Sports / Tennis

Tennis academy in Beijing cultivates next generation

By Lei Lei/Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2016-01-21 07:10


A Beijing tennis academy featuring foreign expertise and a global, professional system may be getting closer to producing China's next Grand Slam winner.

As retired champion Li Na charmed the crowds at the 2016 Australian Open earlier this week, fond memories of her two Grand Slam trophies have energized China's quest for a successor.

Li delivered her first singles title at the 2011 French Open and followed up with a win at the 2014 Australian Open before a chronic knee injury ended her career.

While the absence of a high-ranking replacement is noticeable in the adult tournament, a group of young talents honed at Beijing's 1123 Junior Tennis Academy has emerged at this year's Australian Open.

Led by head coach Sergio Sabadello, four women, including world junior No 14 Zheng Wushuang and International Tennis Federation junior event titlist Cao Siqi, will compete against the world's best in the Open's girls' tournament, which kicks off on Saturday in Melbourne.

Another young academy talent, Wang Yafan, 21, made it to the Open's main draw for the first time after winning three qualifying matches in a row.

The surge of Chinese youth at the high-profile tournament has inspired Yi Ping, the academy's founder, to believe in the power of her individualized system.

Tennis academy in Beijing cultivates next generation

Sergio Sabadello, who coached 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal, teaches China's most promising talents in Beijing in January. [Zou Hong/China Daily]

"Tennis is a global sport, so the most important thing is to offer young talent foreign expertise and exposure in a professional way," said Yi, who founded the academy in 2010.

Yi's latest move was to employ Sabadello, an experienced coach who operates the Vilas Tennis Academy in Mallorca, Spain, which has produced a string of high-ranking professional stars, including 14-time major winner Rafael Nadal. 

Since arriving in November, Sabadello has taken over the academy's operations, from technical training to tactics, tournament scheduling and logistics support.

"My job is to bring them the concepts and work to prepare them for professional tours, not only junior tours," the energetic Sabadello told China Daily.

"They are at a high level in juniors. Now they have to take the next step, which is important to their routines and habits as professional players. My objective is to lead these players to win at the Australian Open junior tournament," Sabadello said.

The academy has signed seven promising talents, all girls under 18, to train under Sabadello's crew, which also includes two Chinese assistant coaches, a fitness trainer and support staff experienced in nutrition and logistics.

Sabadello will arrange a three-month overseas trip for the youngsters to train at the Vilas Academy and other European camps.

Zeng Shaoxuan, one of Sabadello's assistants, said the coach's model of catering to individual strengths is more likely to yield good results than the traditional Chinese system, which trains all athletes together at provincial and national camps under unified technical methods.

"Tennis is an individual sport in which each player's condition, physical and mental, differ from another and matter a lot. His training philosophy seems more adaptable in that regard," said Zeng, a former men's national champion.

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