Peng Shuai said the dearth of male Chinese tennis players was down to the strength of ping pong and badminton, as the country awaits a breakthrough in men’s tennis.
Peng said Chinese tennis had made huge strides in the last 10 years, first with Li Ting and Sun Tiantian winning women’s doubles gold at the 2004 Olympics and Li Na winning the 2011 French Open to become the first Chinese Grand Slam winner.
That has brought a raft of top tournaments to China and inspired the next generation of Chinese players.
But the surge is somewhat lop-sided. While there are five Chinese women in the top 100 and nine in the top 200, led by number 31 Zhang Shuai and Peng, the top Chinese man in 224-ranked Di Wu.
“Maybe they’ve all gone to play ping pong or badminton! China is really strong in those sports,” said a jovial Peng, the world number 37.
“In the future maybe we’ll have some boys coming through, because it does take time,” as the sport continues to spread.
“If more people play, for sure in the future we will have have more boys, and girls too.”
There are high hopes for 17-year-old Wu Yibing, the second seed in the Wimbledon boys’ singles.
Peng, 31, was knocked out of Wimbledon on Friday by world number two Simona Halep 6-4, 7-6 (9/7) in a closely-fought third round contest.
“In the second set I got a set point. It was a really good match and I tried to fight a very good player. It was my first time playing against her. Next time I play her I hope I can go one better,” said Peng.
Britain’s Johanna Konta is the favourite to win the Wimbledon title but Peng said others had a good chance.
“Konta has a really good serve and has had a lot of good results. Victoria Azarenka, Halep, Jelena Ostapenko and Caroline Wozniacki have a chance but I couldn’t pick a winner because it seems so open,” she said.
The former doubles world number one was only playing in the Wimbledon singles this time around.
Wimbledon was the scene of one of Peng’s greatest triumphs, when she won the 2013 women’s doubles with Hsieh Su-Wei.
The former singles world number 14 reached the 2014 US Open semi-finals before a back injury threatened to end her career. She missed most of 2015 injured and got her tennis back on track last year.
“I feel and appreciate it because it seemed like there was only a slim chance to come back,” said Peng.
“After half a year I could not win a single match. So you have no confidence. But I still didn’t want to give up.
“I did a lot of treatment, talking with the doctors. Slowly it got a little bit better. This year I surprised myself because we didn’t think I could get this far. I thought if I could get back in the top 100, I would be happy.”
Resting her back means Peng has had little time to enjoy London during the Wimbledon fortnight, though she has made expeditions into the city centre to sample the Chinese cuisine.
“I’ve been to Chinatown twice for dinner. Now after my matches I need a lot of time to rest.
“This injury was not a light one. It leaves me tired and the acupuncture is really painful.
“Once I’ve retired, I will come to London for fun. I want to go to the history museums.”
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