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Li at vanguard of WTA's Asian ambitions

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2013-10-11 07:49

The head of women's tennis is more than willing to take a backseat to Chinese star Li Na as the Wuhan native's impact on the game's growth in the Asia-Pacific region continues to grow.

Canada's Stacey Allaster, chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, said her influence in business matters was less important than Li's trailblazing role on the court, inspiring the whole region's interest in the game.

"Li is much more powerful than I am, absolutely," Allaster told China Daily during the recent China Open.

"She deserves to be recognized as one of the most influential people in the world. She is the player of this decade that will have the most impact on the growth of the WTA."

Allaster, who was named by Forbes as one of the "most powerful women in sports" in 2009, has made the WTA one of the most recognized professional sports brands in China.

With the Premier 5 tournament relocated from Tokyo to Wuhan, the WTA will have eight events, including a new tournament in Hong Kong, in China next year while 60 percent of the organization's 70 million active followers on social media platforms are from China.

Allaster said the rise wasn't a surprise given the solid foundation the organization has built with local authorities and media partners since placing China on its strategic blueprint in 2006, but it was Li's epic win at the 2011 French Open that served as the catalyst.

"We need to be on the ground to do basic grassroots promotions, educating Chinese people about the sport of tennis, having events and creating consistent communication in the media to build the momentum of women's tennis," said Allaster.

"We put everything in place and we are really lucky that Li won a Grand Slam. No doubt she helped with the growth."

Allaster also believes Li can realize her goal of winning another major and crack the world top three with her new coaching crew.

"Obviously, she picked the best coach (Carlos Rodriguez) in this business," said Allaster.

"Bringing new confidence and some tweaks to her game, I think it has propelled her to a very successful season and she will deliver more."

With the help of Rodriguez, former mentor of seven-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin, Li has reached at least the semifinals in seven of the 14 tournaments she has played this season and has qualified for the year-end WTA Championships.

Her solid performances and the decision to leave the State-run system have inspired the next generation of players.

Compatriot Zhang Shuai became the fifth Chinese woman to win a WTA title when she triumphed at the Guangzhou Open last month, joining Li, Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai as the fourth Chinese with a top 100 ranking, at No 74.

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