WUHAN, Oct.28 - Not so long ago, even for the most diehard Chinese tennis fans, the names of the country 's male tennis players are not household. 

But after years of obscurity, China's male players are working their way to the world stage. 

"It takes time to develop the men's tennis in China, but we are at work on it, and some progress has been made in the past few years," said Xia Jiaping, former Asian number one and now a national team coach, at the Sixth Chinese City Games on Sunday. 

"A couple of years ago, our men players could only take part in few low-class tournaments, but now they have got around ten tournaments to play." 

However, Xia, invited to lead Team Wuhan at the City Games only for the junior, admitted that the Chinese men players are unable to make it as well as the women's team. 

The peak period of Chinese men's tennis came in the early 1990' s when Pan Bing was ranked 180th on the world rankings, the best ever for Chinese male players. 

Xia, Pan's teammate then, had been previously ranked 235th. The singles gold medal won by Pan at the Beijing Asian Games in 1990 was seen as the swansong for the team. 

"The national team is putting more attention on men's part now, and implant women's experience into the men's competition," said Xu Xin, another national team's coach, who coached Chinese male number four Zeng Shaoxuan. 

The 26-year-old Zeng is making giant leap recently, scoring the best career rankings of 647 in the world. Zeng made his mark in this season's China Open when he only lost to defending champion Marcos Baghdatis from Cyprus 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 in the first round. 

"The gap between the world's top players and us is becoming smaller," said Zeng. "Maybe they are physically stronger than us, but what we need most is experience and more matches." 

Zeng is also the best men's doubles player in China, ranked 224th in the world and partnering Yu Xinyuan to make something of note in the challenge events this season. 

"For men's tennis, we also follow the path of women's experience, starting from the doubles event and then inspiring the singles," Xu said. 

Li Ting/Sun Tiantian stunned the world in 2004 Athens Olympic Games, winning for China the first-ever Olympic gold medal in tennis after beating Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual from Spain 6-3, 6-3 in the final. 

Following them, the Chinese girls highlighted the world tennis courts over the past three years characterized by Zheng Jie/Yan Zi 's doubles titles in the Australian Open and the Wimbledon in 2006. 

"To be honest, we are in an embarrassing talent drought after Pan and Xia's retirement," said Xu. "But the situation is getting better and better since some teenagers with potential joined the team, including Nanjing's Zhang Ze, Wuhan's Bai Yan and Chen Sa, who are now competing at the City Games. 

"Besides, Chinese women's doubles gold medal at the Olympics also promoted the sport in China." 

Although Chinese men's players are eyeing the world top level, the more immediate task is for them to gain their ground in forthcoming Beijing Olympic Games. 

"We have four wildcards at the Beijing Olympics, so Zeng/Yu will have chance to compete with the world's elite, and it is not impossible to talk about the medals," said Xu.