| SAN DIEGO, California
SAN DIEGO, California Aug 2 China's Peng Shuai
entered the U.S. hard court season with a career-high ranking
and now holds hopes of some day matching the heroics of her
trailblazing countrywoman, Li Na.
Li became the first Chinese to win a grand slam singles
title when she took the French Open in June, winning worldwide
acclaim and marking another milestone in China's rapid rise as a
force in the women's game.
Twenty-five year-old Peng, long a stable-mate of Li's in
their country's rigid Soviet-style sport system, has taken heart
at her compatriot's triumph at Roland Garros at the age of 29,
and believes she might be in for some late blooming herself.
"I think Asian players grow up later," Peng, who has soared
to 17 from a world ranking of 72 at the start of the year, told
a small group of reporters at the San Diego Open.
"It took me five years to break the top 20 but I'm really
happy I never gave up."
Like lion-hearted Li and Zheng Jie, who became China's first
grand slam singles semi-finalist at Wimbledon in 2008, Peng has
prospered from the Chinese Tennis Association's landmark
decision in 2009 to allow its top women players to organise
their own touring, coaches and training programmes.
Where all but a handful of elite Chinese athletes are
subject to gruelling training regimes and must surrender a large
share of their earnings to the state that nurtured their
careers, Peng can keep most of her winnings and has enjoyed
renewing her relationship with coach Alan Ma.
Ma guided a teenaged Peng into the top 50 in his first
coaching stint in 2004-05 and has helped her become the third
Chinese player after Li and Zheng to crack the top 20 since
taking over again last July.
"The last few years weren't stable for me because I had
injuries and changed coaches so many times, but now it's all
coming together," said Peng, who broke now ground for herself by
making the fourth rounds of the Australian Open and Wimbledon
"Alan and I understand and trust each other a lot. The coach
is the mirror [of yourself]."
Peng said Li's win at Roland Garros was huge in her country
and had inspired a lot of people to take up the sport.
She now hopes her hard-hitting game can help China break new
ground at the U.S. Open starting Aug. 29, where no Chinese has
made the last four.
"A grand slam title is every player's dream but I really
just want to try my best," said Peng.
(Editing by Ian Ransom; To query or comment on this story
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