China Attempts To 'Breed' Wimbledon Champ


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China's chances at Wimbledon this year are slim, but at the country's elite sport schools the government has been grooming a future generation of wannabe grand slam champions.


Children at the school train six days a week

At the Xiannongtan School in Beijing, children as young as six are trained to boost China's position as a sporting superpower.

A key cog in China's state-run sports machine, Xiannongtan has produced 10 world champions and four Olympic gold medallists.

Wiry and determined, Hao Huatian is a star member of the school's tennis squad. At just 11 the school's rigorous demands - he trains six days a week, with no school holidays and parental visits once a week - are paying dividends.

He has already won a national championship, and displays extraordinary focus for a player of his age.

Roger Federer is his favourite tennis star, he says, because "whether he wins or loses, he never shows any emotions".

Hao and the other young tennis hopefuls have all been chosen by the school's coaches for their body type and mental aptitude.

"We pick the students by testing the quality of their bodies," said the squad's manager, Huang Hongjun.

"It's important we get it right, because if we choose incorrectly then they won't turn out to be champions."

This year at Wimbledon, China's hopes of producing a champion lie with Zheng Jie, a pocket-sized dynamo best known for reaching the semi finals in 2008 - China's best ever result in the singles.

Growing up in poverty-stricken western China, Zheng had few of the advantages of today's young players. She trained by hitting a ball against a wall, and only rarely had access to a full sized court. Two decades ago, few people in China had even heard of tennis.

"My parents' friends and neighbours would always ask what sport it was that I was playing," said Zheng. "They'd ask: 'Is it badminton, or ping pong, or what?' Now when people find out I'm a tennis player they've heard of it."

They have also heard of Zheng, who is nationally famous and backed by several wealthy sponsors including Rolex and Mercedes Benz.

Though her height can be a disadvantage - Zheng is almost a foot shorter than Venus Williams - her coach believes the 23rd seed could produce an upset at Wimbledon.

"All the other players are bigger and more powerful than she is," he said. "But she's quick on her feet and very clever. That will work in her favour."