Join Date: Jul 2012
HU NA, TENNIS STAR, IS REALLY HU NA, APPRENTICE
The Miami Herald
Thursday, April 28, 1983
News reports usually refer to her as "tennis star" Hu Na. But is the 20-year-old from China really a star? And why is there so much secrecy surrounding her?
Hu Na, whose defection led to the suspension by China of several cultural and sports exchanges with the United States, flew last week to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But she has not met with the media since she slipped out of her hotel last July 20 during the Federation Cup in Santa Clara, Calif., and asked for asylum.
Unquestionably, Hu Na is a star in the People's Republic of China, where tennis is about as popular as bocce is in the United States. But interviews with tournament officials and pros who have seen her play in America indicate that she can't be called an international tennis star -- yet. Some observers say she has the potential to be respectable on the women's circuit.
"We don't know if she's of the caliber to play on the Ginny circuit, which is the secondary part of the Virginia Slims circuit," said a spokesman for the Women's Tennis Association. "We've had a couple of players hit with her. Kate Latham thought she needed a lot of work but had the basics.
"She might not have a backhand slice or this and that, but she has the potential to be on the tour. She wants to join the tour, and we are ready to help her out in any way."
Hu Na, who has played little tennis since her defection and is not ranked, first came to the U.S. in 1980 to represent China in the Continental Players Cup Tarpon Springs, Fla. She also competed individually in the Orange Bowl at Miami Beach and the World Junior Winter Circuit staged by the Miami Beach Tennis Association.
"That was the first time the People's Republic of China came to the U.S. to play tennis, and it took us at least 10 years of writing to them to get them here," said Eddie Herr, founder of the MBTA. "China reached the quarterfinals of the Continental Cup, and she won our Mexican tournament."
Orange Bowl tournament director Don Petrine recalls that Hu Na "didn't do too well at the Orange Bowl," which traditionally draws the top juniors in the world. "She wasn't in their league. The Chinese boys did better. But she's a sweetheart of a kid and an extremely good athlete."
Last year, China refused to send a junior team to the United States, and Herr suspects it's because the Chinese government fears more defections.
"We had no problems when she was here," said Herr. "Her big hangup is her lack of English. She's going to have to do some cramming. But she's a very delightful girl, very graceful. She probably could be in the top 50 on the tour, but I don't think she has it to reach the top 10. The thing is, will she feel completely relaxed? Will she be looking over her shoulder wondering if someone is waiting to spirit her off?"
Authorities in Bradenton this week said security had been tightened around Hu Na after an unsubstantiated kidnap threat. They would not say whether the threat originated in California or Florida. Manatee County Sheriff Tom Burton said he had assigned detectives to guard her and escort her as she is shuttled between the tennis academy and two "safe houses," using different cars and trucks to conceal her movements.
Bollettieri said no interviews or photograph sessions "with anybody in the world" are allowed with Hu Na. When asked who set that policy, Bollettieri said, "I can't say. I'm not at liberty."
Why did Hu Na move from San Francisco, where she had remained since her defection, to the tennis academy? And who called whom to set it up?
"I can't give any comment on that," said Bollettieri.
What Bollettieri can say is that he is giving her a full scholarship, which is worth $1,475 a month. When Hu Na flew with Bollettieri from Los Angeles to Florida last week, he declined to say who would pay for the scholarship.
Hu Na has been practicing with Bollettieri students such has Carling Bassett, the 15-year-old who nearly upset Chris Evert Lloyd a week ago in a tournament final at Amelia Island, Fla., Lisa Bonder, Susan Mascarin and Amy Holton.
"She's playing extremely well," said Bollettieri. "She's adjusting to the top girls. Jimmy Arias [another Bollettieri protege] says she has a great backhand.
"She loves to serve and volley and is a very aggressive player with a good touch. But she's a little slow afoot. We need two to three good months to get her ready for the tour, but I can't say how high she could be ranked."
Though Hu Na may never become an international tennis superstar, she's liable to become a media and promotional star anyway.
"Forget the level of play as far as endorsements," said Herr. "She'll make more in endorsements than tennis. She gets tremendous press that the top five players don't get now."