Zheng Jie is currently the highest-ranked women’s tennis player in Asia. The 25-year-old came to prominence last year with a stunning win at Wimbledon over then number one ranked player Ana Ivanovic, making it to the semi-finals. China’s new tennis hero appears on this weekend’s TALK ASIA with CNN’s Anjali Rao. Zheng discusses her moment of glory at Wimbledon, winning a medal at the Beijing Olympics, and she also reveals what lies ahead for her.
Zheng’s success at Wimbledon made her the first Chinese tennis player to reach the semi-finals of a Grand Slam tournament. She was also the first wild card to do so. Zheng admits she surprised even herself: “I just started to try playing singles shortly before Wimbledon, so I really didn’t think I could make it to the semi-finals… I thought the match would be very difficult, but it never occurred to me that I would win the game in two straight sets.” As for her national pride at the Beijing Olympics, she says: “To me, it’s a wonderful memory in my career. When I watched the five-star flag rising up in my own country, it’s hard to describe or express the feelings of pride with words.”
After Wimbledon, the Sichuan-born tennis player donated a large part of her prize money to earthquake victims in her hometown, even spending time on the post-reconstruction. Zheng recalls: “I made this decision even before I advanced to the semi-finals. I just didn’t think I could go that far. Sichuan is my hometown. My parents and most of my friends are in Sichuan. So it’s really heartbreaking for me to see Sichuan undergo such big disaster. I hope I can do more things to help them.”
Zheng reveals her early struggles trying to adjust to the world-hopping WTA tour schedule: “At the beginning, I was not quite used to it. Before in China, there were very few matches. When it immediately jumps from four matches to more than 20 or 30 matches a year, it feels like a dream. Every morning when you wake up, it’s all about matches. At the beginning I wasn’t very used to it, but now I enjoy it.”
Zheng tells Rao she was introduced to tennis by chance: “My parents don’t do sports-related stuff, so they don’t know about tennis at all. At first, they just wanted me to get some exercise.” Despite her skill and talent, at 1m 64 her coaches never thought she’d make it: “when I was small, it was really difficult. Actually I played really well, but just because of my physical size, the coaches didn’t think I was fit for tennis.” She adds that the game has been good to her: “I think tennis brings a lot to me now and has changed my life…”