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Girls of ’05: First BJKCJ Finals since 1985


Girls of ’05: First BJKCJ Finals since 1985

After Paulette Moreno led the under-16 girls’ team to a sixth place finish at the inaugural World Youth Cup Finals in 1985, a dry spell ensued for the next two decades until the one-two punch of Zhang Ling and Venise Chan came along to take Hong Kong to the promised land once again.

Venise Chan first joined the Michael Chang Stars of the Future programme when she was 7 before she progressed to the Regional Squads, moving from C to B to A until she was recruited by the in-coming new HKCTA Head Coach, Benny Lin, to the newly-formed Talent Group in 2002.  When Zhang Ling came to Hong Kong in 2004, she was also placed with the Talent Group, as did Jessica Yang when she arrived a year later.

The girls thrived under the guidance of Coach Lin, himself a former No. 4-ranked junior and reached a career-high ATP No. 240 as a professional. He medalled four times at the Asian Games, including winning a silver in the team event and a bronze in singles in 1994. Before his arrival at HKCTA in 2002, he was the playing-captain and coach of the Chinese Taipei Davis Cup team.  He also worked with a number of top ATP and WTA touring professionals from Taiwan – Rendy Lu Yen-Hsun (career-high ATP No. 33), Jimmy Wang Yeu-Tzuoo (career-high ATP No. 85), and Hsieh Su-Wei (career-high WTA No. 23).

In 2004, Venise Chan won a couple of ITF Grade 4s in Hanoi and Damascus and arrived in Thailand for the 2005 Junior Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Qualifying ranked No. 161.  Meanwhile, Zhang Ling captured the Grade 4 Hong Kong Open Junior Championships towards the tail-end of 2004 but reached the quarterfinals of the Grade 1 Mitsubishi-Lancer and the Asian Closed Junior Tennis Championships the following year to push her ranking up to No. 101 by mid-April of 2005.

At the 2005 Junior Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Qualifying in Bangkok, the highest-ranked player was No. 92 Shayna McDowell, who, in only her fourth career pro level event, reached the final of the US$50,000 Bendigo.  Her WTA Ranking jumped from No. 1059 to No. 489 overnight just two months prior. Still, the Aussies were seeded 2nd behind a Chinese team featuring future WTA No. 22 Zhang Shuai and Han Xinyun in singles.  Third seed was New Zealand, led by Oceania Closed Junior Championships finalist Ellen Barry, who went on to capture the GB1 Asia/Oceania Closed Championships in October 2005 to finish with a year-end ranking of No. 26.

Coach Lin, who also captained Hong Kong Junior Fed Cup Team: “On the first day of practice in Thailand, the players had a 2-hour workout after lunch; mostly just trying to find their rhythm and acclimatizing to the local conditions.  We closed our session with light fitness training. We then had a very important team meeting where I explained to everyone the team’s expectations and their individual responsibilities and duties to this team. Everyone must know their roles clearly, and carry them effectively, in order for this team to succeed.”

On the second day, Coach Lin arranged the girls to play practice matches against the No. 2-seeded Aussies. Zhang Ling, Venise Chan, and Geraldine Leong all had a tough time beating their counterparts.  However, they gained important match familiarity and picked up some of their opponents’ tendencies and weaknesses along the way. On the third day, Coach Lin arranged practice matches against Japan and played No. 1 through 3 in singles and No. 1 in doubles. Zhang Ling and Venise Chan began to show signs of acclimatization and won their respective singles matches as a timely confidence-booster.

After solid wins against Sri Lanka, Chinese Taipei, and No. 4 seed Uzbekistan in the round robins, Hong Kong beat Malaysia 3-0 in the quarterfinals to reach the semis with both Zhang Ling and Venise Chan still undefeated in singles. As expected, their next match was against No. 2 seed Australia, which had No. 110 Michelle Brycki and No. 277 Tyra Calderwood aside from the aforementioned McDowell.

Venise Chan gave the territory a thunderous start by winning the last eleven games in a 6-2 6-0 demolition job of Tyra Calderwood to give Hong Kong a 1-0 advantage. Although the Aussie is ranked modestly at No. 277 on the ITF World Junior Circuit, she also held a WTA Ranking of No. 1209.  In 2004, she won both the Girls’ 16U singles and doubles titles at the Australian National Hardcourt Championships in Gosford.

However, Shayna McDowell managed to come from a set down to beat Zhang Ling at the one spot 0-6 6-2 6-1 before she teamed up with Brycki to beat Zhang Ling and Venise Chan in the deciding doubles to give Australia a 2-1 victory.  “Venise mixed up her shots well with consistency. Whatever the Aussie girl threw at her, she was there to counter it, using Calderwood’s pace. Her opponent had no answer to Venise’s counter-punching game and she was still in dreamland when the match was over,” Coach Lin commented right after the match.

“Zhang Ling tried hard to hang in there, but her opponent was the better player today. McDowell’s forehand was amazing, as she could hit winners from all over the court. Zhang Ling put up a good fight and the two exchanged many long rallies.  But in the end, it was McDowell’s power and accuracy that took control of the match.  In the doubles, we were outclassed by a very strong team. We threw everything at them, but our girls just didn’t quite have the tools (volleying, court positioning, and most importantly, doubles instinct) to execute fully yet,” he added

The Aussies progressed to the final against No. 1 seed China, with Han Xinyun beating Michelle Brycki 6-2 4-6 6-0 and Zhang Shuai finishing off Shayna McDowell 6-4 4-6 6-3 to give the Chinese a first place finish.  Meanwhile, Hong Kong was faced with a make-or-break third place playoff situation against No. 3 seed New Zealand, with the winner going through to the World Finals and the loser a plane ride home.

