Women's success has China eyeing tennis gold at Doha

Tuesday, November 28th 2006, 8:46 am
By: News On 6

DOHA, Qatar (AP) _ China hasn't had much success in tennis at the Asian Games, with Chinese players failing to claim a title four years ago.

Doha could be different.

China's team at this year's edition of the games in Qatar is primed to reap gold with a lineup boasting four women ranked in the Women's Tennis Association's top 100, including Li Na, the top-ranked Asian woman player at No. 21.

Giving the team depth are Athens Olympic doubles gold medalists Sun Tiantian and Li Ting, along with world No. 33 Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai, ranked 55th.

Success at the games would cap a watershed year for the Chinese women. In January, Zheng and Yan Zi, who is also on the Asian Games team, become the first Chinese players to win a Grand Slam title when they took the Australian Open doubles crown.

Li Na then became the first Chinese to reach a quarterfinals of a Grand Slam singles competition when she battled into the final eight at Wimbledon.

The picture isn't all rosy, though. China's men have yet to notch up similar success, with none of those at Doha ranked in the top 400.

The Chinese women will likely face their biggest competition at Doha from Japan's Aiko Nakamura, ranked 57th, Thailand's 70th-ranked Tamarine Tasugarn, and Sania Mirza from India, ranked 66th.

Tennis success augments China's traditional dominance of table tennis and badminton, sports that require relatively little equipment or space and are played on a massive scale throughout the crowded country.

Tennis, which needs more space and was largely absent from China after the 1949 Communist revolution, has traditionally got short shrift.

That's changing, though, amid rising incomes and a growing taste for Western-style pastimes. Like most sporting success, the women's tennis program has received hefty government support, including the building of a lavish new training center and indoor stadium in Shanghai that each year hosts the men's Masters Cup.

And with tennis and other sports, China is looking firmly toward the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Chinese will try to overturn the U.S.'s traditional top place on the overall medal tallies.