Li looks to cap illustrious season in Istanbul

Li looks to cap illustrious season in Istanbul

Çetin Cem Yılmaz ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News
Li looks to cap illustrious season in Istanbul

The year 2011 has been a stunning year for Chinese tennis star Li Na, who won the French Open and was the runner-up in the Australian Open. The 29-year-old became the first Asian singles player to win a Grand Slam after her victory at Roland Garros.

Li Na says she looks forward to playing in Istanbul against the best players of the season in next week’s TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships.

The Chinese tennis star will be among the eight top women’s tennis players who will line up for the year-ending tournament that will be played at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul. The tournament is more than another title challenge for the 29-year-old: It is a serious chance for Li to cap her stunning year.

Li made it to the final at the Australian Open, where she was beaten by Kim Clijsters. More importantly, however, she went on to win the French Open against Francesca Schiavone. In Istanbul, Li will try to finish her inspiring year in style.

“This year has been the most successful of my career so far and I’m very happy to have qualified for the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships,” Li wrote to the Hürriyet Daily News in an e-mail interview. “I’m proud to be the first Chinese woman to qualify in singles for this event and I look forward to some tough matches in Istanbul against the best players of the season.”

Caroline Wozniacki, the world’s top female player, and Russian superstar Maria Sharapova lead the pack of singles players to book their spot in the year-ending competition, along with Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, and U.S. Open titleholder Sam Stosur of Australia. Belarusian Victoria Azarenka and Russian Vera Zvonareva are also among the seven players guaranteed a spot. Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska is the closest for the last remaining spot for the WTA Championships; Marion Bartoli and Andrea Petkovic are also lurking.

Li is aware that she’s in tough company and said she could not pick one particular opponent as the main contender.

“I know every match will be tough because it’s the top eight in the world,” she said. “I will just take it one match at a time and try to focus on my game.”

Earlier this year, Li made history as the first Chinese and Asian women’s singles player to win a grand slam with her victory at Roland Garros. She remembers the day with great excitement, but admits she didn’t immediately understand how prestigious the title was.

“It was a dream come true for me and a very proud moment,” she said. “When they raised the Chinese flag during the trophy ceremony, that’s when I realized what I had done. I got many messages from my friends back in China and they said they were crying because they saw the national flag. I think if you’re Chinese, everyone was excited at that time.”

Li is the latest example of China’s recent boom in sporting heroes, along with the likes of former basketball star Yao Ming and Olympic champion hurdler Liu Xiang. The tennis ace says she is happy if she opens doors for youngsters of her nation.

“I can’t talk for the other athletes, but I think for me personally, if I can help to improve tennis in China then that’s great,” she wrote. “Because right now I think more children, they saw my matches and they are thinking, ‘Okay, maybe someday I can do the same or even better than her.’ I think now the children have more confidence to play professional tennis.”

China is now a powerhouse in many sports, as displayed at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Li is an example that China is slowly starting to translate that domination into tennis. Asked how China could serve as a role model for Turkey, Li said it would be key to build courts.

“When I was growing up in China there weren’t too many courts. Now I see courts everywhere, and I see people using them too,” she wrote.

It is about giving the young sports enthusiasts the space they crave, she said.

“It’s important to encourage Turkish children to pick up tennis rackets,” Li said. “And give them somewhere to play.”