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'Do it like her': China's Zheng inspired by Li Na at French Open

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Teenager Zheng Qinwen said it was her dream to emulate Li Na, China’s first Grand Slam singles champion, after stunning 2018 French Open winner Simona Halep to reach the third round on Thursday.

Playing just her second major, the 19-year-old knocked out Halep 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 and awaits another past French Open champion in Jelena Ostapenko or Alize Cornet for a place in the last 16.

“That was an important experience for me, to stand in a big stadium and beat a great player,” said Zheng, who made the second round as a qualifier at this year’s Australian Open.

“I’m still learning that I have a lot to do to be better.”

Eleven years ago, more than 110 million people tuned in from China — including Zheng — to watch Li become the first Asian-born player to win a Grand Slam singles title.

“She’s my idol and I always think about that,” said Zheng, who like Li comes from Wuhan, the city where Covid-19 first emerged in late 2019.

“In that moment I was still a child and then she gave me a dream that, oh, the Asia player, the Chinese player, also can win the Grand Slam and in that moment that I have the dream in my heart that I want to do it like her.”

Li’s big breakthrough for Chinese and Asian tennis at the 2011 French Open was followed by a second major at the Australian Open in 2014 before she tearfully called it quits later that year.

Her success failed to usher in a period of Chinese tennis glory.

There are no Chinese men or women in the current top 40 in the world and she remains the country’s only player to win a Grand Slam singles crown.

Zheng, who has trained in Spain for the past two years, cracked the top 100 for the first time at the end January and arrived in Paris ranked 74.

Her win over Halep avenged a loss to the Romanian in a pre-Australian Open event in Melbourne and was her first in four attempts against a player inside the top 20.

She was the only Chinese player to make it beyond the first round of this year’s French Open.

“Everybody knows it’s a second Grand Slam for me, so I very much enjoy every chance that I stand on court,” said Zheng.

“I believe that there’s always chance to beat an opponent. It doesn’t (matter) who is in front of me.”

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