Li Na's success brings energy to tennis in

Updated: 2011-10-02 23:00


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BEIJING - Head of WTA Stacey Allaster was amazed by the progress of China's tennis in recent years and she believed Li Na's success in Roland Garros will fuel tennis growth in China.

"Li Na's winning in Roland Garros really gives us a new energy, a fast energy to inspire the kids in China," said Stacey Allaster while attending the 2011 Beijing International Tennis Summit on Sunday.

"China have come so fast in such a short period of time. Any nation would be thrilled with progress the CTA (Chinese Tennis Association) and the athletes had made," said the Canadian, who has been WTA Chairwoman and CEO since July 2009.

The 29-year-old Li, a native of Wuhan in Central China's Hubei province, became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title when she beat Francesca Schiavone at Roland Garros in June.

According to the WTA, Li Na's match against Schiavone was watched by 116 million people in China, making it the most-watched sporting event in the country this year and the most-watched tennis match ever in the country. And her history-making winning feat has ignited a "tennis fervor" among the whole country.

"Li Na's win will inspire the next group of young girls in China. They would think 'if Li Na can do it, I can do it.' And that level of confidence is one of those magical elements in sports development you can not replicate," said Allaster. "So Li's win will have tremendous impact on the future growth of the sport in China."

Despite of all the compliments from Allaster, the local favorite Li Na became the biggest seed casualty in the opening round of the China Open on Sunday, slumping to a 6-4, 6-0 defeat to the unknown Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu.

However, Li's early exit could not overshadow the progress of the China Open,  the last of the season's four Premier Mandatory events. Since it was launched in 2004, China Open has emerged from a second-tier tournament into one of the elite events.

"Each year the China Open continues to get better and better. We already have a fantastic stadium, which is the Olympic stadium. And now we have the diamond court," said Allaster, referring to the newly built National Tennis Stadium, a diamond-shaped 15,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof.

"Without question, the new national tennis court, the diamond stadium, is first level. It is at the level and quality of all the grand slam center courts," Allaster added.

"We were thrilled with the work that the China open had done for tennis sport. And I know now they are focusing on the promotion of the sport, getting more fans to attend."

In Allaster's mind hosting top level tournaments is not enough for promoting tennis in the most populous country in the world.

"The grassroots promotion is also important. We need to give kids the opportunity to put a racket in their hand. and it also takes good entry level professional events like ITF circuit events and possibly WTA challenger events where local athletes can play at home, earn valuable ranking points at home,  to prepare for their career," said Allaster.

A former junior and collegiate tennis player, Allaster had been a vice president at Tennis Canada before becoming the president of the WTA and now chairman and CEO. She was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of the "most powerful women in sports".