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Busted Racquet

Traffic jam in China sparks impromptu tennis matches

Busted Racquet

Tennis was once greeted with suspicion in China, but the recent success of its women players has led to a surprising boom in popularity.

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So much so that not only have newly formed country clubs in the country's wealthier regions and public courts become swamped with keen players, but tennis has found a new purpose as salvation to motorists stranded on log-jammed highways.

China is currently in the midst of its annual holiday, National Day, which celebrates the founding of the Communist Party. It comes at the end of the Mid-Autumn Festival. As a result, monumental traffic lines stretching more than 30 miles sprung up on the weekend, after travelers were urged to take to the roads to avoid packed train stations.

Perhaps predictably, a proper Carmageddon took place — not like those phony L.A. ones — with major highways quickly resembling parking lots and no one getting anywhere in a hurry.

But what once would have been a source for frustration instead turned into an excuse for some to bust out the rackets and dust the rust off the old backhand slice. Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, was stocked with several photographs of drivers playing games of impromptu tennis next to their inert vehicles and the state-run Xinhua news agency confirmed that many had used the game to pass the time.

Why not, right? A smooth hard court, ready-made lines and a crowd that doesn't exactly have much else to occupy its thoughts makes for the perfect makeshift Center Court.

This news reminded me of a conversation I had with Chinese female tennis player Zheng Jie at Wimbledon several years ago. Zheng, who has won two Grand Slam doubles titles and is ranked in the singles top 30, told me that the severe traffic in China had created some training issues for her early in her career.

She said that on more than one occasion she had gotten out of a car with her coach in stationary traffic to practice and undertake physical training drills by the side of the road in order to make best use of her time.

Some of the worst traffic last weekend was on the road between the capital Beijing and Tianjin. The two cities are linked by bullet train, but the offer of highways which were free of tolls for this weekend led many to hit the roads instead.

For those who didn't have rackets in their cars, popular activities were walking dogs, doing tai-chi or chatting with other drivers. Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, the sheer volume of traffic led to accidents, with six people killed when a tour bus collided with a container truck and burst into flames.

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