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Zheng Jie Becomes First Chinese Grand Slam Semi-finalist

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ZHENG Jie will finally be the centre of attention in China when she makes her historic Wimbledon semi-final appearance.

Zheng, 24, beat Czech 18th seed Nicole Vaidisova 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 on Tuesday to become the first Chinese player to reach the last four of a Grand Slam.

Her achievement has made the world No.133 a star in China and should guarantee a huge television audience for Thursday's semi-final against former champion Serena Williams.

It is not the first time Zheng has tasted success at Wimbledon, but her doubles title triumph with Yan Zi in 2006 received less attention than it deserved back home because China was gripped by the 2006 World Cup.

"It was very exciting to win in 2006, but also it was at the same time as the World Cup, so it was not received as sensationally as the football," Zheng said.

"But Wimbledon is a very historic tournament and there is a lot of affection for it in China. I think many people watched this match in China. After the match I already had 30 messages for me."

Zheng's success on Court One at the world's most famous tennis tournament is a far cry from her first experience of tennis as a child in Cheng Du.

"None of my family were tennis players. When I was a child I was very lively and sporty but playing tennis was purely an accident because at that time there were not that many people who knew the game in China," she said.

"But as soon as I started to play it I fell in love with it.

"I started to learn tennis by playing with both hands because I was not strong enough. At that time in China one coach would have 10 to 20 kids to teach so we had to learn by watching."

Zheng's lowly ranking hides a gutsy competitor who was as high as 27 in the world before a serious ankle injury wiped out most of her 2007 season.

Although she had never been to a Grand Slam quarter-final before, Zheng had won singles tournaments in Hobart in 2005 and Estoril and Stockholm in 2006, as well as claiming 11 doubles crowns with Yan Zi.

Yet even Zheng, who lost her only previous meeting with Williams in the first round at Wimbledon in 2004, admits the American be the clear favourite on Thursday.

"Serena is a two-time winner of Wimbledon and a very prominent player on the grass courts," Zheng said. "Without a doubt she is an outstanding player and so far I haven't found any weak link.

"But as a first time semi-finalist, I would rather enjoy the game than anything else. I lost to her in 2004 when she was the defending champion and of course I hope for a better result this time."

Zheng has already dumped out three seeds at Wimbledon, including world number one Ana Ivanovic, and Williams has respect for her performances over the last two weeks.

"I've been watching her play. I think she's doing a fabulous job and I don't think it's luck, her doing so well. I think she's a really good player," Williams said.

"I'm definitely not going to underestimate her."

With the Beijing Olympics only a month away, Zheng has hit form at the right time and perhaps benefitted from Chinese team's demanding training regime.

She is set to compete in the singles and doubles and believes it is time tennis was treated as a major sport in China.

"China has many sports, which we lead the world in like table tennis and diving. Unfortunately tennis is not one of them.

"But I think with more and more people gaining better achievements in tennis, there will be more people who will love the sport in the future."


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