Cao focusing on turning pro

Updated: 2014-10-23 07:31

By Guan Xiaomeng(China Daily)

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Cao focusing on turning pro

Cao Siqi is flanked by Chinese teammates Zheng Saisai (left) and Nima Zhuoma at courtside in Singapore last week. Provided to China Daily

Cao Siqi has outgrown her 'Little Li Na' sobriquet and set her sights on becoming as famous as her Grand Slam-winning idol.

After storming into the semifinals before injury forced her retirement from the WTA Future Stars tournament in Singapore, the 15-year-old is among the new generation of China's tennis hopefuls bidding to follow in the footsteps of Li after the former world No 2's surprise retirement last month.

Cao, who has competed in the Australian and US Open junior tournaments and won an International Tennis Federation junior championship title, is now focused on turning professional.

"I was a little disappointed to have to retire in Singapore after four victories in five round-robin games as I was confident of winning. But I am trying to get over it and will keep training hard to achieve my dream of turning professional," Cao said.

"My coach told me it is just the beginning (to play Grand Slam junior and Future Stars). Having once had the chance to play with Li Na inspired me so much and I want to follow in her footsteps."

Zeng Shaoxuan, Cao's coach at Beijing's 1123 Junior Tennis Academy and a former national player, said the path for juniors such as Cao is long and fame cannot be pushed.

"They are still in puberty. We are focusing on their level of coordination and agility instead of strength training," said Zeng, pointing out Cao needs to increase her strength and weight.

"Turning professional is only a matter of time, but first of all we have to train young players according to their growth speed."

Unlike Li, who trained with her provincial team from a young age, Cao gets professional training from the 1123 club and has played in national tournaments, representing the club, since 2011.

The semi-public funded club has sent players to the US, Australian and French Open junior tournaments since 2011 and has signed seven players, aged between 13 and 20, under head coach Mastelli Francisco Fernando, the former national coach of Argentina.

"Representing China is my dream and the Future Stars tournament is a good start," Cao said of her experience rubbing shoulders with the world's top players.

Future Stars is a series of community events featuring Under-14 and Under-16 tournaments, run by Sport Singapore, showcasing top junior female talent in the Asia-Pacific with an emphasis on Southeast Asia.

The program aims to discover girls who can combine higher education with sports to enhance their lives and double their opportunities.