Mon, Jan 02, 2012 - Page 19 News List

2011 IN REVIEW: Asian fortunes hit new heights


Li Na of China hits a return against Romania’s Monica Niculescu during their first-round singles match at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing, China, on Oct. 2 last year.

Photo: AFP

Asian sporting fortunes reached new heights last year as its growing riches drew a rising number of top events and China’s Li Na made history as the region’s first tennis Grand Slam winner.

Japan claimed a thrilling victory in January’s Asian Cup, India were crowned cricket’s one-day champions and in October, New Zealand ended a 24-year jinx to lift the rugby World Cup in front of an ecstatic home nation.

India’s debut Formula One race made it seven grands prix in the Asia-Pacific region, prompting the sport’s supremo Bernie Ecclestone to declare Europe was “finished” in the sport.

And Asia’s burgeoning golf scene became so crowded — partly due to the advent of mega-rich Chinese exhibition events — that tournaments clashed and were forced to compete for players.

Asia-Pacific tennis players starred this year, with Samantha Stosur downing Serena Williams in a stormy US Open final to become Australia’s first female Grand Slam winner since 1980.

Earlier, Li’s historic French Open victory had triggered a rapturous response from the Chinese public, a government cash prize and a bronze statue in her home city of Wuhan, and eager anticipation of further success.

However, the straight-sets win over defending champion Francesca Schiavone proved a tough act to follow as Li won just one match at Wimbledon and crashed out in the US Open first round.

Japan had got the year off to a flying start as they edged Australia in the Asian Cup final in Doha thanks to a sublime extra-time volley from Tadanari Lee, which settled it 1-0.

And the marathon cricket World Cup built to a memorable climax in April — after starting in February — when co-hosts India chased down Sri Lanka’s 274 in Mumbai, sparking riotous celebrations.

England retained the Ashes with a 3-1 demolition of disbelieving Australia, their first away victory in the historic series in 24 years.

However, cricket reeled from newspaper revelations of a spot-fixing scam which led to jail terms in Britain for disgraced Pakistan captain Salman Butt, bowlers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and their agent Mazhar Majeed.

Asian soccer was also dragged through the mire when regional chief Mohamed bin Hammam was accused of handing out cash-stuffed envelopes and banned from the sport, after attempting to topple FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

South Korea’s K-League was rocked by a wide-ranging match-fixing scandal, which was closely linked to two suicides and left dozens of people in the dock.

However, China’s maligned soccer scene celebrated a coup when Shanghai Shenhua landed the signature of Chelsea’s Nicolas Anelka, the Chinese Super League’s first legitimate star.

In October, India held a trouble-free maiden Formula One race near New Delhi, boosting its image after the shambolic and scandalous Commonwealth Games in 2010.

Juvic Pagunsan became the Philippines’ first winner of golf’s Asian order of merit, largely through his efforts in coming second in the rain-hit Singapore Open.

A galaxy of golf stars were again lured to the region by ever-growing purses and hefty appearance fees, with world No. 2 Rory McIlory pocketing US$2 million — the sport’s richest first prize — for an exhibition win in China.

The congested “Asian swing” showed signs of reaching saturation point as tournaments competed for players and organizers hit out at China’s new “vanity” events, which sucked in the game’s top talent.

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