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Chinese tennis star Li Na has been confirmed for January’s 2010 ASB Classic featuring the Kia Motors Singles and doubles.
Currently ranked at a career-high 15 Li Na had an incredible run of results in 2009 to take tennis in the world’s most populous nation to a new high. She wasn’t quite able to add to her previous two tournament title wins at Guangzhou (2004) and Gold Coast (2008) but did come close, reaching two finals.
The highest ranked Asian player, 27-year-old Li Na holds a number of records for her nation including becoming the first Chinese player to reach the top 30 and then the top 20 (both in 2006) and the first from her nation to win a Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles title.
At Wimbledon 2006, she became the first Chinese woman to reach a Grand Slam singles quarter-final gaining her then highest world ranking – 16. One of the highlights of her career came last year, at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, where she reached the semifinals, beating Svetlana Kuznetsova and Venus Williams.
She has also had 14 wins over top 10 players including Serena Williams when ranked at No1 at the time.
Li Na missed the first month of the year, including the Australian Open with a right knee injury but proved her determination and talent by still managing to make two finals and one Grand Slam quarter-final to finish the year in the top 20.
Her best results in 2009 included reaching the final at Monterrey Open (Mexico) where she defeated World No10 and top seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round but lost to second-seeded Marion Bartoli in the battle for the title.
She followed this up with a fourth round appearance at Indian Wells and then made the quarter-finals of the Premier event in Miami upsetting sixth seeded Zvonareva in three sets, before losing to No1 Serena Williams in a tight three set contest.
At Roland Garros Li Na achieved a career-best result by reaching the fourth round before being stopped by Maria Sharapova.
On grass Li Na made the final of Birmingham after this time beating Sharapova in straight sets. She eventually lost to Magdalena Rybarikova.
At the US Open she scored some good wins to make her second Grand Slam quarter-final, before losing to Kim Clijsters.
She was not finished for the year as she reached the semifinals of the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo including beating Victoria Azarenka in the quarters in three sets but losing to Jelena Jankovic in a bid for a place in the final.
“It will be my first time to play at ASB Classic and my first time in New Zealand. My husband will come too so we are both looking forward to this. I plan to arrive early to Auckland to prepare for my first tournament in 2010,” says Li Na.
“Women’s tennis is really growing in China, and I am very proud to be the No1 Chinese player and to finish the year in the top 20. In recent years Chinese players have really started to be noticed around the world on Sony Ericsson WTA Tour having some great results against top players and at major events,” says Li Na.
The Chinese government is investing heavily in the development and promotion of tennis through the building of new facilities, infrastructure and offering tax incentives for private investment in the sport.
There are approximately 65,000 tennis courts in China, increasing at about 15% per year since the government announced tennis as a top priority sport; tennis is the third most aired sport on TV behind football and basketball, ahead of billiards, badminton and table tennis.
“It’s great to have our first top 20 player confirmed for the 2010 ASB Classic and someone the New Zealand public have not seen in this country before. I’m confident there will be at least one other top 20 player to follow in the next few weeks,” says ASB Classic Tournament Director, Brenda Perry.
“China is going to be a real force to be reckoned with on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour just as Russia has been in recent years and Li Na is leading the charge. She is a highly accomplished new face for the ASB Classic and will be one of the favourites for the title.”
Already confirmed for the 2010 ASB Classic are the world No1 doubles and multi-Grand Slam winning pair of Cara Black (Zimbabwe) and Liezel Huber(United States). While world No22 and 2009 finalist Elena Vesnina from Russia will be a seed in singles at the tournament.
Tickets will be on sale for the 2010 ASB Classic from Ticketek or Tennis Auckland from Monday 2 November 2009.
The tournament will once again include video podcasting as well as live scoring and a number of other new features.
The ASB Classic featuring the Kia Motors Singles and Doubles will be played at the ASB Tennis Centre January 4-9, with qualifying January 2-3.
The ASB Classic is a US$220,000 International Series event on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour.