SBD/January 28, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Li Na's Presence In Aussie Open Final Could Open Up Doors In China

Li becomes first Chinese woman ever to reach Grand Slam singles final
The WTA "claims to have 4.4 million fans on social media portals in China, more than any other global sports association, including the NBA," and a victory by China-native Li Na over Kim Clijsters in Saturday's Australian Open women's final "would presumably boost all the numbers," according to Christopher Clarey of the N.Y. TIMES. Li is the "first Chinese woman to reach a Grand Slam singles final," and WTA Chair & CEO Stacey Allaster said, "I have to believe we'll hit an all-time record with women's tennis with the number of viewers who will watch Li Na compete in the final." Clarey notes the WTA in recent years "has made China a priority," opening an office there in '08, sending WTA President David Shoemaker "for a lengthy reconnaissance mission, making the China Open one of its four mandatory tour events in 2009 and attempting, in general, to determine the best way to ride the tiger in a country where the culture of racket sports is well established" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/28). Futures Sports & Entertainment Dir Kevin Alavy: "To maximize the size of the television audience, having Li Na in the final is perfect. China is an absolutely critical market for tennis globally. Having her in the final can have a transformative effect on the global viewing story. We wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to be the most-watched tennis match of all time." Shoemaker: "This could be the beginning of a tidal wave that will set off such excitement in China, where every youngster -- boy or girl -- will want to pick up a tennis racket and try to copy this new star" (CNN.com, 1/28).

FOLLOW THE LEADER: REUTERS' Nick Mulvenney reported Li "hopes reaching the final of a grand slam for the first time ... will inspire a new generation of Chinese players to one day rival the number of Russians in women's tennis." Li: "Maybe because right now I have got into the final, maybe many young players or children will see that and think, 'maybe one day we can do the same or even better than her?' ... So I think if we do better ... more people will come to watch, more people will pay attention." Mulvenney noted Li last year became the first Chinese female the be ranked in the top 10, and she "would climb to fifth in the world rankings with a win on Saturday" (REUTERS, 1/27).

CAN LI SELL? FANHOUSE.com's Greg Couch wrote Li is "not going to sell" to U.S. viewers. She "has all the personality and color and warmth in the world, but she speaks broken English and doesn't have drop dead good looks." Couch: "In the U.S., that stuff is mandatory. She is not going to sell women's tennis under any circumstances." Caroline Wozniacki "might," as the 20-year-old is the top-ranked player in the world and "pushes her good looks and blond hair and short skirts." Couch: "One thing is sure: Women's tennis is in desperate need of a top player, a leader. Wozniacki has not won a major. Serena Williams is the best, but she doesn't play enough. Clijsters has been dominating the tour, but she has already retired once, and this comeback can't be expected to last too much longer" (FANHOUSE.com, 1/27).

CHANGING OF THE GUARD ON THE MEN'S SIDE? Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will play each other in the Australian Open men’s final instead of the event featuring the anticipated Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer matchup, and ESPN’s “Around The Horn” asked whether having new faces in the final is good for tennis. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan said the sport does need “new faces, just as golf needs new faces,” but only because “nobody watches" the Australian Open. Wimbledon and the U.S. Open “need Nadal and Federer." Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw said, "I'm not ready or interested in new faces yet. I still want Federer and Nadal. They played the greatest match ever in Wimbledon three years ago. They're still at a point in their careers they can play some more. I want to see those two guys on the court in the final" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/27).
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