A close call, but Zheng's more than happy

Updated: 2013-01-14 21:08

By Sun Xiaochen in Melbourne, Australia (China Daily)

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Veteran Zheng Jie's opening match was much harder than she expected, but the Chinese world No 40 was happy to be pushed all the way by a teenage compatriot.

What appeared on paper to be a lopsided match against Zhang Yuxuan turned into a grueling three-set battle as Zheng overcame a second-set scare to beat the wild card, 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 in 128 minutes.

Zhang, 18, proved to be a legitimate threat to Zheng, who was broken six times while making 44 unforced errors (three more than Zhang).

Still, Zheng said she felt more inspired than pressured by the next generation of Chinese players.

"No pressure at all. Instead, I'm more excited to see them playing well and narrowing the gap between us," Zheng said after her first-round match at the Australian Open.

"There used to be only three of us (Zheng, Li Na and Peng Shuai) consistently appearing at the Grand Slams. Sometimes we felt lonely and even jealous of the Russian and American girls, who could travel together in groups on the Tour.

"Now, I see more Chinese faces in the locker room and I am so happy that we have more chances to speak Chinese and relate with these girls."

Inspired by Zheng and Li, more Chinese youngsters have begun to benefit from the professional training system in China.

This year's Australian Open has seen a record 10-player Chinese contingent — including qualifiers — take on the world's elite.

That is a great source of joy for Zheng.

"Sooner or later, we (veterans) will quit the game. I hope it won't happen that no one comes up to take our places ... and what's happening now suggests that won't be the case," the 29-year-old said.

Zheng will play local favorite Samantha Stosur, who downed Chinese Taipei's Chang Kai-chen, 7-6 (3), 6-3, in her opener, in the second round on Wednesday. However, she said her victory over the Aussie in Sydney last week won't make the task any easier.

"It's never easy to play against her and we have played long matches over the past four or five encounters," she said. "The next round will be even harder because she has home crowd support."

Zheng reached the fourth round in Melbourne last year after making the semifinals in 2010.

Earlier, in Margaret Court Arena, sixth seed Li blazed past Kazakhstan's Sesil Karatantcheva, 6-1, 6-3, to book a second-round battle against Belarus' world No 58 Olga Govortsova, also on Wednesday.