Chinese Juniors Training for Tennis at Hilton Head
With its sights set on the 1988 Summer Olympics, the Chinese national junior tennis team traveled halfway around the globe to train at this tiny hotbed of tennis.
“We decided to come here to learn modern training methods and improve our experience. America is a super tennis country,” said Jiang Hong Wei, who coaches the five-member squad.
Their arrival at this resort sea island earlier this month marked the first time a tennis team from the communist nation journeyed to the United States for instruction. Further south, the Chinese Davis Cup squad is training in Florida.
Home this summer for the juniors is the Van der Meer World Class Training Center nestled amid palmettos, pines and posh condominiums.
With a population of 18,000, Hilton Head Island boasts more than 200 tennis courts and is the year-round residence of players such as Evonne Goolagong and Stan Smith. In addition to Dennis Van der Meer, Rod Laver operates a training center on the island, which hosts the Family Circle Cup women’s event each spring.
Jiang, 28, who teaches at the Insitute of Physical Culture in Nanking, said tennis in China usually takes a back seat to other sports such as volleyball, gymnastics and ping pong. But he said the nation wanted to be competitive in tennis for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea.
“Now we must get ready. If we’re to achieve a top player in the world, we have a long way to go,” he said. “Maybe we can achieve a champion, but we’ll have to work hard.”
He said the team practices about six hours a day, and every day the students study English. There’s an interpreter on hand, but Jiang said language hasn’t been a training problem because “tennis language (we) all can speak.”
With the busy schedule, there’s not much time for distractions. Jiang said the team tries to watch televised tennis matches in their rooms and hopes to see the U.S. Open in New York in September.
The juniors will play in about 10 U.S. tournaments through October before moving on to junior Davis Cup comptetitions in Hong Kong, Thailand and Japan.
Ling Ming, 15, the top Chinese player in her age group, said through her coach that her footwork and technique had improved since she arrived at Hilton Head.
Zhang Jou Hua, China’s top-ranked 16-year-old, said he liked the opportunity of getting match experience and playing against tougher competition.
John Hill, 31, the Van der Meer pro working with the team, said his young charges approach the game with intensity and have shown marked improvement already.
“They haven’t had exposure to tennis as much as this,” he said.
Hill also said language wasn’t a problem, adding, “You can talk with your racket.”