,Zheng Qinwen announced herself as a major new force in women’s tennis with a scintillating French Open debut last month. Now the Chinese teenager hopes the fighting spirit she showed at the Grand Slam tournament can encourage kids starting out in the sport to chase their dreams on the court with the same determination.
“If tennis is your dream, I think you always have to fight for your dream. Because we only have one life, you shouldn’t have any regrets,” Zheng said last week in an interview for online China Daily show Gen Z’s Words.
“Every decision you make in this moment is very important, so you need to make your decisions carefully.”
The 19-year-old showed she possesses the talent and temperament to be a contender at the very top level of tennis with a breakout campaign at Roland Garros.
Accounting for two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep along the way, Zheng’s journey was ended in the fourth round by a three-set defeat to eventual champion Iga Swiatek.
Zheng, though, gave the Polish world No 1 a mighty scare, battling back from 3-0 down in the first set to force, and win, a tiebreak.
Zheng later revealed she was struggling with severe menstrual pain throughout the match. She also took a medical timeout early in the second set to treat a pulled muscle, leaving many observers to wonder what the outcome would have been had Zheng been in optimal physical condition.
“That was the first time I had played the world No 1, so I really wanted to grab this chance so I could gauge her level and test myself,” said Zheng.
“I didn’t want to give her the match so easy like that. It was pretty difficult for me to hold on in that match because of what my body was going through, but I wanted to show her I’m not easily beaten.
“If you want to win against a player like that, you really have to raise your level, and be like, ‘Come on, try to beat me.’ I’m happy that I had the mentality to keep going.”
It was that kind of fortitude that captured the imagination of fans back home, leaving them anticipating her next shot at glory.
“Looking back at Zheng Qinwen’s performances in this year’s French Open, there’s no doubt that she’s a true fighter,” sports commentator Han Qiaosheng wrote on Weibo.
“Physically and mentally she is really strong. As long as she can stay healthy and avoid injuries, she has a very promising future ahead of her.”
Zheng says she avoids being overawed by higher-ranked opponents by simply focusing on the next point, one shot at a time. Allied to the support of her team, it’s an approach that she hopes can one day land her a Grand Slam title.
“You know, when people around you are always positive, and they always support you, they can transfer that strong mentality to you. And then you can become this kind of person,” said Zheng, who has no preference about which Grand Slam she would like to win first.
“I like all of them, you know. I just want to get the first one. Now after the French Open, I want to prove that an Asian player can also do something great in tennis,” she said.
“I’m just trying to focus on my own game, how to be a better tennis player and how to be a better person. It’s important to be a good player, but for me it’s also important to be a good person for the world.”
Zheng’s impressive French Open run has inevitably led to comparisons with China’s solitary Grand Slam singles champion, Li Na, who won the 2011 French Open and 2014 Australian Open titles.
“When I was a kid, Li Na showed that Asian people also can do something really good in tennis. She was the first one. I will just focus on my own game, and then let’s see if I can really compete at the highest level,” said Zheng.
“My idol was actually Roger Federer. I always say he’s amazing. When I was young, I often watched his matches on TV.”
After January’s Australian Open, Zheng revealed that her goal this season was to break into the world’s top 30. Her Roland Garros run has already lifted her to No 54, but with her exertions in Paris taking a physical toll, simply staying injury-free is now a priority for the remainder of the campaign.
“After my injuries, my thinking is different. I think I should not focus too much on the ranking. I just need to take each match as they come in order to maintain my best form,” Zheng added.
“You know, sometimes people forget the joy of being healthy. So now I just want to be healthy and enjoy my time on court.”