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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Peng, Benhabiles Team Up

Peng Shuai, one of three Chinese players in the Top 50 of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour Singles Rankings, announced on New Year's Day a brand new partnership with world-renowned tennis coach Tarik Benhabiles, as she begins taking her game to the next level. The pair began training last month in Florida, and they will continue to work together full-time throughout 2009. Peng has quietly become an international tennis sensation over the last few years, best known for her two-fisted groundstrokes and coming up with particularly excellent results on hardcourts. In 2005 she defeated a slew of Top 10 players - including handing Kim Clijsters her only loss in 23 summer hardcourt matches - and made it all the way up to No.31 in the world herself, which at the time was the highest ranking ever for a Chinese player (it has since been surpassed by Li Na and Zheng Jie). In 2008, Peng reached two singles finals and won two doubles titles on the Tour, eventually finishing the season ranked No.40. But coaching has been an issue in the past for the 22-year-old since she split with former coach Zhang Depei; aiming for a positive breakthrough in 2009, Peng has been looking for another committed cooperation with a new coach - and she seems to have found it. Benhabiles, a former professional tennis player himself, reached a career-high of No.22 on the ATP World Tour Rankings and represented France in Davis Cup. He captured the Roland Garros junior singles title in 1981 and the French National Championships in 1986. He ended his playing career in 1992 and started to coach a young Andy Roddick, taking the American superstar into the Top 10 in 2003. Besides a strong relationship with Roddick, Benhabiles has worked with other top players, including Benjamin Becker, Ivo Karlovic and Gael Monfils. He is also the founder of the Tarik Benhabiles Tennis Academy, an elite tennis school in Florida that helps create and train future tennis stars. "Peng Shuai is a disciplined player with many weapons and superior internal strengths," Benhabiles said. "She is a girl of destiny and I expect her to be in the top group of the rankings by year's end."

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