Peng not rushing return to competition

Updated: 2015-10-06 08:33

By Sun Xiaochen(China Daily)

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Watching from the sidelines as a group of kids hit balls to each other during a junior clinic, injury-plagued Chinese ace Peng Shuai resisted the urge to join them on the court after sitting out for more than five months.

"I wish I was a few years younger and healthier so I could enjoy the game without hesitation, like the kids," Peng told China Daily at the Mercedez-Benz "Weekend With the Stars" training camp in Beijing on Sunday.

Peng, China's highest-profile tennis player following the retirements of Li Na and Zheng Jie, has been on the mend since undergoing back surgery in July.

Players competing on the Women's Tennis Association's loaded tour schedule grow accustomed to ankle and shoulder strains, but few would risk rushing back from an injury that could potentially leave them in a wheelchair.

Peng was fortunate the operation went smoothly, but the road back to competition is even more challenging than a Grand Slam final.

"I am no longer young, so I really have to be patient with my body. It's really a big and scary surgery for a tennis player. Though I am keen to come back, I will listen to my body's reaction and I won't push as I used to do," said the 29-year-old.

With two-time Grand Slam singles champion Li retiring last year, Peng emerged as a legitimate successor after making the semifinals at the 2014 US Open. Before that, she and doubles partner Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei triumphed at the French Open.

The strain on her lower back started earlier this year and eventually forced her to retire for the rest of the season. Peng is now ranked No 117 in the world - her worst rating in 10 years.

"Whether I can recover to my top form or not, I don't know. To be honest, I don't ever expect to," said Peng.

"But I wish at least I can come back through tough rehab and be able to play at the Olympics next year in Rio de Janeiro. At the end of the day, I still love the game like before."

Peng said she will start low intensity exercise in two weeks and she will try to play some minor tournaments ahead of the Australian Open in January.

Meanwhile, Chinese tennis continues to look for a new generation of stars. For the first time in a decade, this year's China Open, a premier mandatory WTA event, saw no homegrown players make the 64-seed main draw through rankings.

Three of the four wild card holders crashed out in the opening round of the singles competition, leaving only Wang Qiang, 23, to face former world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the second round.

"Tennis is an individual sport and every player is different. I can't judge their performance but I believe they will grow as they have more opportunities to play high-level events than we had," Peng said.

After not playing in the home tournament for the first time since its launch in 2004, she said she missed both the cheers and the jeers of the crowd.

"I really miss playing," Peng said. "I am yearning even for some of the harsh critiques."

Taking talent to next level

It's a dream come true for Su Yutang to win a tennis training trip to Melbourne as the 12-year-old has long wanted to visit the place where his idol Li Na won the 2014 Australian Open.

"I can't wait to see the famous Melbourne Park and practice with foreign trainers," the primary student from Zhejiang province said at the 2015 Mercedez-Benz 'Weekend With the Stars' training camp in Beijing on Sunday.

Thanks to the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA) youth development program, 16 juniors selected from preliminary phases held in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu earlier this year were offered the chance to practice and communicate with senior players, including stars Peng Shuai and Zhang Ze, during the three-day camp, in conjunction with the China Open.

Su is one of four outstanding participants to be offered fully-funded trips to Melbourne in December.

During Sunday's session, Peng, a semifinalist at the 2014 US Open, presented camp participants with certificates and encouraged them to continue chasing their tennis dreams.

"Watching them really brings back the memories of when I was a kid," said Peng. "They showed great potential. I believe a future Grand Slam champion is among them as long as they keep working hard with such great support."

The CTA youth development program has benefited more than 25,000 juniors with advanced training and overseas trips since it was launched in 2008 in a bid to create China's tennis stars of the future.

The program is sponsored by Mercedes-Benz China and has been promoted by the Beijing International Group since 2008.

 Peng not rushing return to competition

Tennis star Peng Shuai poses with boys' champion Su Yutang, a 12yearold from Zhejiang province, at the MercedezBenz 'Weekend With the Stars' training camp in Beijing on Sunday. Provided To China Daily

(China Daily 10/06/2015 page12)