China's tennis to endure tough test at London Games
Updated: 2012-06-07 17:23
By Chen Xiangfeng (chinadaily.com.cn)
The four Grand Slams of tennis dominate the sport's annual calendar however, every fourth year the increasingly important Olympic Games tournament rolls around.
The event rose in status at the Athens and Beijing Games and is now one of the most significant tournaments on the players' agendas.
But, that's not good news for Chinese women players.
"More and more of the world's top players regard the Olympics as the biggest event to win honor for themselves as well as their country," said China's tennis chief, Sun Jinfang. "That means it will be more difficult for Chinese women to stand on the podium at the London Games."
China's top three players, Li Na, Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie, have shown their ability to play at a high level on the international stage and their current word rankings of seven, 30 and 34, respectively, have assured them Olympic tickets.
But Li, who finished fourth at the Beijing Games, still gives her numerous fans headaches with her sometimes inconsistent form.
That happened again at the current French Open when China's No 1, whose victory at last year's event turned her into a national heroine, suffered a fourth-round defeat at the hands of unseeded Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan.
That means Li has not advance into the last eight of four consecutive Grand Slams since last year's Open triumph.
Zheng and Peng could deliver victories against top-10 rivals, but they have a high mountain to climb if they want to make it to the semifinals in London.
Another concern is the trio's health and age.
"I'm not a machine and I need a rest before the London Games," Li said after last her French Open loss.
Sun is also concerned about their physical conditioning.
"Li is 30 and Zheng is 29. Peng is younger at 26. But look at world tennis; the rising women's stars are younger than the Chinese," said Sun. "I'm concerned that they may not be able to sustain good form match after match during the Games."
Sun said Peng and Zheng may have to play two matches a day as they will also compete in the doubles.
"Winning Olympic gold is a dream for players as well as for officials, like me. But I will not push them and I just hope they fight hard and never say die until the last shot."
The women have already tasted success in doubles, with two Grand Slam victories and a bronze medal at the Beijing Games - won by Zheng and her then partner, Yan Zi.
Zheng and Peng, who were knocked out in the third round of Roland Garros this week, will be keen to at least emulate the result in Beijing.
Sun also hopes Li can team with young compatriot Zhang Shuai in London.
Zhang is currently ranked 169 and faces a near impossible task to gain an Olympic ticket as a singles player.
Still, she could go to London if Li elects to play doubles.
"I hope Li wants to play doubles with our young gun. It would mean an extra ticket for China's tennis. It's possible (for Li to play in doubles) if she is healthy going into the Games. But now it's too early to make that decision."
Mixed doubles will appear at the Games for the first time, but China will not be taking part as its men are lagging behind their female counterparts in the world rankings.
"(The men) are far behind the Olympic standard in the world rankings. They have no chance at all," Sun said.