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Page last updated at 19:03 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 20:03 UK

Chinese revel in Zheng success

China's Jie Zheng
Jie Zheng has achieved her best singles result at a Grand Slam
In the year of the Beijing Olympics, Chinese tennis player Zheng Jie could not have chosen a better time to put herself on the sporting map.

The 24-year-old has enjoyed a fairytale two weeks to power into the semi-finals at Wimbledon and whip up a storm back home.

Zheng, it seems, is the name on everyone's lips - even though the Games of the XXIX Olympiad start in just over a month.

"Back home in China everyone is into tennis and Jie Zheng is the hero nowadays," Gu Jue, who works for Shanghai TV, told BBC Sport.

"People have changed their MSN names into 'Zheng Ji go', 'Zheng Ji keep going', things like that. I think it's really great for us."

With Beijing looming, it is a godsend for the organisers that people are talking in glowing terms about a Chinese athlete.

I hope I can play on my birthday on Saturday but it's a big ask

Zheng Jie
And little wonder. Zheng is the first Chinese tennis player to reach the semi-final of a Grand Slam in singles, and she has done it from the remarkable position of number 133 in the world after a long spell struggling with an ankle problem.

She had to be given a wildcard to even get into Wimbledon and has responded with some stunning tennis, dumping out new world number one Ana Ivanovic in the third round, disposing of number 15 seed Agnes Szavay next and then seeing off 18th seed Nicole Vaidisova in the quarters.

In the process, she went one step further than compatriot Li Na - who reached the last eight at Wimbledon in 2006 - and also became the first wildcard to reach the semis of the ladies' singles at SW19.

So, did Zheng expect to enjoy such a phenomenal time at the All England Club? In a word: "No".

"I did not think I could reach the semis when I was given a wildcard," she admitted. "I have just tried my best and kept going. I can't believe I've got this far."

606: DEBATE
BBC's James Reynolds
Zheng turns 25 on Saturday, the day of the ladies' final, but she will have to get past two-times former champion Serena Williams if she is to spend her birthday fighting for the title.

"It's a big gift for my birthday which is on Saturday. I hope I can play on my birthday but I don't want to think about it too much," added Zheng.

"Serena is a two-times winner and a very prominent player on grass - I am in the semi-finals for the first time.

"In 2004, I lost to her in the first round [6-3 6-1] when she was the defending champion. I hope I do better this time."

Zheng must find a way of combating Serena's awesome power if she is to have any joy. Standing at only 5ft 4in - seven inches shorter than the average on the women's tour - this may not be an easy task.

Zheng has tasted success at these Championships before though, winning the women's doubles crown in 2006 with compatriot Zi Yan - in tandem, the duo won an astonishing 19 out of the 20 events they entered, including the Australian Open the same year.

Tracy Austin, twice a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, told BBC Sport that although the Chinese are revelling in Zheng's success in England, it is Beijing in August where they want her to shine.

"Once Beijing got the Olympics, the government made an effort to produce these tennis champions and they really went after double players first," said Austin.

Jie Zheng with Zi Yan after winning the women's doubles in 2006
Jie Zheng (left) lifts the doubles trophy with Zi Yan in 2006
"First of all they brought in the coaches because they were way behind - there were no Chinese players on the circuit.

"They brought in very experienced coaches to teach them and after a while Zheng and Yan won the doubles, the first Chinese players to win a Grand Slam.

"On Thursday, because of the interest in China, there will be more people watching Zheng's semi-final than ever in the history of Wimbledon.

"But it's medals they want. It's a couple of years ago when Li Na got to the quarter-finalsand the year before they actually missed Wimbledon because they had the Chinese Championships, but it's all really about the medals and the Olympics."

For Zheng, born in the Sichuan Province of China that was hit with devastating effect by an earthquake only last month and in which about 70,000 people died, she wants her success to be put to greater use.

"I would like to give the all prize money [to the victims] but cannot," she said.

"I need to give some back to the tennis association, but of course I will donate all my portion. Apart from that, I will do as much as I can to help the Sichuan region people because I'm from Sichuan province, as well.

"When I go back after Wimbledon, I will do more charity work and encourage more people to come to support the stricken region and hope people from Sichuan will have their new homes as soon as possible."

Zheng will also be competing in the singles and doubles at her home Olympics - maybe her greatest moment on a tennis court is yet to come.




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