WTA hail Li as China production line continues

Tue Sep 24, 2013 7:35am EDT
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By Patrick Johnston

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - WTA chief Stacey Allaster hailed Li Na's rise as a key factor behind the growth of women's tennis in Asia as the next generation of Chinese players follow in the grand slam winner's footsteps and make their mark on the game.

Li's 2011 French Open victory made her the first Asian to win a grand slam singles title and spiked interest in the world's most populous country, one that is always a prioritized growth market for sports bodies.

Zhang Shuai became the fifth Chinese women to win a WTA title when the wildcard triumphed at the Guangzhou Open on Saturday and Allaster hailed the world number five Li for her continued efforts in building the sport.

"The athlete that will make the greatest impact on the growth of women's tennis in this decade," the Canadian told Reuters of Li in an interview in Singapore on Tuesday.

"You can have a strategy with multi-thronged pillars but you need the stars and Li is obviously our star here in Asia.

"She is obviously taking all those pillars of the business strategy and dialing them up because women's tennis is getting noticed and she is inspiring the ones that are right behind her. 'If Li can do it, I can do it' confidence breeds success."

China's appetite for tennis seems only growing, with Allaster saying a huge chunk of their fans were coming from the country where the WTA will have eight events next year, up from two in 2008, as other sports continue to struggle to make an impact.

The former tournament director, who assumed the role of CEO and chairman of the WTA in July 2009, said role models were key.   Continued...

Li Na of China wipes her face during her match against Serena Williams of the U.S. at the U.S. Open tennis championships in New York September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Adam Hunger