Wang Fa, 14, from mountainous areas of Cangyuan Wa autonomous county, Yunnan province, won the men's singles under 14 years old at the ASICS Tennis Junior Tour in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in late August. [Photo by Li Jianyi/For chinadaily.com.cn]
When he started learning tennis at age 8, Wang Fa — now 14 and the winner of a boy's singles title — didn't know a thing about a sport where "love" means nothing.
But after winning the under-14 title at the ASICS Tennis Junior Tour in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, in August, Wang has nothing but love for the game, and has become an internet sensation. His is known for carrying his tennis rackets in a bamboo basket, which definitely boosts his virtual recognition.
Wang, a member of the Va ethnic group in Cangyuan Va autonomous county, Yunnan province, was one of the first 10 children selected to play professional tennis at a local club in 2016.
"I was nervous at the beginning, because the outside world was so different from my home," he said, adding that tennis has helped him make more friends and get a better education.
Over the past six years, Wang, along with his peers at the Yunnan Wild Elephants Tennis Club, has made a tremendous effort to improve his skills and physical strength, including running nine kilometers and swinging his racket more than 7,000 times a day.
"If it were not for tennis, I would still be helping out my family with farmwork back home," he said.
Wang and his team have traveled to big cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Chengdu for tournaments over the past few years. The youngster's debut was in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, in 2017.
Talking about his habit of carrying his tennis gear in bamboo baskets — a symbol of the agrarian life for the Va ethnic group — Wang said he carried his rackets in such a way to honor his hometown.
"We always carry bamboo baskets when we work in the fields," he said.
Wang's parents didn't want him to learn tennis at first because they couldn't afford it. But the tennis club served up an ace of an offer by teaching him free of charge.
Wang's hometown, the mountainous Cangyuan Va autonomous county, has 67 villages and a population of more than 40,000. The county was lifted out of poverty in 2019.
For Wang, winning the ASICS Tennis Junior Tour title was the beginning of a promising future.
"I will head to the top spots on the professional stage," he said.
Zhang Xiaohong, Wang's head coach, said: "I want to take children to the outside world through tennis. I do believe we will have a second Li Na as a Grand Slam singles champion."
Li, of Wuhan, Hubei province, won the women's singles titles at both the 2011 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open.
Zhang, 55, who has been a tennis coach for more than 20 years, founded the Yunnan Wild Elephants Tennis Club in 2014, selecting around 20 talented local children and training them free of charge.
Children living in the mountainous areas usually have developed a spirit of enduring hardships and fighting hard, which are of great importance in playing professional tennis, Zhang said.
"The club aims to help more children in mountainous areas play professional sports. Without such a training program, they would have lost the chance to play professional tennis," he said
Zhang said the children live in simple dormitories, which were transformed from containers after the club was set up. There are four courts and a tennis wall to practice ground-strokes.
"Operation of the training program remained normal, even amid sporadic COVID-19 cases," he said.
After years of development, Zhang's club has expanded. Now, more than 70 players are being trained at the Yunnan base.
"We plan the establishment of more clubs nationwide," he said, adding that construction of tennis courts has begun at another club base in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province.
"More support should come from government authorities and companies to help us recruit more young tennis talent," Zhang added.