The star-studded line-up that is the China Open (Djokovic, Nadal, Serena, Sharapova et al) is underway, with an intriguing match on Monday between China’s breakout star of recent weeks Zhang Shuai, who won the Guangzhou Open and reached the final of the Yinzhou Bank International Women’s Tennis Open in Ningbo last week, and Peng Shuai, a member of the old guard [UPDATE: Zhang Shuai won 6-3, 6-3]. Elsewhere, 2010 champion Caroline Wozniacki raised a few smiles with her discussion about her favorite opponent, Bye.
Things kicked off last week with a fun game between Li Na and Novak Djokovic that was more entertainment than tennis. Below is my Sports Talk take. Li Na continues to lead the Chinese women on the world stage. If only the men could catch up…
Li Na beat Novak Djokovic in five. Five games, that is, with the home favorite winning 3-2 in their friendly match, held Friday to mark the 10th anniversary of the China Open.
Li gave herself at least a 30-0 advantage in each game, and the result was never really in doubt, to the delight of the 12,000 fans in attendance, who also enjoyed the lighthearted banter between the players during the match.
The two had even started the trash talking early, with Djokovic asking on Sina Weibo, “Haha, are you ready to play me?”
“Don’t be too happy too early,” Li responded. “I have a plan for the game.” That plan involved bending the rules to her advantage, but Djokovic wouldn’t have minded: He has won this tournament on each of the three occasions he has appeared, and is almost as popular a player here on the men’s side as Li is on the women’s.
Li, of course, made history by winning the 2011 French Open, but is still searching for her maiden China Open title.
It’s hard to read anything into the match, but it brings back memories of the original “Battle of the Sexes” 40 years ago, when Billie Jean King put Bobby Riggs in his place. That match was held at exactly the right time – any earlier and there would have been too much opposition for an inter-gender match; any later and the edge that Riggs injected into the duel with his demeaning comments would have been ignored.
Chairman Mao Zedong once famously claimed that “women hold up half the sky” and while the women are still doing far less of the “holding” in certain areas of modern life in China, when it comes to tennis, the women are pretty much doing it all.
Li Ting and Sun Tiantian put Chinese tennis on the map with a famous win in the women’s doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games. Two years later, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi took the same title at the Wimbledon Championships, before Li’s landmark victory at Roland Garros. And on September 21, Zhang Shuai won the Guangzhou Open.
Compare the men’s side, where Wu Di was lauded just for qualifying for this year’s Australian Open. With the current stars undoubtedly inspiring many more young girls than boys to take up the game, it could be a very long time before the men catch up.