Tennis fans were already calling her “Queenwen” before her Roland Garros main-draw debut, but Zheng Qinwen is already guaranteed to leave Paris with a considerably larger crown.

The 19-year-old is in the midst of a breakthrough season that saw her both qualify for the Australian Open in January and earn a Top 70 debut at the start of the clay swing. With two wins at Roland Garros—including a signature result over 2018 champion Simona Halep—Zheng will assuredly better her career-high ranking at the end of the tournament and will have a chance to move up even higher should she reach the second week.

Get to know the Wuhan native looking to follow the trail blazed by Li Na, China’s first Grand Slam champion at this very tournament in 2011.


WATCH: From the brink of defeat, Zheng clawed back to stun Halep in three sets in her first Roland Garros main draw.

The Basics

Zheng hails from a talented generation of teenagers that includes US Open champion Emma Raducanu and runner-up Leylah Fernandez, Marta Kostyuk, and Clara Tauson, but anyone with an in-depth knowledge of the game knew the Chinese youngster was one to watch. The fact that she hailed from the same province as Li Na, whose major victories were long predicted to open the veritable floodgates from the world’s most populous country, added an extra element of fate to the equation.

“In that moment I was still a child and then she gave me a dream that, oh, the Asian player, the Chinese player, also can won the Grand Slam,” she told press on Thursday. “In that moment that I have the dream in my heart that I want to do it like her.”

Her powerful game, first crafted by famed coach Carlos Rodriguez at his Beijing academy, helped her reach a pair of junior Grand Slam semifinals in 2019. Primed to transition to pro tournaments the following season, the Wuhan-born global pandemic threatened to derail her dreams entirely.

Undaunted by the scariest time in modern history, Zheng headed to Europe and traveled to tournaments by car, aiming to avoid the epidemiological uncertainty of an airplane.

"We were driving from Barcelona to Germany, to Italy, to the Czech Republic," she told the WTA in March. "Seventeen hours, 22 hours plus stopping to eat. Looking back, it's like, 'Wow, I can't believe I did that.' Spending one day and a half in a car just to play a tournament - not even a WTA, an ITF. But it was like an adventure. It was a really good experience for me.”

I feel young people have to go out and fight for their dreams. Zheng Qinwen


The Latest

Though her game looks tailor-made for hard courts, Zheng does most of her training on clay in Barcelona so that her aggressive style may become adaptable to all surfaces.

“On clay, I naturally have more patience than on hard courts. For me, the hard-court game must be aggressive and fast. But when I arrive on clay, my mentality is that now is the time I have to be patient—because it's clay and going slow.”

Patience is proving key for Zheng, who lost to Simona Halep in the semifinals of their Melbourne encounter to start 2022 but earned her first big win against Sloane Stephens on the green clay in Charleston.

That result pales in comparison to her rematch with Halep at the Romanian’s favorite tournament. Trailing by a set and a break, Zheng played thoughtful offense and kept her vaunted opponent off-balance with heavy topspin.

By match’s end, the teenager had displayed a level of variety far greater than even Li’s own ruthlessly effective hitting, a testament to Zheng’s dedication to studying the game’s greats on video.

“I'm watching a lot,” she explained in press. “Djokovic, and then of course Roger Federer, Nadal, all the best players, and yeah, others that are the best.”

Why It Matters

Zheng’s arrival to prominence comes about a year too late for the windfall she would have undoubtedly encountered as China’s next tennis star. The WTA had been waiting for a face to put on its decade-long expansion into the country since Li Na’s sudden retirement in 2014; their decision to suspend all Chinese tournaments in response to the censorship of former doubles No. 1 Peng Shuai instead means Zheng cannot expect to play her hometown Wuhan Open anytime soon.

None of that, however, is likely to hinder Zheng’s ascent. As evidenced by her Spanish training base, hers has never been a provincial approach to sporting success, which, in yet another way, makes her reminiscent of Li Na herself. Without the looming presence of a once-brutal China swing, Zheng is completely free to build a career completely on her terms, a scenario it appears she wouldn’t have any other way.

"I feel young people have to go out and fight for their dreams," she told the WTA. "Inside I always believed I could be better, I just had to do it.”