Veteran Zheng still has high hopes on court

Updated: 2012-01-27 10:14

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)

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MELBOURNE - Li Na is definitely China's leading tennis player, but count out veteran Zheng Jie at your peril.

Zheng matched Li at the Australian Open by reaching the fourth round and has outperformed her at the start of this season with a career-record win streak of eight matches.

She started the year with a fourth WTA title in Auckland, but her winning streak was ended in the round of 16 at Melbourne Park. The 28-year-old is happy with her current form while aiming to return to the top 20.

"I am happy about my campaign at the year's first Grand Slam event. I didn't imagine I could reach as deep as the fourth round before coming here," Zheng told a group of Chinese media at the Rod Laver Arena before heading back to China on Tuesday.

"I hope to improve my ranking by playing hard at the premier events in Indian Wells and Miami (United States), and could be seeded at the French Open. Hopefully, I could get back to the top 20 this season," the current world No 38 said.

Recent victories may have boosted her confidence, but it was solid winter training that returned injury-plagued Zheng back to her top competitive shape.

Li's landmark victory at the French Open aside, Zheng first proved Chinese could compete at a high level on the Grand Slam stage when she reached the Wimbledon semifinals in 2008.

However, major injuries started to bother the Sichuan native after that feat.

She battled back from ankle surgery to join Li in the semis at Melbourne Park two years ago, but has since been affected by a wrist injury for more than half a year and has seen her world ranking tumble.

With the help of a renowned wrist-injury expert from Chinese Taipei, Zheng spent five weeks in Beijing and Guangzhou to improve her upper-body power and fitness during the small break between the tennis seasons.

The workout paid off at her first tournament this season as Zheng grabbed the Auckland title with five convincing victories, which included a win over two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova. Her Melbourne third-round triumph over world No 9 Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli was also impressive.

"The demanding winter training has made me stronger physically and much more aggressive at the baseline. With the improvements I have made, I feel refreshed and expect more this year. I should continue to do it (train hard) at every season's break," said Zheng.

Zheng lost to lower-ranked Sara Errani of Italy in straight sets to end her Aussie Open campaign as she struggled to handle her opponent's huge spin.

"She plays a unique style that features spin, which makes the ball bounce shoulder-high after hitting the court. It's hard for me, a small-size person, to return. Although not many stars play this way, I still have to work on playing against it," said Zheng, who will join Li and Peng Shuai in China's Fed Cup competition next week. China will play in Asia/Oceania Group 1 with Chinese Taipei, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, from Jan 30 to Feb 4.

On the WTA tour, Zheng will play in Pattaya, Thailand, and Doha, Qatar, in her next two tournaments.

Zheng said she will not team with her London Olympic Games partner, Peng, until the European season so they can both focus on earning enough singles points before the London Games.

"The Olympics will be held at Wimbledon. So when the grass season starts in Europe; that will be the time for us to play together. And I will also play singles at the Games, so I won't pay too much attention to the doubles right now," she said.

China Daily