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Women stars maintain inequality in Chinese tennis

Global Times (2013-09-29 P30)
By Mark Dreyer
Li Na beat Novak Djokovic in five. Five games, that is, with the home favorite winning 3-2 in their friendly match, held Friday to mark the 10th ­anniversary of the China Open.

Li gave herself at least a 30-0 advantage in each game, and the result was never really in doubt, to the delight of the 12,000 fans in attendance, who also enjoyed the lighthearted banter between the players ­during the match.

The two had even started the trash talking early, with ­Djokovic asking on Sina Weibo,  "Haha, are you ready to play me?"

"Don't be too happy too early," Li responded. "I have a plan for the game." That plan involved bending the rules to her advantage, but Djokovic wouldn't have minded: He has won this tournament on each of the three occasions he has appeared, and is almost as ­popular a player here on the men's side as Li is on the ­women's.

Li, of course, made history by winning the 2011 French Open, but is still ­searching for her maiden China Open title.

It's hard to read anything into the match, but it brings back memories of the original "Battle of the Sexes" 40 years ago, when Billie Jean King put Bobby Riggs in his place. That match was held at exactly the right time - any earlier and there would have been too much opposition for an inter-gender match; any later and the edge that Riggs injected into the duel with his demeaning comments would have been ignored.

Chairman Mao Zedong once famously claimed that "women hold up half the sky" and while the women are still doing far less of the "holding" in certain areas of modern life in China, when it comes to tennis, the women are pretty much doing it all.

Li Ting and Sun Tiantian put Chinese tennis on the map with a famous win in the women's doubles at the 2004 Olympic Games. Two years later, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi took the same title at the Wimbledon Championships, before Li's landmark victory at Roland Garros. And on September 21, Zhang Shuai won the Guangzhou Open.

Compare the men's side, where Wu Di was lauded just for qualifying for this year's Australian Open. With the current stars undoubtedly inspiring many more young girls than boys to take up the game, it could be a very long time ­before the men catch up.

The author is a Beijing-based freelance writer.
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