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January 16, 2021

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Hua yearns for return of competitive tennis

AT the 2008 Australian Open semifinals, Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga produced what was arguably one of his career-best performances to stun second seed Spaniard Rafael Nadal.

Tsonga, then world ranked 38 and competing in only his fifth Grand Slam, surprised even himself as he upset the odds to storm into the final. He was so good that Nadal did not have a break point until the second game of the third set.

That spirited display by the Frenchman won him fans the world over, one of them from distant Shanghai.

“I remember that game very well. I was in Australia and watched the game live. He took out Rafa in an hour and a half,” said Hua Runhao, then just 12, when asked what prompted him to pick tennis over other sports that the Chinese have come to dominate like badminton and table tennis.

“My dad played tennis too, so that was easy (decision for me),” Hua said. “You can say he was my early hitting partner.

“I also wasn’t the strongest kid. I kept falling sick as a child. My parents thought some exercise or doing sports would help. So I took some early lessons in the sport. That’s how I got started.”

Young Hua won several singles and doubles championships in the U10 and U12 competitions, and several shades of medals at the National Games in China. He moved a notch up, competing at the Australian Open juniors event in 2014.

With his parents backing his choice of the sport, Hua left for the United States to hone his skills. He enjoyed some success there too, becoming the Midwest regional singles champion and doubles runner-up of NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association). In 2018, he was selected to All American after leading the Michigan University tennis team to last 16 in both the team and singles events of NCAA.

“I will use the word multi-dimensional,” he said, when asked how the US training helped his game. “In China, you are taught one way how to play, how to hit the ball, but when you go to the US, they do things differently. Every coach has a different idea on how to play, how to hit the ball. You basically learn through different coaches about their ideas, their understanding of tennis.

“In college, you play almost every weekend. You see different players but there is always competition out there. All those players come from around the world, so you get to see how they do it elsewhere.”

Back in China, Hua won one singles and three doubles championships on China tour last year till the pandemic put paid to his plans, especially hurting his bid to move up in the rankings. But Hua, whose current Chinese ranking in singles is No. 9 and No. 6 in doubles, continued to train and “tried best to stay focused by watching videos.”

“I practiced more and tried to get some things right,” he said. “It was still four to four and a half hours of training on the practice courts. Off the court, I traveled a little less with all tournaments canceled.

“The Chinese Tennis Association got us some tournaments to play, so that means there were some competitions going on, some prize money to cover other costs … But I know myself and some other players are eager to have the international tournaments back.”

While others may have struggled to keep themselves motivated in the midst of the pandemic shutdown, Hua insists it was not an issue for him.

“Motivation is very simple, because I want to do this … I want to play. I had the option when I graduated to get a job or play tennis professionally, and I chose this. So motivation is not a worry.”

For now, he “just wants to play hard, as many tournaments as possible, and win some of them.”

“That is my goal for 2021. Without the international tournaments, it is a big hit for tennis players because you live by the rankings, you live by those prize money.”


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