'Fly Alone' Zhang Shuai, China's next Li Na?

Updated: 2013-09-23 14:54


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'Fly Alone' Zhang Shuai, China's next Li Na?

Zhang Shuai of China displays her trophy after winning the women's singles final of the 2013 WTA Guangzhou Open in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong province, Sept 21, 2013. [Photo/Xinhua]

GUANGZHOU - Zhang Shuai grinned widely as she held up her first WTA tournament trophy.

Beating her final opponent Vania King 7-6 (1), 6-1 on Saturday, the wild card player surprised everyone by winning every match in two sets in the WTA Guangzhou Open.

"It is no doubt the most memorable time in my life," said the 24-year-old. "I hope today's victory will be a new start for me, not a destination," she added.

Zhang has just started her "Fly Alone" career two months ago, when he hired her coach Liu Shuo and began their partnership. For now, there were only Zhang and Liu in "Team of Zhang".

In late 2008 when Chinese "Four Little Swans", namely, Li Na, Peng Shuai, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, started to quit the tightly-controlled state-sponsored athletics system and started to train on their own. The media dubbed the move, a policy experiment for Chinese tennis players, "Fly Alone".

Zhang hopes to follow the tracks of Li Na, who was crowned at 2011 French Open to become the first Grand Slam singles champion from an Asian nation.

"I know there will be many troubles ahead of my journey of 'Flying Alone'," said Zhang. "In the past I was an employee, but now I am the boss. I should be responsible for all the team expenses. I can only earn more when I win more."

With a wild card, Zhang came to the court of Guangzhou Open. A stunning 6-0 at the first set against Russian Olga Puchkova, Zhang made her face recognized by Chinese fans. She continued her miracle by overcoming Hsieh Su-Wei 6-2, 6-2 in the second round. She cruised through Johanna Konta and Yvonne Meusburger to reach a WTA tournament final for the first time.

The 112,080 dollars prize check received on Saturday was the biggest earning in her career, while the 280 points added to her account helped her jump to 74th at the world rankings.

When Li Na began to "Fly Alone" at age 26 in late 2008, her WTA ranking was 23rd. Zheng Jie then ranked 25th and Peng Shuai 40th. At this stage, Zhang's shakedown flight was beautiful but far from convincing.

"I am experiencing a huge shift, not only in tennis, but my whole life. 'Fly Alone' is not easy. I am enjoying happy moments also painful ones," said Zhang.