Hong Kong – Li Na's shining example and the explosion of tournaments in China after her Grand Slam wins has triggered the emergence of a new generation of Chinese players, the country's top two women have said.
Wang Qiang, 26, and Zhang Shuai, 29, said confidence was now growing among Chinese players after a quiet spell since trailblazer Li, a two-time major-winner, retired in 2014.
Wang Qiang, ranked 24th, and 40th-placed Zhang head a list of four Chinese players in the current top 100, and there are 11 in the top 200 including 17-year-old US Open junior champion Wang Xiyu.
"Li Na has given us all a lot of hope," Zhang said at the Hong Kong Open.
"When she won the Grand Slams I think more people decided to try tennis and try to believe in themselves."
She added: "Now we have so many tournaments in China I think a lot of young players have more opportunities to make a higher ranking."
Zhang, who turned professional in 2006, said the game was now a big hit among Chinese fans. China has seven WTA Tour-level tournaments this year.
"For sure it's more popular than it was five years ago because unlike with other sports, almost every week there is a big tournament," she said.
Wang Qiang, seeded sixth in Hong Kong, said Li's achievements stood as a "goal" for her career, and had kick-started the development of tennis in China.
"Other players are now doing really well so I think China has a good future," she said.
Torrential downpours delayed play at the Hong Kong Open Thursday by more than four hours, but after second-round matches eventually got underway eighth seed Alize Cornet went down to Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum after a drama-filled clash which saw both players struggle to hold their serve.
The France world number 44 — who lost in a third set tiebreak after almost three hours — appeared frustrated on court, repeatedly throwing her racket to the floor, shouting to herself and clashing with the chair umpire over disputed line calls.
Fans were sympathetic over the effect the rain delay had on players.
One supporter had waited since 3 pm for the chance to see Cornet, saying she was determined to see some action before she had to fly back to Germany Friday.
"It's been a long afternoon, and it's tough for the players, they have to warm up and then cool down — it's hard for them mentally," said Barbara Isbanner.
But the weather appeared to have little effect on Kristina Kucova, who glided through her match with Viktoriya Tomova with the loss of just one game. The Slovak had caused an upset Monday after she knocked out Jelena Ostapenko.
The result means she has scored back-to-back WTA main draw wins for the first time in two years.