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Sun and Li Set Sights on Grand Slam Title

Athens Olympics gold medallists Sun Tiantian and Li Ting underlined their determination to win a Grand Slam doubles title in the near future amid nation-wide expectation.

"We have won the Olympics gold medal. But champions of the Olympics in tennis does not mean you are the top players in the world. Our next aim is to win a Grand Slam title," said 23-year-old Sun.

"Only by standing on the top podium of the four Grand Slams, could it be proved that we have the real power."

Sun also revealed that they are more willing to compete on hardcourt, but did not dismiss the possibility of victories on clay and grass courts.

"I do not know exactly at which event we can become the champions. Chances are always there and you have to grab them," Sun said. "If you take your chances like in Athens, we'll probably win."

Sun and Li, now ranked 26th in the world, looked impressive as they advanced to the fourth round of this year's Australian Open.

But this was not enough and both are committed to taking a firm step towards the next Grand Slam.

Playing their first doubles match at the China Open in Beijing on Wednesday after their surprise victory in Athens in August, the much-fancied duo demonstrated their new-found belief, overpowering Jennifer Hopking of the Unites States and Janet Lee of Chinese Taipei 6-2, 6-2 in convincing style.

"We benefited a lot from the breakthrough of an Olympics tennis gold medal. But the biggest and the most important is a boost of confidence," said Li.

Li was echoed by Sun in reply to what the biggest gap is between Chinese and foreign players.

"The gap actually is not that big, in terms of on-court showings. Chinese players suffer from a lack of confidence," said Sun, who believes a never-say-die spirit can lead to the downing of big names.

But they know confidence is not the only thing they can count on.

"After the Olympics, we had to attend a number of celebration activities. But we never stopped training and we were attempting to spend at least one hour on stamina training even if we were in Hong Kong and Macao," she said.

Doubts and complaints have been increasing recently on the many business-related celebration activities that gold medallists went to which interrupted the normal training of sports elite.

Showered with praise the two Olympic sensations know there is still much work to be done.

"Although our training has not been systematic recently, we still seized any chances to polish our skills and teamwork. We prepared a lot before this event and found the feeling of the doubles competition," Sun said.

In a bid to get back on track as soon as possible and to further improve their ability, Sun also chose to play in the mixed doubles at the China Open, pairing with Graydon Oliver of the US.

"When the organizing committee asked me if I would like to play in the mixed doubles, I said OK. Male players serve faster and are more powerful and it can help enhance my own strength," said Sun.

Speaking of the male partners, Sun and Li said they owe their success partly to the good conditions on national team.

"The male players in the national team dedicated a lot to our daily training. We had many chances to compete with them and we are really appreciating that," Sun said.

As the tournament's second seeds, the pair, together with fourth seeds and 2004 Australian quarter-finalists Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, will vie for the title, with major rivals such as top seeds Nicole Pratt of Australia who is paired with Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand and Emmanuelle Gagliardi of Italy and Dinara Safina of Russia.

(China Daily September 24, 2004)

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