A new hope for Chinese tennis
Updated: 2012-10-31 08:18
By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily)
Wu Di wins in Sanya, continuing a roll that landed him in the Australian Open, Sun Xiaochen writes.
Zhang Ze is not alone in leading the charge of China's male tennis players trying to rush the world stage. Wu Di is also a potential star on the rise.
By winning the Asia-Pacific Australian Open wild-card playoff two weeks ago, Wu became the first Chinese man to qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam while also stealing the spotlight from Zhang's first quarterfinal berth at an ATP 500 tournament - the China Open - three weeks ago.
"I didn't expect I would be the winner (of the playoff)," Wu told China Daily after stunning Zhang in straight sets to claim the men's singles title of the Mercedes-Benz Cup China Tennis Grand Prix in Sanya, Hainan province, on Monday.
"All the top-ranked players in the Asia-Pacific region came to the tournament and the field was so strong. I didn't feel like I had any chance so I was relaxed at the beginning and that helped me to make the final."
Zhang made headlines earlier in the month by stunning world No 11 Richard Gasquet of France at the China Open to become the first Chinese man to beat a top-20 player.
The 22-year-old Nanjing native improved his ranking to a career high of No 154 after reaching the quarterfinals in Beijing while Wu is closing in behind him with a massive jump from No 421 (at the end of 2011) to his current No 184. They are the top two seeds at the Sanya event and enjoy solid support from their respective fan bases.
They have been scheduled to play on the main court one after the other each day, They have different playing styles and also different on-court personas.
Tattooed Zhang appears cool on court and wears his cap backward, while Wu comes across as more like the boy next door.
There is a lot of media hype about their battle for the No 1 men's ranking in China, but they play down the rivalry, stressing there is only a healthy competition between them.
"We never take it that way. We are more like joining hands to make progress together," said Wu, who lost to Zhang at the China Open but returned the favor in the second round of the wild-card playoffs.
"Talking about breakthroughs, Zhang's made more than me this year. He's done a lot to help me get more motivated"
Zhang was quick to return the compliment.
"He played so well in Nanjing (in the playoff), beating several top 150 players. He deserved that wild card."
More proof of their close ties is the fact that Zhang's French coach, Guillaume Peyre, introduced Wu to fellow French coach David Moreau this summer.
Although he missed out on the Open wild card, Zhang also seems close to making the main draw of a major as he won Grand Slam qualifier matches at the French Open and Wimbledon this year.
Zhang said he will pass that experience on to Wu.
"It's very important for them to go there and see through experience what Grand Slam qualification events and the main draws are like. It's very good experience," Peyre said.
Wu made it to the quarterfinals of the Australian Open junior event in 2008 and now can't wait to make his senior debut at Melbourne Park.
"I am sure it will be totally different from other tournaments, including my junior experience four years ago. I am so looking forward to it and can't wait to set off for Australia now.
"If I pass the first round, that will be the real history-making. I will try my best to make that happen."
Wu will fly to France with Moreau for six-week winter training camp on Oct 31 before heading to Melbourne for advanced preparations for the Open, which runs from Jan 14-27.
Zhang will stay in Nanjing to work with Peyre on his fitness and form this winter.