Lots happened last year – Li Na retired, Sun Yang tested positive, and Chinese soccer continued to suck – but what awaits in 2015? 10 questions for you below…
1. How will China fare at the Asian Cup?
We’ll start with the most pressing questions because China kicks off its Asian Cup campaign on Saturday. Group B – China, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea – is a Group of Death only in terms of capital punishment. Alain Perrin has lost just once in 11 games since taking charge last February, but if China fails to progress into the knockout stages, the knives will be sharpened. The days of China finishing 2nd (twice), 3rd (twice) and 4th (twice) in the Asian Cup seem a distant memory, but this tournament will show how much progress has been made under Perrin.
2. Will Zhang Xizhe ever play substantial minutes?
One player who is not in Perrin’s squad is Wolfsburg’s new recruit Zhang Xizhe. The Volkswagen-owned club has already scored a victory following their low-risk, 1.5 million euro signing, with the VW logo on Zhang’s jersey beamed all over China just from a few training sessions. Cynics say that this was precisely the point of the transfer, and the only way to prove them wrong will be if Zhang sees substantial minutes on the pitch – but it won’t be easy to break into a side that currently sits second in the Bundesliga.
3. Who will replace Li Na?
Remarkably, it was less than a year ago when Li Na won her second major title at the Australian Open, but her retirement offers a huge opportunity to whoever is ready to take over at the top of Chinese tennis. Peng Shuai (22), Zhang Shuai (61) and Zheng Jie (95) are the three Chinese players currently in the Top 100, but with another seven in the Top 200, plus youngsters like Youth Olympics singles champ Xu Shilin waiting in the wings, it’s a question of when – not if – we see the next Top 10 player. The men not so much…
4. Which city will be awarded the 2022 Winter Olympics?
Just Beijing and Almaty are left in the running, with the result due to be announced on July 31. Almaty is a stronger bid than it’s given credit for, but Beijing remains a firm favorite in this two-horse race. Sub-question: will the Games clash with the 2022 World Cup?
5. When will Stephon Marbury make the jump into coaching full-time?
He’s made no secret of the fact he wants to coach in China and has already taken up some coaching roles, while continuing to lead on the court. But Marbury turns 38 in a few weeks and can’t play on forever, even though his contract will keep him in the capital until 2017. He’s been named both an honorary and a model citizen of Beijing, so he would seem the perfect role model to lead the Ducks in a more official capacity.
6. Who will be the next major winner from China?
While the tennis scene is looking healthy, it’s more likely China’s next major winner will be a golfer. 25-year-old Feng Shanshan has already won the 2012 LPGA Championship, but watch for teenagers Cindy Feng Yueer, Janet Lin Xiyu and Feng Simin to soar up the world rankings now that they will all be on the LPGA Tour this year.
7. Which male golfer will emerge from the pack?
Guan Tianlang made global headlines by making the cut at the Masters as a 14-year-old in 2013. He may well go onto to have a stellar career, along with a whole crop of other promising Chinese teenagers, but 19-year-old Li Haotong is leading the way at the moment. He won three of the final four PGA Tour China tournaments to top the order of merit and earn a card for the Web.com Tour. Keep an eye on him this year.
8. Can Ding Junhui win the World Champs?
While golfers and tennis players have four majors to contest each year, for snooker players it’s all about the World Championships. Ding Junhui set records on his way to becoming world number 1 last year, but until he can win the big prize, he won’t truly have fulfilled his potential. Chinese sports fans will be glued to their TVs in April to see if he can do it.
9. Will Sun Yang remain China’s dominant swimming star?
2014 was not a good year for Sun Yang after testing positive for a banned substance and then appearing to be involved in the mother of all cover-ups. Note I said appearing, because whatever CHINADA and WADA said, it did not look at all good for China’s top sporting star. He has talent to burn, but was overshadowed in the pool by both Ning Zetao and Chen Duo who each won more golds (4) at the Asian Games than Sun (3). Rio in 18 months will still be the main yardstick, though.
10. Will China ever take to boxing?
Listen to boxing promoters (and, unfortunately, western journalists all too happy to print without fact-checking) and you would think that literally hundreds of millions of Chinese sports fans avidly tune in to watch two-time Olympic champ Zou Shiming knock down a series of tomato cans. The truth is more like two million (at a push). This year, though, he will finally fight for a world title, so the stakes will be real for the first time. If he wins, will the sport take off? I’m less and less convinced…
What would you like to see happen in 2015? Feel free to leave your questions or predictions in the comments section below.
Taiwanese-born American Sam Chien (pictured right) followed up his T6th finish at the first ever PGA Tour China Series event two weeks ago with a win in the Tour’s second event, the Buick Open. Chien finished on 16-under-par, three shots ahead of Chinese amateur Dou Zecheng, who made the cut at last year’s Volvo China Open, aged just 16. Li Haotong, who played well for 70 of 72 holes at this year’s Volvo China Open maintained his good form, finishing T5th on 7-under. Korean-born American Skyler Hong missed the cut, but drove away with a Buick GL-8 after acing the par-3 13th in the second round.
23-year-old Alexander Levy became the 20th different winner in 20 years of the Volvo China Open on Sunday, thanks in large part to his scorching 10-under-par round of 62 on Friday. It was his first career title and he comfortably held off challenges from the likes of Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari.
Bubba Watson’s second Masters title last weekend may have strengthened his challenge as a potential successor to Tiger Woods, but some compelling signs about the future direction of golf were seen at Augusta a few days earlier. Below is a real picture of the leaderboard at Augusta National, with the names Xu, Huang, Li and Cheng at the top, listed – correctly – as champions.
The long-awaited PGA Tour China Series – a collaboration between the PGA Tour and the China Golf Association – teed off on Thursday at the Mission Hills resort in Haikou on Hainan island, the first of 12 tournaments that will run throughout the year.
First some background, then some analysis…
Chinese golfing prodigy Guan Tianlang made global headlines in April by becoming the youngest golfer ever to make the cut in a major championship, aged just 14. Now at the grand old age of 15, Guan was again competing against the pros last week, this time at the Hong Kong Open.
Despite taking the first set 6-2, Li Na lost the final of the WTA Championships in Istanbul (the last before the end-of-season showpiece moves to Singapore next year), as world number one Serena Williams won the next two sets 6-3, 6-0. It was Serena’s 11th title of the year, and her 10th win in 11 games against Li Na, but after going into the game as a massive underdog, Li can be happy she at least forced a third set. Crucially, she now moves up to 3rd in the world rankings – a career high – by leapfrogging both Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska.
American Luke Guthrie takes a four-shot lead into the weekend at the BMW Masters in Shanghai, after an up-and-down 1-under par 71 took him to -8, while Paul Casey headlines a group of six players in second place on 4-under par. My prediction that John Daly would start brightly fade and then fade badly was largely right: two bogeys and a double bogey in the last five holes gave him a 2-over-par 74, to put him tied for 9th on 2-under par. But Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter are among those lurking on 1-under-par and it should be a good weekend.
Today marks the start of a big couple of weeks for Rory McIlroy in China. His second-place finish in last week’s Korea’s Open, despite an awful third round, would suggest he’s back to something approaching his best, but as the papers never fail to remind him, he remains without a win this year – and after five wins (including a major) in 2012, that’s quite a comedown. Here’s his upcoming schedule: