Famous Chinese link makes Aussie a star off the court

Updated: 2015-05-15 08:09

By Sun Xiaochen in Dongguan, Guangdong(China Daily)

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Though a virtual unknown at badminton's elite level, Australian shuttler Gronya Somerville has built a decent fan base in China thanks to her family's deep Chinese heritage.

Somerville, a member of the Aussie female doubles team at the Sudirman Cup, has drawn massive Chinese media interest through her elegant playing style, photogenic looks and famous ancestry.

Somerville's father was of Chinese decent and she is also the great-great-granddaughter of Kang Youwei, the renowned Chinese scholar, calligrapher and political reformer, who rose to prominence during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) with an ambitious but ill-fated attempt to turn China into a constitutional monarchy at the turn of the 20th century.

"I know that Kang Youwei was my great-great-grandfather and he used to be a very famous figure in China. Obviously, I am very proud to be a descendant of his," Somerville told China Daily after winning a point in the women's doubles during Australia's group tie against Italy on Monday.

The family bond with China, coupled with her camera-friendly looks, has attracted much more attention than she expected.

"The attention is different than in Australia," said Somerville.

"It's OK for the extra interest (not for her game but the Chinese heritage aspect)."

Somerville first played in China at the Uber Cup, the world women's team championship, in Wuhan, Hubei province, in 2012, when she was still at high school.

This time around, she received a pleasant surprise when a small party was prepared by tournament representatives and volunteers on Sunday to celebrate her 20th birthday.

"I usually celebrate it with my family members in Australia and doing it in the home country of my great-great-grandfather this time was quite special," she said.

Though her father, who moved to Australia from Guangdong province at five, passed away when she was young, Somerville's mother made sure she embraced her heritage by sending her to a high school offering Chinese language courses.

Somerville has also tried to branch out into the Chinese entertainment business as she struck a deal in 2011 to become the image ambassador for the Dream of the Red Chamber character contest, a unisex audition for performers in the classic Chinese romance novel.

Although having shot to a modest level of fame in China, Somerville stays committed to improving her game to match the star treatment she enjoys off the court.

"My most immediate goal is to qualify for the (Rio de Janeiro) Olympics next year," she said.

"After that I hope to get a medal at the 2018 Commonwealth Games (in Australia).

"I definitely have a lot of experience to gain and a lot of improvements to make.

"I hope I can train overseas to learn different styles," she said.


Famous Chinese link makes Aussie a star off the court 

Photogenic looks and a famous Chinese link have made Gronya Somerville a celebrity in Dongguan. Han Haidan / For China Daily

(China Daily 05/15/2015 page20)