SAN DIEGO, California, Aug 2 (Reuters) - 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 this year.
“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 email firstname.lastname@example.org)
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