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Terracotta Warriors Ready For Duty


Warriors© Getty ImagesRafael Nadal's terracotta warrior stood guard at The Championships in 2008.

Terracotta warriors have become synonymous with tennis in Shanghai since models of the eight players competing at the 2007 Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai were specially commissioned. While those eight original terracotta warriors are now to be found in the Wimbledon museum, five new terracotta warriors will soon become a permanent fixture at the Shanghai Qi Zhong Tennis Center.

Two Chinese sculptors, a father and son, who are based in Shanghai, but were not involved in the original project, have been charged with making terracotta models of the five former champions in Shanghai – Roger Federer, Lleyton Hewitt, David Nalbandian and Novak Djokovic, who all won the Tennis Masters Cup crown, and Nikolay Davydenko, who won the inaugural Shanghai Rolex Masters trophy last year.

The terracotta warriors will be completed in time to be displayed along the "Champions Avenue" of the Qi Zhong Stadium during this year’s Shanghai Rolex Masters, to be held from 10-17 October.

The two sculptors, father Chen Daotan, 92, and his son, Chen Haiyan, have nearly finished Federer’s model, with just some final details to be added, but are still working on the sculptures of the heads of the other four players.

The process begins with conceiving the design from the 5-10 photos they have of the player, before sculpting the head with mud, adding detail polish, molding, and then finalising the shape and colouring. All five terracotta statues are approximately two metres tall. However, the sculptors "stretch" the legs of them a little more to make them better match the body type of western people.

While Federer, Djokovic and Davydenko all had models made in 2007, Chen Haiyan explained that it is not possible simply to use the same measurements and data that was recorded on that occasion. "For people who work outside, including tennis players who play outdoors during most of the season, the muscle, skin and texture of their faces changes a lot even in just one year; the changes in three years would be substantial."

The sculptors strive to perfect the minutia of a player's face, but expressions can be particularly difficult to capture. "Hewitt's expression is the hardest one to catch," they explained. "He always looks very intense in the pictures we have; he seldom looks calm and peaceful."

One player they are hoping will lift the trophy in Shanghai this year, and therefore become the sixth terracotta warrior to be created, is World No. 1 Rafael Nadal. "Nadal would be an interesting one for us to do a sculpture of, his eyebrows are just so special," said Chen Haiyan.  "Unfortunately Marat Safin has retired because from sculptors’ eyes, he has the perfect face."

Is it enough to tempt the charismatic and largely unpredictable Russian out of retirement? Who knows?  

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