Sat, Jan 22, 2011 - Page 20 News List

Grand Slam win wouldn’t boost China, Li Na says

AFP, MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

China’s outspoken Li Na yesterday said even a Grand Slam win wouldn’t make tennis popular in her home country, as the public would forget all about it in just one month.

Li was speaking after beating Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-1 to reach the fourth round, reviving memories of last year’s bravura run to the semi-finals.

Both Li and countrywoman Zheng Jie made the last four last year, the first time any Chinese player had done so at a Grand Slam.

Zheng is missing this year due to injury, but Li and Peng Shuai, who is through to the third round, are flying the flag for China.

However, Li is not sure even her maiden Grand Slam title would make a lasting impression in China.

“Maybe for one month,” she said when asked if the game would become bigger in China. “After one month, everyone forgets.”

Promoting tennis in emerging superpower China has been a priority among the sport’s chiefs, with top-level tournaments held in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

Acknowledging the trend, the Australian Open bills itself as the “Grand Slam of Asia/Pacific.”

Li, who caused a stir when she insisted on being coached by her husband Shan Jiang, rather than trainers provided by China’s state machine, also frankly admitted the two often clashed over tennis.

“It’s interesting because you always fight,” she said. “I mean, on the court, I always have to listen to what he says.”

“But we always find it a bonus that we like our job and our life. I think until now we are going well,” Li added.

The 28-year-old also urged China’s men to have greater self-belief if they are to follow the country’s women onto the big stage.

“Maybe the men don’t trust themselves a lot. They don’t have high goals,” she said. “They don’t know what they can do. They always play the Challenger [lower-tier tour].”

The ninth seed made history last year when she reached the semi-finals of the tournament, a result that made her the first Chinese player ever to reach the world top 10.

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