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It's open season

Updated: 2012-01-15 08:12
By Sun Xiaochen ( China Daily)

It's open season

Li Na leads China's contingent at the upcoming Australian Open which also includes Peng Shuai, Zheng Jie and Zhang Shuai. Li will try to emulate her glory in Australia last year, where she reached the final. [Photo/Agencies]

It's open season

Confident Li leads Chinese charge at the year's first tennis major in Melbourne, Sun Xiaochen writes.

For Chinese tennis, Australia has been a magic land where amazing things happen. From Zheng Jie's thrilling semifinal run in 2010 to Li Na's first Grand Slam final appearance last year, Melbourne Park has witnessed Chinese female tennis set milestones one after the other.

Hopefully, this momentum will continue at the 2012 Australian Open, which will swing off on Monday.

Spearheading China's three-ace roster as the No 5 seed in the main draw, French Open champion Li has rekindled her winning form after claiming all three of her Hopman Cup singles matches and reaching back-to-back finals at the Sydney International.

"I'm back and I am feeling stronger, not only in my body but also in my mind. It was a big win for me today against Petra (Kvitova). I feel like I am getting my pace and energy back," Li said after stunning the Czech world No 2 in the Sydney semifinals.

Facing unexpected pressure and distractions off the court, Li's form dipped at the end of last season when she had early exits at Wimbledon and the US Open.

However, the 29-year-old claims she is reinvigorated after a four-week winter training camp in Germany last month.

"After winter training I am feeling better for the season. I had four weeks (in Munich), no photo shoots, no interviews, just very tough training mostly for fitness," Li said. "I feel like I am in the same position as I was last year."

Li entered the Australian Open final last year after winning the Sydney final over Belgian great Kim Clijsters. She enjoyed the ride even more at the next major, delivering Asia's first Grand Slam trophy at Roland Garros.

Better chemistry with her coach and husband, Jiang Shan, has also helped her revitalization.

The pep talks from good-natured Jiang have provided an effective balance for emotional Li as she reclaimed control of her semifinal against Kvitova after complaining fiercely to Jiang during the first-set break in Sydney.

Drawn in the top quarter of the draw, Li will take on Kazakhstan youngster Ksenia Pervak in her opening match and won't see a real test until a potential fourth-round clash against Clijsters, who beat Li last year in the final. If Li makes it to the quarterfinals, Danish world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki could be waiting.

Li won't be lonely in the top half of the draw with fellow star Peng Shuai drawn in the bottom quarter. She will face Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai in her first match. That quarter also includes world No 3 Victoria Azarenka from Belarus, who beat Li in the Sydney final, and Polish ace Agnieszaka Radwanska.

Peng, the No 17 seed, will enter the tournament in red-hot form after a superb 2011 season and expects to go deeper than her career-best fourth-round finish last year.

The 26-year-old reached that same stage at Wimbledon and the US Open last year to achieve a career-high year-end ranking of No 17.

Veteran Zheng is also on a high after claiming her first WTA singles title since 2006 in Auckland last Sunday.

The world No 38 will be hoping for a strong campaign to equal her best major result in Melbourne after recovering from a wrist injury that has plagued her over the past two years.

"It's a good beginning to a year-long journey. It's a big confidence boost and I will keep calm and focus on the Open," pint-sized Zheng said on her micro-blog.

Drawn in the bottom half, Zheng is likely to breeze past American junior Madison Keys in the first round before potentially meeting French No 9 seed Marion Bartoli in the third round and then possibly Aussie power-hitter Samantha Stosur in the last 16.

China's wild card, Zhang Shuai, the world No 126, will seek her first Grand Slam win over Canadian Aleksandra Wozniak in her seventh main-draw trip in a major.

The Chinese players' success has triggered massive attention at the year's first Grand Slam event.

A new broadcast deal with Shanghai Media Group will give an additional 65 million homes in China access to live coverage of the tournament, meaning a potential Chinese audience of 200 million.

According to The Age of Melbourne, ticket sales through tour operators in China have increased 30 percent on last year, and the number of Chinese journalists covering the Open has more than doubled.

It's open season

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