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While the world gets used to 20-year-old Zhang Shuai’s absence, the absence of a complete player like Li Na continues to cast a huge shadow over women’s tennis in Asia
Jumping to attention in a sport that only takes the occasional turn for the noble, Kimiko Date-Krumm has just become the oldest player in 21 years to win an ATP tournament after her victory in the women’s doubles in Rabat, Morocco.
Alongside Chang Kai-chen, the 63-year-old Japanese veteran beat the top seeds Nicole Melichar and Anna-Lena Groenefeld 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday.
The win for Date-Krumm, who won her only Grand Slam at the 1996 US Open, was a good result for Chinese media here and in Beijing, as they know only too well.
While the world gets used to 20-year-old Zhang Shuai’s absence due to illness, the absence of a complete player like Li Na continues to cast a huge shadow over women’s tennis in Asia.
After days of feverish speculation, organisers finally confirmed that Zhang had “vaguely suspected” she might have contracted a viral illness that had turned into a lung infection.
Her competitive juices were drained by the time she arrived in Rabat and left two days later. “She is still in hospital,” said Li Haoping, who is part of the country’s tennis federation.
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China is still perhaps behind India and Pakistan, where media is trying to get to grips with the new look of tennis in the country. “Tennis is the most basic sport in China,” said Kun Tao, China’s national president of tennis. “Nobody plays or practices for love. We must earn it by hard work.”
A pair of anonymous foreign tennisers, in Beijing this week to promote the Fed Cup, are one way forward.
“I think China wants to take over the global sports landscape,” said Richard Longoria, the tennis ambassador for the US Tennis Association. “We are seeing young players who are fascinated with tennis but who are doing it because they like competition.”