China will have two seeds at Wimbledon for the first time next week with last year's semi-finalist Zheng Jie and the in-form Li Na looking to impress.
China's hopes doubled through Zheng and Li
BEIJING // China will have two seeds at Wimbledon for the first time next week with last year's semi-finalist Zheng Jie and the in-form Li Na looking to impress at the event where they achieved their best grand slam results. Zheng captured the hearts of many at the All England Club last year when she beat the top seed Ana Ivanovic on her way to the last four as a wild card entry ranked 133rd in the world.
With an Olympic doubles bronze medal from the Beijing Games and the women's tour Comeback Player of the Year award in her trophy cabinet, Zheng is now ranked 16th in the world and is China's No 1. The 25-year-old's fairytale run to the semis last year was the best performance by a Chinese player at a major, surpassing Li's quarter-final appearance at the grass court grand slam event in 2006. "I am happy with our rankings and Li Na is very gifted," Zheng, a Wimbledon doubles champion in 2006, told Xinhua.
Li is indeed talented but has a notoriously fragile temperament, which many blame for her inability to build on her breakthrough at Wimbledon three years ago. Last week, however, she showed the impressive form that has propelled her back into the world top 20 at No 19 when she reached the final at the Edgbaston Classic with a victory over former world No 1 and Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova. The 27-year-old surrendered the title to little-known Magdalena Rybarikova, losing the first set of the final to love and blaming "excessive excitement" after beating Sharapova.
At least it was better than her experience at the tournament in 2007, where coughing brought on by an allergic reaction to the grass caused a stress fracture in a rib, which ended her season. Last year, Li was knocked out in the second round at Wimbledon but weeks later reached the last four at the Beijing Olympics, the most significant event for all Chinese athletes in 2008. On Wednesday, however, the injury problems that have blighted her career struck again and she withdrew from the Eastbourne International warm-up tournament. "She just felt a bit uncomfortable in the knee, it was not a big problem," said her husband and coach Jiang Shan.
Zheng had a patchy warm-up for Wimbledon, also beaten by Rybarikova at Edgbaston and then by the Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak at Eastbourne. However, the petite Sichuanese, known for her mobility and smart tactics, said she was in good shape. "Both Li and me had serious injuries in 2007 but fortunately we both recovered well," said Zheng, who will play German Kristina Barrois in round one. Both players are now coached by their husbands under a revolutionary initiative by the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA), which allowed four top women players to be freed from the Soviet-style sports system. They are now allowed to manage their own playing schedule as well as keep most of their prize money.