Written by R A A T A H, CNN
The 27-year-old Beijing native is ranked 133rd in the world and won one match at last year’s Australian Open
Peng Shuai’s story begins in an overwhelmingly white Tianjin, in China’s northeast.
“I have always felt different because my parents are from this Northeast region,” she tells CNN in a telephone interview from Beijing. “I was very aware of that growing up. When I used to attend the gym, people would come up to me and ask me to do something.”
Less commonly known, however, is that in 2006, at the age of 10, she won her first professional match in Tianjin against a ranked player from Uzbekistan, while wearing oversized red sunglasses and holding an electric fan next to her head.
“It was shocking because at the time I didn’t believe that I had a talent for tennis,” she says. “I started playing tennis with 10,000 other kids. A lot of them weren’t playing tennis because they didn’t know anyone who was playing tennis. The thing I realized immediately is that my accent wasn’t a problem and that I had a lot of talent.”
A formula for success
At the age of 12, she attended the Mary Munro Tennis Academy in England where she still resides today, returning to China to play the national championship there in 2013.
“My dream is to win a Grand Slam,” she says. “A win would mean so much for my country and my family.”
In order to achieve that, Peng has a formula she believes will work: “I need to work hard, stay focused and have positive attitude.”
Peng’s subsequent performances have been impressive: in 2015, she won one title, and took the Jiangsu province title for three years in a row from 2012. She’s also been regular top 100 finishers in the rankings.
She reached her first Grand Slam final at the 2015 Australian Open, losing to Czech Karolina Pliskova, but came back the following year to win her second, at Wimbledon.
She has also competed at every Grand Slam tournament and won a total of five singles titles at the Grand Slam level.
Related content 27 reasons to love China
For now, her focus is likely to remain in the Chinese domestic scene, where she currently has several big tournaments, including the Lipton International Players Championships in Florida, China Open and Taiwan Open, and the Wuhan Open in the spring.
She is ranked 133rd in the world in singles, 20th in doubles, and 30th in mixed doubles.
Though still humble and outspoken about her origins, Peng has also shied away from dwelling on them and instead embraced the other aspects of her story.
“It has brought me much success and a lot of a good things,” she says of the different, Asian-influenced parts of her life. “But having become a professional athlete, I don’t have to be reminded to be an Asian.
“I am just me now.”
For more news, follow @CNBCpicen_.