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China's tennis aces cash in on success
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Chinese tennis players will get to keep more of their winnings in the future as an incentive to raise their game on the international stage, the country's tennis chief said in the wake of the recently ended Shanghai Masters Cup.

"Some of them, in particular those top-ranked players, will keep the majority of their prize money," added Sun Jinfang, head of the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA). "There will be a huge increase in their incomes."

In China, athletes usually have to share their spoils with coaches and sports administrations. The CTA has conformed to this system by requesting a percentage of the money from their professional tour-based winnings.

As most tennis players pay their own way, however, this practice - unique to China - has drawn much criticism from players especially in light of the rise of China's women on the world stage.

World No 40 Peng Shuai, the third best female player in China, has in the past threatened to quit the national team over the issue, but Sun said much progress has since been made.

"The percentage (of prize money) given to players is always going up," Sun said. "The association intends to give the players more freedom and prize money so they can have better training conditions and be more competitive."

Players are now entitled to 70 percent of their winnings, double that of previous years, while top talents like China No 1 Li Na and Wimbledon semifinalist Zheng Jie are eligible for more if they do well at Grand Slams and other big tournaments.

Sun said upping the percentages was a win-win situation.

"We give the best support to our players so they can win greater glory for the nation. At the same time we guarantee their personal fortunes," she said. "Basically we are looking for a balance between the traditional Chinese sports system and the professional sports system."

Meanwhile, domestic players can earn more by fulfilling their national team duties by participating in events such as the Fed Cup and the Olympic Games, Sun said.

Zheng teamed with long-time friend Yan Zi to win a bronze medal at the Beijing Games in August, for which the association awarded the pair and their coaches an extra bonus of 1.1 million yuan ($161,000). When Li Na finished an historic fourth place in the women's singles event at the Games, she and her husband-coach Jiang Shan got to share an additional 200,000 yuan.

The association also gave 565,000 yuan to Zheng and her teammate Sun Tiantian and their coaches for their achievements at this year's Grand Slams. Zheng became the first Chinese to make the final four at Wimbledon while Sun won the mixed doubles at the Australian Open in January with Serbian Nenad Zimonjic.

In a sign that the state is relaxing its tight controls, Sun said it would start to recommend to the national team more self-supported players, who have traditionally been overlooked in favor of those brought up within the system.

"It is up to the athletes whether they want to sponsor themselves or rely on the state," Sun said. "We respect their freedom to choose."

The new national team is expected to be named next month and coaches are being sought through an open tender.

If Jiang elects to continue despite protestations that he is getting old and tired, he is likely to retain his post as head coach of the women's team. He is currently leading in a poll of four candidates that also includes former men's head coach Xie Zhao, and Yu Liqiao, who helped steer Li Ting and Sun Tiantian to doubles gold at Athens 2004.

"We just want whoever is best for the team," said Sun.

(China Daily November 18, 2008)

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