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Chinese star hoping she can finally get elusive victory in Melbourne
Li Na doesn't have to win in Melbourne to love it there.
Though she's never won the Australian Open, the city holds a special place in the Chinese tennis star's heart.
Though the 2012 season is still in progress, the 2011 French Open champion is looking forward to playing the 2013 season's opening Grand Slam in January, as well as experiencing Chinese New Year in the city.
"I have to play in different countries and cites every week throughout the season, but Melbourne is always a special place," Li said at a news conference for the inaugural Asia-Pacific wildcard playoff for the Australian Open on Monday in Beijing.
"It's a place I made it into a Grand Slam final for the first time and a place where I felt I could win a Grand Slam one day."
During the 2011 Australian Open, Li made a breakthrough by advancing to the final, quickly becoming a wildly popular star known for her humorous responses and humble attitude during post-match interviews.
Tennis Australia CEO Steve Wood is still impressed by Li's win and personality, and said he can't wait to see her make a mark again in January.
"Li's gorgeous smile and her commitment to the sport were quite impressive and made her a superstar in Australia," Wood said. "She did give happiness to the younger generation, as well as people from the Chinese community in Australia.
"Her performances have delighted tennis fans around the globe and the impact she has had on increasing interest and participation in tennis, particularly in China, is immeasurable."
The Australian Open is usually held around Chinese New Year, and it has made extra efforts in recent years to add more Chinese elements in and outside the venue for athletes and fans.
The hotel Li stayed in this year even had a special menu to suit the Sichuan-born player's taste.
"When staying with Crown during the last Australian Open, I was lucky enough to experience the traditional Chinese New Year celebrations and entertainment plus a range of authentic Chinese cuisine," she said.
"I was so moved and happy that its signature Chinese restaurant, 'Silks', even designed a 'Li Na Menu'."
Greg Hawkins, CEO of Crown Melbourne, said the hotel will continue to provide service and rooms free of charge for all players, especially Chinese players, as Chinese New Year is a significant holiday.
"Crown is also extremely proud to sponsor the great player Li Na and awaits her highly anticipated return to Melbourne.
"In 2013, the Australian Open is immediately followed by Chinese New Year. To celebrate the Year of the Snake, Crown will host traditional New Year celebrations with a Hawker's Bazaar weekend featuring customary ceremonies, authentic Chinese cuisine and entertainment for the entire family."
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