Tennis Prose



Why Did China Tennis Fail?

Not quite a decade ago I remember a conversation at the US Open with Australian great Peter McNamara, talking in an excited tone about how many young Chinese juniors were developing at a phenomenal rate and in a few years time, there would be many talented Chinese professionals winning and perhaps dominating in the pros. McNamara was certain China was going to become a tennis superpower.

Perhaps McNamara was partly selling the company line because it was in his interests too, to hype up a China tennis revolution.

But the foundation was set for China to become a superpower. The CCP invested heavily in developing young tennis players, invested heavily in building tennis courts and tennis centers. Invested heavily in hiring the best coaching.

The first breakthrough for China was Li and Sun winning the gold medal in doubles at the 2004 Olympics. Then Li Na won Roland Garros in 2011 and Australian Open in 2014.

The stage had been set for the breakout. Zheng Jie, Shuai Peng almost reached the top ten. Yan Zi and Jie won a couple of Grand Slams in doubles.

Yibing Wu won the 2017 US Open boys title (he beat Axel Geller of Argentina).

China bought and hosted ten professional WTA and ATP events including Shanghai Masters.

But the Chinese sports system of control has a major flaw. It does not promote or inspire individual greatness. Young players with potential are fully supported financially but the CCP takes 65% of future pro prize money and 100% of non-tennis income. Chinese players earn a guaranteed salary regardless of results – until retirement. So there is little incentive for the Chinese player to become a champion.

The CCP also controls the players coaches, training regimen and sometimes even match strategies.

It’s no wonder so few Chinese players since Li Na have been able to prosper despite the heavy support which may be bordering the point of suffocation.

Novak Djokovic has said the Serbian tennis system has produced so many successful pros because the players play for the love of the battle and strive to make it on their own, with minimal support. “There was no system that brought us into professionalism,” said Djokovic. “It’s just a hunger for success, a mentality that we’ve been through a lot of difficult times in the past. We appreciate some things much more in life. And we fight for each match.”

Today there are only two notable Chinese players in the ITF junior top 100, one boy named Juncheng “Jerry” Shang, who is ranked no. 2 ITF, and a girl just inside the top 100. But Sheng has trained in America at IMG since he was a youngster. His parents are both former athletes in China and they understand the problems of the Chinese system. Shang is just 16 now and he’s already showed he can compete at the pro level.

At the Miami Open this year as a wildcard, Shang lost to Liam Broady 64 16 67. The 27 year old lefty Broady is ranked 139 in the world.

This week at Fayetteville, Arkansas $15,000 ITF, Shang beat veteran Nathan Ponwith 60 36 75.

Yibing Wu has been plagued by injury and other issues and is currently ranked outside the ATP top 1000. Wu’s best ATP ranking 299 in September 2018.

There are many young Chinese female prospects like Xiyu Wang, Xinyu Wang, Qinwen Zheng but their progress has been slow and ordinary.

So the wait continues for Chinese tennis to make the heavy impact on professional tennis many court observers expected after seeing Li Na’s two Grand Slam singles wins almost a decade ago.

· · ·


  • catherine · September 23, 2021 at 1:47 am

    Scoop – Agree, I can’t see the Chinese system changing in any major way due to the political/social aspects you mention, but it’s possible that if Emma R continues to have success she will inspire individual players. She speaks fluent Mandarin and now has a social media presence there, as well as family connections. But the problem remains – tennis is an individual sport and individualism is not encouraged under the current CCP regime.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 23, 2021 at 7:38 am

    Catherine, another issue for China tennis is the girls are seen as secondary, inferior to the boys who are more spoiled and coddled. The girls actually have more drive and determination than the boys. That’s why the Chinese girls have achieved more in tennis than the males. Peter McNamara told me this and I’ve confirmed this with other Chinese American friends.

  • Rock · September 23, 2021 at 10:06 am

    Philippines with below 100 million population beat China in 1900s and early 2000s in Davis cup, Asian games with China having 1.8 billion population. The Chinese diet and short stature don’t help Chinese men to become the best except Michael Chang who is American by training and mentality.

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 23, 2021 at 10:26 am

    Rock, there are a lot of tall Chinese males and females. Yao Ming for just one. It’s incredible Philippines produces better boxers than China. With better support and funding I’m sure Philippines would produce more pro tennis players too. I’m quite sure Nick Bollettieri would have turned Pacquiao into a multi Gramd Slam winner if he coached him at his academy at a young age.

  • Matty · September 23, 2021 at 2:43 pm

    On a related note, I was once coached for a week at Saddlebrook by an English former Wimbledon competitor. He shook his head at us and explained that in America we’re too middle class, too comfortable. He explained that especially for Europeans playing on the lower tours, a competitor that wins is taking that night’s dinner out of the mouth of the European player. That’s why they compete to the death. Kinda explains why Jack Sock, Tommy Paul and others peak out……

  • Scoop Malinowski · September 23, 2021 at 7:44 pm

    Matty, Fed Rafa Djokovic Serena are all worth over $100m each. They are comfortable but still vicious, obsessed competitors. I think a lot of players who peak out decide they are happy to be ranked around 40-10 and the income that station provides. Tomic said he had earned $20m and just gave up hope and belief he could win majors. Mats Wilander said when a top elite player stops treating each match like “life and death” his or her ranking will drop.

  • Dennis D · September 24, 2021 at 1:13 pm

    This article is mostly right and I agree. Asian people playing singles has disadvantage but doubles is ok. All the sports in China are sponsored by CCP government and it is good for some team sports but for individual sports is not good.



Find it!

Copyright 2010
To top