Posted by Evan O'Callaghan on 7. Feb 2011
January was a good month for Chinese sports. Ignoring the national football side’s abysmal failure in the Asian Cup in Qatar (their only win coming against a Kuwaiti side that were a man short for nearly two-thirds of the match), individual stars have given the nation hope of a successful 2011.
The highest profile successes came in tennis and snooker. In tennis, Li Na came close to winning the Australian Open, while Ding Junhui and Marco Fu (Fu Jiajun) contested an all China final in the Masters in Wembley (the second highest paid tournament in world snooker).
In Melbourne, Li had been seeded 9th in the competition, and had to overcome world number 1 Caroline Wozniacki in the semi-final for the chance to compete in just her 9th Tour final since returning to the tour in 2004.
Li eventually lost out to Kim Clijsters from Belgium in the final, but it was an impressive tournament for the 28 year old from Wuhan who lost only a single set on her way to the final. Li is now enjoying her highest ever world ranking of 7th, on the back of reaching her first ever Grand Slam final.
In fact, Australia has previously proven to be something of a fertile hunting ground for Li, who has recorded two of her four WTA Tour victories in the country. One of those victories was in this year's Medbank International, in which she overcame Kim Clijsters in the final in straight sets.
Not only is Li in a personal best position in the world, but she also became the first Chinese player to enter the top 10, while she is only 3 places off matching the highest ever world ranking for an Asian player (set by Japan’s Kimiko Date-Krumm in November 1995).
As well as Li’s ranking of 7th, there are three other Chinese players ranked in the top 100 in the women’s game. Peng Shuai from Hunan is ranked 40th, having climbed 14 places in the most recent rankings; Zheng Jie from Chengdu is ranked 43rd, while 22 year old Zhang Shuai from Tianjin is ranked 92nd, having set a personal high of 74th last October.
Meanwhile, in snooker, Chinese players are becoming ever more dominant. Having met in the final of the Asian Games, Marco Fu and Ding Junhui renewed their rivalry in London, as Ding walked away with a cheque for £150,000.
Such is the growth of snooker in China, that Ronnie O’Sullivan, the triple World Champion and second highest earner in the history of the sport, predicted in January 2010 that China will come to dominate the sport in ten years.
Ding, in particular, is seen as having the potential to go all the way to the top of the sport. Having notched up four victories in ranking tournaments, the recent win in the Masters should give him the confidence to improve on his career best second round performance in the World Championship (a round at which he has fallen for the last three years). He will also be hoping to win his home tournament, the China Open, for the second time this March.
Behind Ding and Fu, China boasts five other ranked professionals. Promisingly, four of them are 23 or younger, meaning that only two of China’s seven ranked professionals were born before 1987. With both Ding and Liang Wenbo ranked in the top 25 in the world, the future looks very bright for Chinese snooker.
Dates to mark for 2011:
February 14th- 20th: Dubai Tennis Championships; Dubai, UAE
March 9th-20th: BNP Paribas Open; Indian Wells, USA
March 22nd-April 3rd: Sony Ericsson Open; Miami, USA
April 30th-May 8th: Mutua Madrilena Open; Madrid, Spain
May 22nd-June 4th: Roland Garros; Paris, France
June 20th-July 2nd: The Championships, Wimbledon; London, UK
August 8th-14th: Rogers Cup; Montreal, Canada
August 29th-September 11th: US Open; Flushing Meadows, USA
October 1st-9th: China Open; National Tennis Centre, Beijing, China
October 25th-30th: WTA Championships; Istanbul, Turkey
February 14th-20th: Welsh Open; Newport Centre, Newport, Wales
March 28th-April 3rd: China Open; Beijing University Students Gymnasium, Beijing, China
April 16th-May 2nd: Betfred.com World Snooker Championship; Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, England
Photo: Li Na against Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open 2011 semi-final. Credit: Reuters/Pool/Vincent Thian
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