By Nick Mulvenney
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's 'flyaway' policy, which allows top tennis players independence from the state system, is working well but may not be suitable for all sports, former grand slam doubles champion Yan Zi said. The Olympic bronze medalist, who made her debut appearance as a member of the advisory body to China's parliament last week, was one of the four players allowed their independence last year along with Zheng Jie, Li Na and Peng Shuai.
While Zheng and Li reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open vindicated the policy, Yan said, it might not prove to be a blueprint for all of China's 23,000 professional athletes.
"The results speak for themselves, no matter which system it is. A system that produces good playing records is a good one," the 25-year-old told Reuters on the sidelines of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).
"It depends on which kind of the sports it is, though. Some of the sports are not as fully professional as tennis. They still need support from the country. They don't have so much prize money as tennis."
The highlights of Yan's career have mainly come with Zheng in the doubles, winning Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2006 and the Olympic bronze in Beijing two years later.
Although they remain good friends -- Zheng was guest of honor at Yan's recent marriage to the son of a Shenzhen multi-millionaire -- they parted company last year.
"Last year Zheng Jie and I both felt we had been together for too long and after 10 years we had become too familiar to doubles specialists," Yan said.
"In 2006 they did not know us so we beat them by surprise. But eventually they got to know us better and worked out a way to beat us."
Yan has now teamed up with American Bethanie Mattek-Sands and the pair reached the last 16 at Melbourne Park, giving her hope that she might be able to win more grand slams in the future.
"I think my new partner and I have good chance in the grand slams," she said.
"When we first paired up at the Australian Open, we got to the quarter-finals and only lost to the Williams sisters in a close three-set match.
"I think after longer cooperation in more tournaments we can even do better than that."
Yan, who won her only WTA singles title in 2005, is also hoping to emulate Zheng in reviving her solo game, even though her ranking has slipped from a high of 40 in 2008 to her current 336.
"The success of Li and Zheng at this year's Aussie Open gave us such a confidence that we can also do what they can do," she said.
"I would like to try to play more singles but my low ranking is keeping me out of some events. So I am trying to get wild cards."
Yan is proud of her place in the ranks of China's tennis pioneers and looks forward to the day when her country ranks alongside Russia or the United States in terms of women's talent. "The situation will be better for the next generation of players because we have been the explorers and they can just follow us," she said. (Additional reporting by Liu Zhen; Editing by Peter Rutherford; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)