At this year’s Shiseido Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Finals, altogether five Chinese players reached the doubles finals, including 2019 Australian Open champion winner Zhang Shuai. This is the first WTA event held in the warm southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen.
Zhang Shuai (now listed as No. 10 in WTA doubles rankings) will fondly remember the 2019 Australian Open at the beginning of this year, when with her old doubles partner Samantha Stosur, former world No. 1 in doubles, she won the doubles championship. It was the eighth Grand Slam title ever won by a Chinese player since former golden doubles players Zheng Jie and Yan Zi won the championship at the Australian Open back in 2006.
Whenever someone emerges onto the women’s tennis scene in China, they are inevitably compared with Li Na (once WTA No. 2 ranked), a seemingly insurmountable peak in Chinese women’s tennis history. However, quoted from Netease Sports, “Li Na is the dream, Zhang Shuai is the reality. This year in Melbourne, dream becomes reality, we witness the miracle of China’s new No. 1. Instead of looking for a new Li Na, it is more important for Chinese tennis to discover more players like Zhang Shuai.”
“Come on, Zhang Shuai!” Chinese crowds at the Shenzhen Bay Sports Center Stadium ignited with passion, cheered and sighed with every point Zhang won and lost at the doubles semi-final match on November 2. She and Samantha had a strong on-court relationship, communicating more often than their opponents Tímea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic. Zhang told media after advancing to the doubles semifinals, “I think I’ve relied on Sam more, her doubles experience and capability are all above me. Without her, we couldn’t possibly make it to the semifinals.”
Following is the post-match interview with Zhang Shuai after she was defeated by Babos and Mladenovic ( 1-6, 6-4, 10-8)
How do you feel now? You were so close to the final.
I’m really happy in China, we’re here in this event. We made the semifinal. We were one step away from the final. Still I’m very happy. I have learned a lot this week. I’ve boosted my confidence. In the past few days practicing doubles, I saw improvement in myself. I’m really positive about the future. It’s a really good thing. I think I have more potential and I can do better. I didn’t put that much attention on doubles, but here we are playing the best teams in the world, Grand Slam champions. In every match we were very close, which means there’s so much potential in us. We’re a very competitive team. We’ll do better next year.
In the last press conference you mentioned that after the draw you joked with Chan Hao-ching (Taiwanese player) that you couldn’t beat any of the seven teams from the group matches. But now you have beaten several teams, how do you feel now?
Yes, Chan cheered me up before I played today. She actually told me some of the weaknesses of my opponents, like that she does not have a strong volley. I think that was a joke, because I’m even worse with the volley. Through this tournament I could communicate and play the best players in the world. We wouldn’t have such an opportunity in the whole year because normally we would only have a few matches against those players in the whole year.
The top players really bring out the best in me. I’ve learned a lot in this process. I see there’s more potential in myself. Win or lose, I have improved. In the past I didn’t have opportunities to play in these types of matches. I’m very positive. I will work harder and I hope next year I can qualify for the Shenzhen Finals again.
Could you share with us before the tiebreak what your coach told you. What did you do well? Any regrets?
I can’t remember clearly what my coach said to me because I was reviewing several points in the last set. In this match I think we’ve done very well compared to previous matches this year. I’m really happy with my performance today. I’ve raised my game in this match compared to previous tournaments, so that’s a good thing. But I’m disappointed in this result. I fully understand the spectators here wish that a Chinese player could be in the final. Anyway, I will work harder. I think this day will come eventually.
This is your last match of the season. Talk about your plan in the off-season, winter training.
I think I need to train harder and I need to improve. I need to focus on my own game every day. I need to notice my weaknesses and improve myself. I hope that I can spend more time with my family too. I need to reflect on this season, the experience, the whole process. I need time to digest, then to prepare for next year, for a new beginning.
Such high ranking in the doubles this year. You will be a top-seeded player in the doubles next year in the Grand Slams. Any plans for doubles matches next year?
Mixed doubles then. I’ll put more energy in the mixed doubles (laughter). It’s not a joke, I’m serious. I still want another Grand Slam next year.