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Court Queen Li Na to Lead China Challenge
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Having failed to win any of the seven tennis titles at the 14th Asian Games in Busan four years ago, China's tennis players head to Doha determined to put the record straight.

China has topped the medals table at the past six Asian Games but with the Olympics coming to Beijing in 2008, it is determined to overhaul the United States as the top Olympic medal-winning nation, with tennis among the sports it has targeted for improvement.

Top women's player Li Na, who plays on the World Tennis Association (WTA) circuit and is ranked 21 in the world, will lead the way in Doha.

The 24 year-old became the first Chinese woman to reach the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam tournament by making the last eight of the Wimbledon All-England Championships in July this year. She has also surpassed Japanese veteran Ai Sugiyama, now ranked 26, to become the top Asian player.

China's team also includes 20 year-old rising star, Peng Shuai, who is ranked 55 by the WTA and became first Chinese player to reach the last four of the China Open in September.

Both players will contest the singles title in Doha alongside 23 year-old Zheng Jie, ranked 33 in the world, who has also won both the Australian and Wimbledon doubles titles with compatriot, Yan Zi.

The pair will be favourites for the doubles crown in Doha, although they will be challenged by their compatriots and 2004 Olympic champions, Li Ting and Sun Tiantian, whose form has dipped since their triumph two years ago despite tournament wins in Thailand and Uzbekistan this year.

Other singles medal contenders include Japan's Aiko Nakamura, Thailand's Tamarine Tanasugarn, and Sania Mirza from India.

While China's women seem destined to dominate in Doha, it looks like being a tougher proposition for its men.

None of China's top four, Yu Xinyuan, Wang Yu, Sun Peng and Zeng Shaoxuan are in the top 400 of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings, and all 18 of its qualifiers for the China Open ATP tournament were knocked out in the first round.

In Doha, defending champion Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand, and Korea's Lee Hyung-Taik, who took silver four years ago, will fancy their chances again with Chinese Taipei duo Wang Yeu-Tzuoo and Lu Yen-Hsun also among the medal contenders.

In men's doubles, defending champions Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi from India will also start as favourites.

The Tennis championship at the 15th Asian Games runs 4 to 14 December at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex.

( November 21, 2006)

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