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Chinese Duo Ready To Take Center Stage

Li Na may be Chinese No.1, but two of her compatriots are on the rise again and eyeing a share of the limelight.

Published October 02, 2012 11:52

Chinese Duo Ready To Take Center Stage
Peng Shuai

BEIJING, China - As Asia's first Grand Slam singles champion and resident Chinese No.1, Li Na's shadow looms large over tennis in her homeland.

But while it is Li's face that fronts the Nike advertising campaigns and adorns the billboards, she is not the only player to have helped put Chinese tennis on the map.

And on Thursday, one of the supporting cast, Peng Shuai, gets the chance to upstage her more celebrated countrywoman in the third round of the China Open.

Peng's clash with Li is the pick of the third round matches, and after a season disrupted by injury, loss of form and racquet issues, she will be eager to show the 15,000 or so of her compatriots that will cram inside the newly built National Tennis Stadium that she still has the game to compete with the very best.

"At the end of 2011 my performance level was really high," Peng said after her first round win over Yanina Wickmayer. "But this year I have had one injury after another, which has stopped me reaching my best tennis. I also changed racquets and this took quite a few months for me to get totally used to.

"I was pleased with my level in the matches I played at the Olympic Games in London, but then I had another injury and this affected me in the hardcourt tournaments in America."

Peng ended last year ranked at No.17 in the world but in 2012 the aforementioned problems have seen her register just 22 wins and put her in danger of slipping out of the Top 50. And while she has not completely written off the remainder of the season, it is clear that the 26-year-old has one eye on 2013.

"After the China Open, I still have three tournaments to go," Peng added. "I will try my best to have a very good performance in those three tournaments after which I will have a long rest to help me prepare better and build up my physical fitness for January.

"In some matches recently I can feel that my physical energy is not what it was last year, so I need a good training camp in the off-season to build up my fitness and concentrate on my nutrition as well to make myself stronger than ever for 2013!"

Peng is not the only Chinese player with an eye on a return to the Top 20. Along with Li and Peng, Zheng Jie has been one of the standard bearers for Chinese tennis over the past decade.

In fact, Zheng was the first Chinese player to lift a Grand Slam title, when she partnered Yan Zi to the doubles titles at the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006. Singles success soon followed with semifinal appearances at first Wimbledon in 2008 and then the Australian Open two years later, as well as tournament victories in Hobart, Estoril, Stockholm and Auckland.

The last of these came this January, laying the foundations for an encouraging season that currently sees Zheng on a verge of a return to the Top 20 after a two-year absence.

"Generally, this year I personally believe that I have played well, although I have had a few injury problems," Zheng said in Beijing. "I'm very much satisfied with my ranking, which is now in the Top 25, but I still believe that there is so much room for further improvement."

Unlike Peng, Zheng's Beijing challenge ended prematurely, with a straight set loss to Lara Arruabarrena-Vecino in the first round, but now over the wrist injury that dogged her for much of 2010 and 2011 she is upbeat about her future prospects.

"Basically, I'm very much satisfied with my ranking and my performance this year. Ever since I returned from the operation on my wrist I have been recovering gradually and gaining momentum. There are still areas I need to improve, like my service, but I am confident in my tennis at the moment.

"I think to give my all on every single ball and fight to the end are two of my main strengths and show my spirit. I personally believe that this spirit and experience is also a very important factor and I think it can help me get back my place in the Top 20 very soon."

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