Last year, when Wang Yatai’s Mirinda Carfrae was beaten in the first round of the Australian Open by a fellow Chinese player, there was a long pause on the Wang Stadium court as it dawned on the crowd that we were witnessing the first major defeat for a Chinese player. The final furlong of the tie, where two dogged players hung in for more than four hours, would have been a good test of hard-earned status, but what followed was a reminder that China doesn’t just produce women’s tennis stars.
Peng Shuai, a 30-year-old, super-slender former world No17, is the national treasure of Wuhan. The former student prodigy of Wuhan’s Yuji University – Peng returned there in 2016 to fulfil her high school academic ambitions – is a powerhouse.
In her prime, she was at the peak of her game. Then, a forced retirement at 26 when she nearly broke down after letting the tears trickle down her cheeks while congratulating her doubles partner Carfrae after the Australian Open semi-final win over Wang Qiang.
Her performance on Saturday was a reminder that, for all that progress is being made, there is still a long way to go.