On this occasion, the girls won the match on mental strength, not technicality, physicality, or anything else for that matter, according to Coach Lin.  Venise Chan defeated Kairangi Vano, who won the 2005 New Zealand 18 & Under Indoor Championships, 6-3 6-4 to hand over a 1-0 lead to Zhang Ling. She duly beat world No. 99 Ellen Barry 6-1 6-0 to give the team a 2-0 victory.  The top 3 finish here in Bangkok punched their ticket to the Barcelona World Finals.

“It was exciting to compete against the best teams in Asia. It was a good test for our girls, but most importantly for me personally, I was just proud of what we have achieved in a short time. Most of the teams in the finals came from a long history of winning. Yet, here we were, a team from a place where the tennis communities from other countries don’t necessarily take us seriously. So yeah, it felt great,” reflected Coach Lin.

“I think it’s a combination of applying a more intensive approach to local development and successful talent recruitment.  When I first arrived in Hong Kong, training was kind of soft and lacking in substance, so I thought why not apply what the rest of the world of was doing in terms of intensity, quality, and volume.”

Junior Fed Cup Asia/Oceania Qualifying
Bangkok, Thailand
May 9-14, 2005

Final Positions (Brackets denote seedings):

1. China(1)
2. Australia(2)
3. Hong Kong(5)
———————————- Top 3 to World Finals
4. New Zealand(3)
5. Uzbekistan(4)
6. Japan
7. Malaysia
8. Indonesia
9. Korea(7)
10. Thailand(6)
11. India
12. Chinese Taipei
13. Philippines
14. Singapore
15. Sri Lanka

By the time the World Finals in Barcelona came around, Zhang Ling was ranked No. 57 and Venise Chan No. 67, with the fast-improving Jessica Yang Zi-Jun now coming in as the third player on the roster.  The girls drew Argentina, France, and USA in Group A.  After Alize Cornet led eventual runner-up France to a 3-0 victory over Hong Kong, the team defeated 2004 champion Argentina 3-0.  Facing mighty USA, both Venise Chan and Zhang Ling fought tooth and nail before they were upended by Kimberly Couts 7-6(6) 3-6 6-4 and Julia Cohen 6-3 4-6 6-3 respectively. Following a somewhat disappointing loss against the Dutch, the girls then beat No. 5 seed and the previous year’s runner-up Canada to finish 11th overall amongst the world best.

Venise Chan: “I believe that was my first tournament playing on a clay court. We all need to adapt our strategies and game plans to the unique demands of each playing surface. While the clay court environment presents new challenges, it also provides an opportunity to learn how to adapt my approach to different conditions.  It was fun for me to try and figure out how to beat my opponent.  I was fearless back then.”

Zhang Ling: “For a young player, the experience of the Finals in Spain really opened my eyes. Being able to compete with the top players of our age group from different countries and regions around the world inspired me to work harder to improve and become more professional in training and in competition. I saw how good some of the other girls were and understood I needed to push myself in order to get to that level.”

Junior Fed Cup Finals
Barcelona, Spain
Sep 26-Oct 1, 2005

Final Positions:

1. Poland
2. France
3. Czech Republic
4. Spain
5. Brazil
6. Russia
7. Australia
8. USA
9. Netherlands
10. China
11. Hong Kong
12. Canada
13. Venezuela
14. Argentina
15. Morocco
16. South Africa

At year’s end junior world rankings of 2005, Zhang Ling finished at No. 40 and Venise Chan No. 45.  By March 2006, all three girls, including Jessica Yang, were ranked in the top 100. Venise Chan went on to peak at No. 24 in May 2006 after reaching the GB1 Asian Closed Junior Tennis Championships, while Zhang Ling reached a career-high No. 16 in August 2007 after winning back-to-back ITF Grade 1s at the Mitsubishi-Lancer in Philippines and Chief Minister’s Cup in Malaysia.  Jessica Yang peaked at No. 22 in June 2008 after she reached the final of the GB1 Asian Closed Junior Tennis Championships.

After junior tennis, Venise Chan earned a four-year scholarship to attend the University of Washington where she became a three-time All-American, reaching a career-high NCAA D1 ranking of No. 9 in singles and No. 6 in doubles.  She then played full-time on the pro circuit for two years after graduation and peaked at WTA No. 340 and captured six Futures titles in singles and two in doubles.  In 2006, she was the Hong Kong No. 1 in both the women’s and junior divisions. She has represented Hong Kong in the Billie Jean King Cup, Asian Games, All China Games, Asian Championships, East Asian Games, and World University Games.  She is a contracted pro as captain of the Major League Pickleball Australia (MLPA) team, Asia Aces, and currently sits on HKCTA’s Pickleball working group. She has worked in finance for the past seven years.

Zhang Ling became a full-time touring pro until she retired in September 2020. She was the Hong Kong No. 1 from 2007-2018, and reached a career-high WTA No. 184 in singles and No. 219 in doubles.  She captured 14 Futures singles and 7 doubles titles in her career. She was a silver medallist at the 2013 Asian Championships.   She has represented Hong Kong in the Billie Jean King Cup, Asian Games, All China Games, and East Asian Games. She has since captained the Billie Jean King Cup team and appointed Nissin Foods Sports Ambassador and became mentor of the Nissin Foods Orange Tennis Community Programme. She has been helping out at the WTA 250 event as part of the match-day emcee crew and assisted in organising Kids’ Day activities. She was accepted to the WTA Coach Inclusion Program and is finishing up online for now, with one more trip to shadow a WTA coach and play in a real tournament.  Meanwhile, she has also embarked on the ITF Level 3 Coaching course.  “I enjoy very much being on court with the players,” says Zhang Ling.