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Asia Tour brings down the Curtain on a tricky 2012 for China鈥檚 Women



As the Asian swing of the pro tennis tours reaches China, Paul Ryding reflects on a poor year for China’s women and looks ahead to the 14th installment of the Beijing event.

After enjoying their finest ever season collectively in 2011, China’s top female players regressed this year and endured a poor season which has so far yielded just one WTA win, when Li Na sealed her sixth title with a win at the Cincinnati Masters beating Angelique Kerber in the final.

It was in very different circumstances that the Wuhan-native returned to action in Beijing twelve months ago as the Asian leg of the WTA season continued in Beijing. At that point, Li was returning to her home country as a sporting hero having landed Asia’s first ever Grand Slam singles victory with an incredible win over Francesca Schiavone at the French Open in Paris.

A year on, Li is returning to the capital on the back of a trying season. She struggled desperately for form after winning her first Grand Slam in the second half of 2011 and crashed out early in almost all of the remaining tournaments last term.

Her recent elimination from the US Open in New York, at the hands of British teenager Laura Robson, who is ranked 89 in the world, was the culmination of a disappointing campaign and means that the Chinese number one has failed to reach the quarter-finals at any Grand Slam for the first time since 2008. Additionally, she also suffered an early exit at the London Olympic Games last month as she went down in the first to round to Daniela Hantuchova.

Following the shock loss in New York, which could see Li fall out of the top 10 in the world rankings, the Chinese ace revealed her plans to take a rest before the final mandatory tournament of the season, the China Open, gets underway in China’s capital on 1 October. Two week later, the 4.9-million-dollar year-end championships begin in Istanbul, Turkey. Li currently ranks seventh in qualifying for the WTA Tour Championships and can afford a brief period of recuperation before Beijing- safe in the knowledge that although the season has been a disappointing one, she is sure to qualify for the season finale. The season had promised so much for the 30-year-old on the back of a phenomenal 2011 which saw her reach the final of the Australian Open in addition to her win in Paris.

Chinese numbers two and three, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai respectively, have also endured difficult seasons.

Zheng failed to make it beyond the fourth round of a competition this season after her victory at the season-opening Auckland Classic at the beginning of the year. She will consider that statistic a failure after returning from injury so well in 2011. And while a return to the top 30 should be seen as something of a success after slipping to 48th in the world at year end in 2011, at 29 years old she would have hoped to make more of a breakthrough in 2012 with the clock ticking on her career.

Peng may have considered 2011 to be her breakthrough year. She made the quarter-finals in three competitions and gave credible fourth round showings in three of the four Majors. Her finest result of 2011 was in finishing runner-up to then world number one Caroline Wozniacki at the Brussels Open. She finished the season ranked a credible 17th having risen from 72nd in the world at the end of 2010. But following a stop-start 2012, Peng has slipped back to 34th in the world rankings and has lost 14 of her 36 matches so far this season.

All three of China’s top women will be looking to end their WTA Tours on a positive note in Beijing, with each in line to participate. But in truth, each will likely be looking to put disappointing campaigns behind them.

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