China’s tennis team faces uphill task at London Olympics

July 9th, 2012 - 6:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Novak Djokovic Beijing, July 9 (IANS) Superstar Li Na will lead the Chinese charge at the All England Club for the 2012 London Olympic tennis event which features the strongest ever field in history.

Led by world’s top players, Beijing Olympics bronze medallist Novak Djokovic from Serbia and Russia’s Maria Sharapova, 19 of the current world’s top 20 will contest both the men’s and women’s events. The exceptions being American Mardy Fish and Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli.

A competitive field however is not a concern for Sun Jinfang, head of the Chinese tennis governing body.

“You never know what could happen in the Olympics,” she said. “It’s not like a regular tournament. We have four Grand Slams every year but the Olympics comes around once every four years so there’s more pressure,” Jinfang was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

“Of course it’s very challenging given the singles entry, but I hope the players can bring us more surprises and make the country proud.”

Four Chinese have qualified for the Olympic tennis event, which runs from July 28 to August 5. Li, last year’s French Open winner, will be joined by Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai in the women’s singles draw. Peng and Zheng will also team up for the doubles, while Li will compete alongside Zhang Shuai.

It’s a reduced participation compared to that of last Olympics in Beijing, but the players are much-improved.

The 30-year-old Li rocketed to fame when she captured the 2011 French Open title to become Asia’s first Grand Slam singles champion.

Although Li has failed to win another trophy since the Paris breakthrough, the World No. 11 still remains a medal contender at Olympics.

“I am looking forward to playing at the Olympics. This could be my last time to play for my country at the Olympics as I’m already 30 years old and you never know what will happen after four years,” Li said during this year’s Wimbledon.

The grasscourt Grand Slam event, which ended at the All England Club Sunday, will be followed by the Games just three weeks later as Olympic tennis returns to Wimbledon for the first time since 1908.

In 1908, Wimbledon was the venue of the tennis tournament. When London played host to the 1948 Games, tennis had been ruled out of the quadrennial extravaganza.

The usual clothing restrictions will be relaxed at the traditionalist All England Club for the Olympic tennis tournament, with players wearing the national colours instead of the regular white.

“I’m looking forward to seeing Wimbledon without people wearing white,” Li said.

“In more than 100 years nothing has changed here so maybe it’s the only time in a lifetime you can see people wearing different colours.”

At Wimbledon, Li had some sweet memories. She had twice been a quarterfinalist at the All England Club — losing to Kim Clijsters in 2006 and to Serena Williams at the same last-eight stage in 2010.

Despite Li’s headline-grabbing Grand Slam performances, China’s best singles run at Wimbledon was Zheng’s semifinal surge in 2008 which was ended by America’s Serena.

The Sichuan right-hander came so close to exacting a revenge at this year’s Wimbledon where she gave Williams, the eventual winner, a real scare in the fourth round.

If Zheng maintains her form, Sun claimed, she will be a dangerous prospect in the Olympic draw.

Zheng and her former partner Yan Zi were also crowned as doubles champions here in 2006, and in this year’s London Games, she will pair up with Peng, a new team that is little known to their opponents.

“We only played together on a couple of occasions this season because both of us have different tournaments to contest. Maybe Peng and I did not get a lot of practice and matches together like I did with Yan, but it’s becoming an advantage for us, because our opponents will know little about our tactics,” Zheng said.

The 28-year-old is so eager to do well in the Olympics that she even participated in the mixed doubles event at Wimbledon. “I just want to get more used to playing doubles and on grass.”

Zheng and Yan won the bronze medal in the Beijing Olympics four years ago, this time she wants a better result.

The Williams sisters will be the major opponents for the Chinese women in the grasscourt Olympic event, and they’ll play singles as well as doubles.

Serena Williams on Saturday has just won the Wimbledon for the fifth time and also teamed up with her sister Venus to grab their fifth doubles’ title on the same day.

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