Naomi Osaka: Former US official praises growth of teenage player in China

Media playback is not supported on this device China can play out of age divisions – WTA Lifestyle and housing issues underlined what progress China has made over recent years, says a former US…

Naomi Osaka: Former US official praises growth of teenage player in China

Media playback is not supported on this device China can play out of age divisions – WTA

Lifestyle and housing issues underlined what progress China has made over recent years, says a former US official.

Naomi Osaka, 17, played a Grand Slam singles match for the first time and won the Sydney International junior title on Saturday.

“For a long time they made tremendous progress when it came to their development,” Shawn Lindsay, a member of the US delegation to China, told BBC Sport.

“I think the girls are proving what progress they have made.”

The US Tennis Association controversially declined to permit US Open competitor Zhang Shuai, 21, to play against Osaka in Sydney because the teenager was under-aged.

The US was criticised for its stance, with Jana Novotna, former Wimbledon women’s singles champion, saying she was “appalled and insulted” and accusing the US of a “slap in the face” to Zhang.

Lindsay said he was “really proud” of what China had achieved in the past three years, and that the WTA’s stance had “made it a champion” of women’s rights in Asia.

The WTA’s Shanghai tournament has agreed to operate at the same WTA sanctioned age division as in 2015, which meant that the tournament would provide cash prizes and additional seedings at this year’s showpiece event, which begins on 1 September.

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“We have to be clear about what we are talking about, one player plays at their own age,” Lindsay said.

“The WTA has a lot of locations but in Shanghai the number one court is the Rod Laver Arena, so it is out of the way. People could see the court and race to get there to see Osaka.

“It is what the WTA believes is best for tennis. It is not the case now or has ever been – both sides, WTA and Zhang Shuai have an obligation to compromise. It is part of their business to be able to play the sport they love.”

Chinese youth tennis has made great strides over the past decade, with Chang Kai, Zhang, Xu Yifan and Yu Sze Yi playing in events such as Wimbledon, the French Open and the Australian Open.

“I am just as concerned about what is happening at the grass roots level,” Lindsay said.

“The government provides lots of support for young athletes in China. It seems as though they are investing a lot of money in their tennis facilities but I believe most youth players don’t have places to live at the grass roots level.

“I don’t think either side should be so self-righteous that you can ignore everything else about the situation. It is a tricky line to tread.

“The United States should be concerned about their players’ quality of tennis. The grass roots are a bit of a problem because people are putting money into private facilities but not enough into offering them at a grass roots level.”

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