Zheng happy to be out of China's state system

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's number two Zheng Jie has no plans to return to the state sports system and is happy with her first year of self-management despite the extra effort and lack of security it entailed.

Along with compatriots Li Na, Yan Zi and Peng Shuai, the 26-year-old was this year freed from the obligation to be managed by the China Tennis Association (CTA), and pay 65 percent of her winnings for the privilege.

CTA chief Sun Jinfang said last month she thought Zheng was in decline and, like other "less talented and more hardworking" players, would be better off back inside the national system.

Zheng, who finished last season ranked 35th in the world with $534,172 in winnings, said it was inevitable that the first year of managing herself would have been a learning experience.

"I am one of the first to try this and in the first year, I crossed the river feeling the stones," Zheng told China Weekly magazine. "My obligation is to try my best to get good results. As to whether I am suitable for self-management, I am not sure what is the standard we judge by, ranking or prize money?"

Zheng was the first Chinese player to reach the last four of a grand slam when she lost in the semi-finals at Wimbledon last year, and followed that up with a doubles bronze at the Beijing Olympics.

GREAT FREEDOM, GREAT RISK

After six years as a professional having all her playing schedule, travel, equipment and coaching arranged and paid for by the CTA, Zheng must now sort it out for herself.

"It is even more tiring to train myself," said the Sichuanese, who has chosen her husband as her coach.

"In the past when I was young I was only told by the coach and leaders what to do. Now I am grown up, I choose my own tournaments. Now I think more about wanting to play well. I am playing for myself."

Zheng said that although she was comfortable with the new deal, under which she pays just eight percent of her winnings to the state system, there was a potential downside in the loss of security.

"Self management means great freedom as well as great risk," she said. "For example, I made good money in 2009, but I have to maintain my performance every year to ensure my income.

"There will be a big loss if I drop in ranking or injured. In the past, such loss would be taken by the state system."

With the average annual salary in cosmopolitan Beijing being just $6,500, the $187,000 Zheng pocketed after tax in the first six months of this year should alone keep her comfortably enough off for the foreseeable future.

(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney and Liu Zhen; Editing by Peter Rutherford)