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Dignified defeat

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James Reynolds | 19:08 UK time, Thursday, 3 July 2008

Zheng Jie waves as she leaves the court after being beatenZheng Jie's dramatic Wimbledon run is over.

It's almost two in the morning in Beijing and I've just watched her lose her semi-final against Serena Williams (one of the commentators on Beijing local TV calls Serena Williams "Xiao Wei" - "little sister". Serena's older sister Venus gets the name "Da Wei" - "big sister".)

There was plenty of excitement as the game began...

"Zheng Jie should strengthen her serve," one summariser offered drily as a tip (turned out to be a pretty good bit of advice).

A reporter on a mobile phone from Wimbledon said that Zheng Jie had been seen smiling during pre-match practice - this was generally interpreted as a positive sign.

But the smile didn't help all that much. The first set was pretty one-sided - though we did hear someone shout the Chinese word "Jiayou" ("Go!") from the crowd.

The Chinese commentators tried to make the most of it.

"Zheng Jie has already surpassed expectations in this tournament," one of them said reassuringly.

The second set had some much better moments for Zheng Jie (so much so that the Chinese friend I was watching with jumped off the couch with excitement at various points).

"She has a tough mind," said the commentator proudly.

In the end, Zheng Jie lost in a second set tie-break. Not sure how many Chinese managed to stay awake to see it (the curse of the seven-hour time difference with London).

Zheng Jie's run at Wimbledon has taken this country by surprise. She wasn't chosen as one of the faces of the Beijing Olympic Games. Wherever you go in Beijing you see posters or billboards of divers, ping-pong players, and basketball players modelling clothes or sunglasses or licking ice creams. But no Zheng Jie.

The Olympic sponsors may now have to redo their adverts.


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