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Yan Zi ready to bounce back on the circuit
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When Yan Zi left the state-support training system and became a self-managed tennis player at the end of 2008 she was ranked in the top 100 in singles along with teammates Zheng Jie, Li Na and Peng Shuai.

Yan also had a WTA tour singles title under her belt; along with three semifinal appearances.

Now she is ranked 319th in the world, 279 spots lower than her personal best of 40 set on May 5 last year. In sharp contrast, the other three are enjoying the best times of their careers and are ranked 19th, 25th and 37th respectively.

Such a dramatic slump in the rankings could be a career-ending disappointment for some players but it's not enough to break the spirit of Yan, who is also a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion.

"I am gradually finding my confidence with a new coach," Yan told China Daily through an interview organized by the Sony Ericsson WTA tour. "My skills have improved and I think I will be able to play my best tennis soon."

Ahead of the French Open in May, Yan started to work with Frenchman Choudury Hubert who, she says, has blown a "fresh breeze" into her career. With Hubert's arrival, she finally completed the establishment of her own back-up team. Yan confessed it took her a much longer time than other Chinese players to get used to the new "fly-away" life after being taken care of by the state for more than ten years.

But she believes it was because some of her other teammates had the unique "advantage" of being helped by their husband-coaches.

"They had their most intimate partners help them, even before they became self-managed, so it was easier for them to set up a solid and efficient back-up team."

Yan was referring to her good friend and doubles partner, Zheng, and Li, who are coached by their husbands - Zhang Yu and Jiang Shan, both former coaches with the national program.

Peng is an exception, but she had put together her own back-up team before she became self-managed.

"At the beginning, I had a sudden feeling of loneliness," Yan said.

Now, after all the groundwork has been laid, it might be the time for Yan to reap some rewards. Paired with Chuang Chia-jung of Chinese Taipei for the first time, Yan won the doubles title at the Los Angeles Women's Tennis Championship on August 10. It was her first title in almost a year and her 16th doubles title on the tour.

"I am very happy that I have started to win titles again," she said. "I am glad my efforts paid off and I hope I can win more."

Yan is best known for her sterling partnership with Zheng, which saw them win the Australian Open and Wimbledon doubles titles in 2006.

After a successful debut partnership with Chuang, Yan said she was open to all partnering possibilities.

"I am open to all options," she said. "As for the partnership with Chuang, I don't think we can play in a stable form because we seldom spend time together. We need more work."

Her words were borne out as she and Chuang were knocked out in the first round of the WTA's Cincinnati tournament the following week.

Yan is currently playing in the Rogers Cup in Canada with Zheng. The two will stick together for the coming US Open.

For Yan, doubles is the priority right now. "I want to do better in doubles first and then improve my singles play. I am ready for a brand new start."

(China Daily August 19, 2009)

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