed in 16 WTA Opens, No 4 Maria Sharapova competed in 15 while Mary Pierce, who rocked the sport with her strong comeback last year to finish No 5 in the world, participated in just 14 competitions. "Reaching only the second or third rounds of each event is definitely not enough for those who want to make the top 30," said Sun. "We need to win more points in top competitions and this is the only way to make China a steady team in the world."
The CTA has employed four foreign coaches to work with players on foot-work, stamina and tactics for the women's winter training camp. They are now negotiating with international agent companies to find more opportunities for overseas training. The national team members, including Peng, Li Na, Li Ting, Yan Zi and Sun Tiantian, who are competing in warming-up tournaments in Australia, are set to join the year-beginning Australian Open on January 16. Zheng suffered a left-knee stretch in Hong Kong Champions' Challenge, putting her Australian appearance in doubt.