Next wave of Chinese tennis players set to make breakthrough

If Li Na’s French Open win was the earthquake, then here comes the tsunami.

I’ve written before about the crop of Chinese youngsters poised to make a breakthrough in the women’s game, and it looks like it might be happening.

Yesterday at the Malaysian Open, 21-year-old Wang Qiang beat former world number 1 and the tournament’s top seed, Caroline Wozniacki 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 for the biggest win of her career.

Wang Qiang relaxes after beating Caroline Wozniacki

Shenzhen-based Wang saved a match point in the second set and is now on course for a quarter-final match-up with Japan’s Misaki Doi.

China currently has three women ranked in the world’s top 50 and their names – Li Na (5), Peng Shuai (35) and Zheng Jie (42) – are familiar to most sports fans in China, with Li now set to become the world’s highest earning female athlete.

But a group of five, with an average age of less than 22 and all ranked inside the top 200, are the ones to watch for the future: Duan Yingying (112), Zhang Shuai (122), Zheng Saisai (135), Zhou Yimiao (156), Wang Qiang (186).

They are currently unknown to all but the most dedicated of tennis fans, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if two or three of them break into the top 100 this year.

Li Na celebrated her 31st birthday this week, which makes her a dinosaur in tennis terms. Zheng Jie turns 30 this year, while Peng Shuai is 27, so China is in need of new blood.

Zheng Saisai doesn’t like contact lenses

The most interesting candidate is the bespectacled Zheng Saisai, who turned 19 a few weeks ago and has won three tournaments on the ITF circuit, though lost her first round match in Kuala Lumpur this week. Duan Yingying and Zhang Shuai both progressed to the second round along with Wozniacki’s conqueress Wang.

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