History maker Jie hears the great call of China
Forget Andy Murray, who was watched by a mere 10.5 million viewers on BBC on Monday night. The remarkable Jie Zheng was watched by an estimated television audience of over 100 million in China on Tuesday as she became the first woman from that vast country to reach the last four at Wimbledon. The audience in Shanghai alone was 14 million.
Zheng, ranked 133 in the world having been No786 at the turn of the century, also became the first wild-card entry to reach the semi-finals here as she beat Nicole Vaidisova, the 18th seed, 6-2, 5-7, 6-1.
The most heart-warming piece in this story is that Zheng, who turns 25 on Saturday, will not pocket one penny of the £187,500 in prize money she is guaranteed so far. She will donate her winnings to the fund set up following the earthquake in the Sichuan Province in south-west China in May which killed 60,000 people and left five million homeless.
“I would like to give all the money,” she said, “but some will go to the tennis association. Apart from this I will do some charity work when I get back after Wimbledon.”
She had already knocked out the 30th seed, Dominika Cibulkova, in the first round and Britain's Elena Baltacha in the second. Then she beat the No 1 seed, Ana Ivanovic, followed by Agnes Szavay, the 15th, in the fourth round. Yesterday she lost a set for the first time. Next up is Serena Williams.
Granted, that 133rd ranking might be a little misleading. Zheng was actually as high as No27 in August last year, but she slipped back following surgery on her left ankle. Furthermore, she is already a Wimbledon champion, having won the doubles title here two years ago. But the 5ft 4in girl was still very much second favourite to beat Vaidisova, who is 8in taller and hits the ball a lot harder. However, Zheng used her height, or lack of it, to get right down to the low balls - she also hit some astonishing 80mph aces which skidded through at about knee height to the Czech.
Zheng almost gave the impression that she is doing little more here than passing the time until the Olympics in Beijing in August. “Maybe this is my last tournament before the Olympics,” she said. “We want to try our best in the Olympics. Tennis in China is very important because we won Olympic gold in the doubles.