ZHANG Ning is the “big sister” of the Chinese national badminton team who continues to excel despite her age.
And the steely determination not to finish second best is driving the 32-year-old shuttler on to fulfil her goal to retain the Olympic women's singles title on home soil in Beijing next year.
Many thought that she would retire after winning the Olympic gold in Athens in 2004 but Zhang Ning kept on producing outstanding results. And she is playing in yet another World Championships at the Putra Stadium in Kuala Lumpur.
The top seeded Zhang Ning went on court yesterday to beat South Korean junior Jang Young-soo 21-9, 21-14 in a second-round match.
Although the outcome of the match was never beyond doubt, the 1.75m-tall player who hails from Liaoning Province, was just glad that she got over it.
“I have been training so long and it's just a relief to go out and play your first match. Even though the South Korean was not expected to give me a hard time, I prepared well for the match,” said Zhang Ning.
“It is important for me to focus on every match because I am the only Chinese player in the top half of the draw.”
Zhang Ning is determined to live up to her top billing but she has to watch out for Holland's Yao Jie and France's Pi Hongyan, who are tipped to be her opponents in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. Both the China-born players have beaten Zhang Ning before.
The other three Chinese players – Lu Lan, Zhu Ling and second seed Xie Xingfang – are in the bottom half of the draw.
Having been in the national team for the last 16 years, Zhang Ning is still finding it a joy to go through the rigours of daily training.
“I had thoughts of quitting earlier but my coach (Li Yongbo) still believed in me and asked me to stay on at least for a year more. I still love badminton a lot,” recalled Zhang Ning.
That was in 2002 and she won the world title in Birmingham the following year, which prompted her to stay on for a longer time.
After finishing as the runner-up to Xingfang in two previous editions of the world championships in Anaheim in 2005 and in Madrid last year, Zhang Ning said that this would be her last outing in the series.
“I will give my best shot to win it again because I will definitely stop after the Olympics next year,” she said.
(source: The Star Online)