Zheng Qinwen, the seed of Li Na and why the Australian Open celebrates her rising

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Li Na slapped Zheng Qinwen ‘s left buttock, and the 21-year-old’s face expressed a mixture of surprise and happiness. She was meeting her lifelong referent. They hugged each other in an emotional way.

The past and present of Chinese women’s tennis met for the first time in Melbourne. It was a moment made to be viralized on social networks that produced the organization of the Australian Open, when the former world No. 2 appeared in front of the cameras while Zheng was giving an interview for TV.

Both compatriots exchanged a few words in their language and posed for the lens. Zheng Qinwen would later say in one of the on-court interviews what surely everyone realized, “I honestly think Li Na looks more beautiful than when I saw her on TV when I was young.”

In 2014, Li finally lifted her favorite trophy after failing twice in the final (2011 and 2013), but on the third she was able to win in Melbourne in front of a packed Rod Laver Arena and millions of Chinese watching her on TV. Among them, Zheng, eleven years old by then, witnessed that match and Li’s subsequent champion speech, one of the best in Grand Slams history.

Her illusion began to build three years before that moment of glory for Asian tennis. At Roland Garros, Li Na became the first Asian person to win a Grand Slam (to date, she was joined only by Naomi Osaka) and from there something changed in little Qinwen.

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“At that time, I was still a child, she gave me a dream. ‘Oh, the Asian tennis player, the Chinese player can also win a Grand Slam.’ She is a spectacular woman, an inspiration for Asian women,” said China’s number one, and as of Monday, WTA’s top ten.

In 2024, the Chinese tennis “created” by Li Na began to reincarnate. Zheng took advantage of a favorable draw and got into the final of the Australian Open with the advice of her champion from a decade ago, who told her not to think too much and “just go for it”. Aryna Sabalenka, world number two and defending champion will be the absolute favorite.

Having Zheng in the deciding match is a winner for the Australian Open, which has its strongest ally in the Chinese market.

Since the event began to be branded as the Asian Slam, major agreements have been signed with several sponsors (even one of the show courts bears the name of a Chinese brand), agreements with tourism agencies have increased and several television rights have been sold, taking advantage of the similar time zone.

Zheng Qinwen
Zheng Qinwen at GQ Sports China’s cover.

Tennis, which started to be a billionaire business in China (partly interrupted by the pandemic and also by former tennis player Peng Shuai’s disappearance) is resuming the course of that explosive rise until 2019.

The consolidation and increased media exposure of the girl who enjoys off court to sing, dance and read, and who values the pressure of matches on it, comes with precise timing.

Zheng is grateful for Li Na’s legacy and sets herself important challenges, as she confessed on Tennis Channel: “I think she put a little seed in my heart. I want to be like her, and even better”.

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China is already enjoying the reincarnation of its greatest tennis icon, in a young star who amazes with her tennis and her look.

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