It has been an encouraging season so far for Wen Yu (Wendy) Zhang, currently the highest ranked Canadian behind Michelle Li.
The world No.55 was runner-up at the Ukraine Open, third at the Orleans Masters, and quarterfinalist at the Pan Am Individual Championships. She struck big at the Uber Cup, where she beat world No.19 Kim Ga Eun – her first defeat of a top 20 player.
At her first BWF World Championships, Zhang made the second round beating Myanmar’s Thet Htar Thuzar before she ran into the formidable figure of Carolina Marin.
“It’s exciting. It’s my very first World Championships,” said the 20-year-old. “Being here tells me that I am improving, that I am able to compete at a higher level. So for me, coming here was to study and learn from other top players, and hopefully to improve myself to get to another level.”
In her short career so far, Zhang has already impressed in the team competitions. At last year’s Uber Cup, playing third singles against Denmark, she beat the higher-ranked Line Kjaersfeldt in three games. A day later she helped Canada complete a 4-1 rout over Malaysia, with another three-game win.
At this year’s Uber Cup, she showed commendable composure facing Kim Ga Eun, recovering from a five-point deficit in the third game to take the match 22-20.
“I just looked at it like every other game I played,” Zhang said. “I was just trying to be patient and confident in myself. And I was just trying my best to play every rally like it is 0-0. I didn’t really think that much about who she was, or where she’s from. I was just trying to enjoy myself on court.”
National coach Jennifer Lee, who was in Zhang’s corner at the last Uber Cup, commends her attitude.
“She’s coachable, she listens and accepts your comments during the match,” Lee says. “I like the questions she asks during the intervals of a match.”
Lee has marked out some areas of improvement. “She has a lot of deceptive skills. Young players tend to use deception too much, but I’ve told her to use deception sparingly, like maybe she can use it once for every five or six regular shots. She also needs to build strength physically, in her lower and upper body. Against Carolina, all the points she won was through skill, not speed or power.”
Like other upcoming Canadian players, Zhang looks up to Michelle Li, for long the face of the country’s challenge in women’s singles.
“Of course, she’s an inspiration for me, I look up to her,” says Zhang. “There’s a lot I can learn from her. It just makes me want to push myself to train harder and one day become someone like her, who can be at the top.”
One problem in training, she says, is the level of sparring she has in her club, which has mostly recreational players. Like many of her peers, she’s considering training stints in Europe or Asia.
“In my club there are not many people competing internationally. So for me, it’s pretty hard because technically I’m like the only one. So sometimes I kind of question myself on what I’m doing, since I’m just basically by myself most of the time,” she says.
“When I was younger I trained in a province in China. I actually like that kind of training, because I believe they helped me to improve faster, and to get to a higher level faster too… I hope I can train overseas soon, and have better sparring. I want to be better, and win more tournaments, and compete at a higher level.”