Australian Open finalist Li Na said on Monday she is pleased that her on-court success has triggered a tennis boom in her native China as she prepares to launch her clay-court season at Stuttgart’s WTA tournament.
“Now so many kids want to be professionals, they see the games broadcast on television. When I was little, it was quite different,” said the 31-year-old, who is the second seed in Stuttgart behind Maria Sharapova.
Li is a megastar in China, where her 2011 French Open triumph was watched by 125 million people on television, while an estimated 400 million people watched the news the morning after she had won.
She has risen to fifth in the world rankings, having reached this year’s Australian Open final, where she lost to Victoria Azarenka, having also reached the 2011 final.
It was her breakthrough season, as she went on to beat Italy’s Francesca Schiavone in the French Open final to capture her only Grand Slam title to date.
Li even made the cover of Time magazine earlier this year, after being voted one of their 100 most influential people in the world, but does not allow that to go to her head.
“Whether everyone knows me in China? I can’t really tell you that, because our country is very big,” she told reporters with a wink at Monday’s press conference.
“The hustle and bustle was a bit unpleasant at the time, but things have got back to normal now,” the right-hander said.
Nevertheless, her debut as a Time cover girl clearly impressed the tennis star, even if it took a while for the penny to drop.
“When I saw the cover, I thought: ‘I know that person,’” she said.
“That was very cool and exciting that they have chosen me. I hope it helps the sport of tennis in China” she added.
GRAND PRIX SAR
AP, MARRAKECH, Morocco
Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor of Spain won in straight sets on Monday at the Grand Prix SAR and are to meet in the second round.
Scheepers beat second-seeded Sorana Cirstea of Romania 6-3, 6-1, while Torro-Flor downed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-1.
Scheepers served four aces and broke six times against Cirstea, who won their only previous meeting on hard courts two years ago in Brisbane, Australia.
Rus struggled on serve, double-faulting eight times and winning only 50 percent of first-serve points.