Checking In With China's No.2

If Peng Shuai can maintain her mid-career bloom, China may soon boast two players in the world's Top 10.

Published June 21, 2011 12:39

Checking In With China's No.2
Peng Shuai
EASTBOURNE, England - While French Open champion Li Na has been grabbing headlines, Asia's first Grand Slam singles titlist isn't the only Chinese player who deserves plaudits in 2011. So far this year, 25-year-old Peng Shuai has risen more than 50 places in the rankings to become the third woman from her country (after Li and Zheng Jie) to crack the Top 20. Indeed, heading into Wimbledon, the softly spoken player had won more main draw matches (34) than anyone except world No.1 Caroline Wozniacki, her conqueror in the final at Brussels, and Marion Bartoli, who plays a similar double-handed-off-both-sides game. This season Peng has also reached four semis and three quarterfinals, along the way posting wins over Svetlana Kuznetsova, Jelena Jankovic, Francesca Schiavone, and Li herself. At this rate, China could soon boast two players in the Top 10.

We caught up with Peng during last week's AEGON International.

You've had some great results in the past, with wins over players like Clijsters, Mauresmo and Hingis. And late last year you won the Asian Games gold medal. But at the start of the year did you dream you would soon be Top 20?
I can honestly say I didn't think this would happen. Last year I had injuries and was sick a lot - I had appendicitis and ankle and wrist problems. It was a tough year for a tennis player because you need to play the whole year with a healthy body. So at the end of the season I focused on working hard. I played well at the beginning of this year and when the wins started coming I just tried to keep it going.

Have you being working on any particular aspects of your game that's made a difference?
I think part of it is working out my schedule very well with my coach, Alan Ma, and my fitness trainer. Everyone has a different schedule that works for them - when to practice, when to play tournaments - and getting this right is really important for me. Alan and I started working together again at the end of last year. In 2004 and 2005 I had two very good years with him, but due to circumstances we could not keep working together. I'm very happy to have this chance - it's being going really well.

Winning lots of matches must be great for your confidence.
Oh, yes... but I also feel tired! Before the Australian Open I just wanted to try and get some matches but then I got to the semifinals at Auckland and Hobart and it went on from there. That's great, but if your body is not used to playing so much it is difficult. So we've tried to work on my fitness and also focused on rest and recovery and massage! I can't think about how many matches I'm winning, but I'd still like to win some more.

You just got to the semis in Birmingham and you've been to the third round at Wimbledon a couple of times. Does that mean you're quite comfortable on grass?
Yes, it's really fast tennis! Not running, running like you have to do on a clay court or hardcourts. Maybe it's three or four or five shots and the point is over, win or lose. I hit the ball flat, which is effective on grass. I think I must like it because when I come to a grass court I just feel happy and relaxed.

Next year the Olympics will be held in London, at the All England Club. Are you looking forward to that? 
I'm definitely looking forward to seeing all the players wearing colored clothing at Wimbledon! Of course the Olympics are very big for China, so I have to be ready for this, and I'll be trying to make the most of every day I practice on grass. I think in China I've never played on real grass, maybe only on fake! I heard that some lawn courts are being built - it might be too late for the Olympics, but I think the federation will try to find a place for us to practice in the UK next year after Wimbledon. That will be great, although unfortunately it might mean I can't go home before the Games.

Now that you're in the Top 20, what's the next step?
Maybe try to break the Top 15 and win a WTA singles tournament, as I have played in four finals and four times been runner-up. But you know, I cannot really put a target on it because that will be more pressure. You don't know what's going to happen in every match. You just have to fight and keep going and see what happens. Maybe some surprises will come my way.

What did you think of Li Na's win at the French Open?
It's huge for China and Chinese tennis. And I'll be getting a dinner from her! We haven't had time yet, but she said when we go back to Beijing she would buy me dinner. Actually, first she said if she won the final, she would pay, and if she lost, I should pay. But I said she should pay, either way! We were just talking about it again today. I joked with her that I was only going to choose expensive food. She's really funny and we'll talk about girly things - clothes, bags, that kind of thing!

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