x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

China's top tennis players leave state-run system

The Wimbledon semi-finalist Zheng Jie is relishing her new freedom after being allowed to leave China's rigid state-run sporting system.

BEIJING // The Wimbledon semi-finalist Zheng Jie is relishing her new freedom after being allowed to leave China's rigid state-run sporting system and keep more of her earnings, local media said. "Finally I can have my own schedule. I can control my time now," the world number 25 told the China Daily. The paper said that Zheng can keep as much as 92 per cent of her prize money, after formerly having to part with up to 65 per cent. She could also miss a winter training camp for the first time to enjoy a holiday with parents.

Zheng, who in July became the first Chinese player to make the last four at Wimbledon, left the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) this month to become a free agent on the international tour along with compatriots Li Na, Peng Shuai and doubles partner Yan Zi. With most athletes in China still required to join government-sponsored city and provincial teams to be eligible to join the national team and compete in international tournaments, the CTA's release of its top players marks a watershed for professional Chinese sport.

The move followed several years of conflict between authorities keen to nurture their best talent and players frustrated at strict training regimes and smaller pay packets. Zheng and her free agent compatriots can still be called up for national duty, according to the CTA deputy director Gao Shenyang. "The players can ask for help any time they want," Gao said. "If they don't like the new format after trying it for a while, they are free to revert to the old system."

The players will be giving up a group of 17 coaches, eight doctors, and a team of sports nutritionists, physicians, psychologists and trainers ready to give free consultations at any time, the paper said. Zheng said that she would not be far from the embrace of the state. *Reuters