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Dangerous Duo Burn Up the International Courts

At the Australian Open in January, fourth-seeded tennis pair, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, claimed their second major title of the year upon taking the tournament's grand slam trophy - the first ever awarded to a China team.


To make it happen, the pair had to defeat two veteran opponents who had previously taken a collective total of eight Grand Slam titles.


In July 2006 Zheng Jie and Yan Zi made a major mark in international tennis circles when they took their second grand slam doubles title of the year, beating Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain and Argentina's Paola Suarez 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 in the Wimbledon Tournament final. Though defeated, the two veteran players graciously departed the court with smiles on their faces, perhaps knowing that although their primetime had passed, a bright future awaited their younger compatriots in sport.


Exhibiting the sort of public modesty for which Chinese sports stars are renown, on the winning rostrum the young players simply smiled broadly and raised the cup over their heads. After the ceremony Zheng Jie explained with Chinese characteristics: "We are very happy and proud to be the first Chinese doubles champions at Wimbledon. It has been a very good year for us and we hope to keep winning more titles in the future." In 1997, even as the two were recruited by the Tennis Team of Sichuan Province, it never occurred to them that within a few years their names would be so closely associated. Living in the same dormitory at the time, their friendship grew, but the outlook for their career was not so positive. For instance, Zheng Jie's height is not considered ideal for a professional player, and it was thought she had no chance of reaching the top tiers of the sport. And Yan Zi was thought to be too thin, and frail, with her coaches often being irritated by her frequent sick leaves. However, the two were determined.


Although they lived together in the dorm and were good friends, it would be years before Jie and Zi would competitively play as a doubles team. In 2000 the Sichuan team sent Jie to the Beijing Chaoyang Tennis Club. Meanwhile the fortunate Yan Zi was dispatched to the US to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton, Florida, where world famous tennis players like Maria Sharapova honed their sport. The two paired up only when Zi finished her training in the States and was also sent to the Beijing Chaoyang Tennis Club. During the following year they trained intensively together and both their level of skill and cooperative teamwork excelled.


When the pair finally returned to the Tennis Team of Sichuan, their teammates were no match for them. After winning the doubles championship at a juvenile tennis match in Chengdu City, they became an inseparable team.


Their skills, teamwork and physical condition continued to improve and the two, then just merely 20 years old, began their professional sporting lives, shuttling among various tournaments in numerous nations. Jie sums up the not-too-glamorous routine: "As professional players, we must take care of everything by ourselves." Arriving at a new location, to lay claim to a training court, the pair often wait outside the facility before dawn. Often exhausted from traveling, they regularly sleep on benches while waiting for a court. According to Zi, the two look after each other as partners in life. When abroad, Jie will often take the lead on decisions, and Yan Zi, having picked up English in the States, does most of the communicating with foreigners.


Constantly traveling between international tournaments, a lot of time is spent in the air and in airports. Zi explains that flights of 20 hours or more are routine. And their luggage is typically heavy and full with sports suits, shoes, balls, rackets... and trophies. To save time, they often tote their luggage along to the match and head straight to the airport from the showers. Jie explains that though they have been to what seems countless countries, they seldom have time for leisure and sightseeing.


The friendship between the two young women is strong, and their respective parents are also on good terms, often watching their daughters' matches together. For the foreseeable future, with many prime years ahead, it would seem the two partners will remain a potent team both in tennis and in life.




Zheng Jie:


1983 Born in Sichuan Province

1990 Began training in tennis.

1997 Joined Tennis Team of Sichuan Province

2001 Joined Chinese Tennis Team


Yan Zi:


1984 Born in Sichuan Province

1990 Began training in tennis.

1997 Joined Tennis Team of Sichuan Province

2001 Joined Chinese Tennis Team


Championships in 2006:


June Ordina Open in Holland

May Moroccan Women's Tennis Tournament

May German Open

January Australian Open


(China Pictorial September 22, 2006)

Tennis: Zheng Jie Reaches 2nd Round
Tennis: Zheng Jie Breaks into World Top 30
Tennis: Zheng Jie Takes Crown in Stockholm
Tennis: Doubles Champion Gets the Message Home
Chinese Duo Wins Wimbledon Women's Doubles Title
Zheng, Yan Grab Morocco Title
Tennis: Yan, Zheng Win Doubles Title in German Open
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