epa03556709 Li Na of China in action her match against Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the women?s singles final of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, 26 January 2013. EPA/MARK DADSWELL AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT |
While Li Na recovers from her Australian Open finals ankle injury with hopes of playing an exhibition in Hong Kong in three weeks, the tennis boom she unleashed with her French open title in 2011 shows no signs of abating. In fact, it’s only growing stronger as tennis takes a tight grip in the world’s most populous nation.
Li will now have a chance to compete in her home region after the WTA’s latest expansion, with an event now scheduled for 2014 in Wuhan south of Beijing. That will mark five tournaments in the upcoming WTA season in China.
There is no underestimating the drawing power of Li in China and elsewhere in the fast-growing tennis frontier of Asia.
“She’s massive. One is her persona, the way she presents herself is globally appealing, and the results she has produced has brought tennis to the forefront of everyone’s mind there,” said Peter Johnston, head of the WTA Asian office. “They’re very attracted to tennis as a new sport to develop, so we’ve got five WTA events in China next year and three at Challenger level.
“Another Grand Slam final just continues the story and keeps the foot on the gas as far as the momentum goes. It elevates her even further in Chinese stature in sport. There are about 40 Chinese girls on the WTA rankings and that’s going to increase. But she’s the poster girl.”
Li is also a Chinese social media phenomenon with 15 million followers on the equivalent of Twitter and sold 800,000 copies of her book. Up to 100 million viewers watched her historic French Open win two years ago.
As Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka ready for their semi-final match Friday evening under the lights on Rod Laver Arena, expectations are high. Not only are both players in top form, having torn through their respective Australian Open draws, but they have also provided show-stopping performances in Melbourne over the past two years.
Andy Murray’s point in the direction of his box after punching his ticket to a fourth Australian Open final on Thursday seemed to say it all. The Scot’s camp could breathe a sigh of relief after watching Murray defeat World No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-7(6), 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 in a thrilling semi-final match that featured equal parts drama and intensity.
Novak Djokovic has countless fans worldwide, but perhaps none bigger than three-month-old son Stefan. The World No. 1’s wife, Jelena, tweeted a photo of Stefan watching his dad on television during his quarter-final match against Milos Raonic at the Australian Open.
The singles semifinals, of course, stole all the headlines (well, except this one!) on Thursday at the Australian Open. That was always going to be the case with a lineup featuring Serena Williams vs. Madison Keys, Andy Murray vs. Tomas Berdych, and Maria Sharapova also in action.