China's Li Na serves a ball against Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki during their third round women's singles match at the Pan Pacific Open tennis tournament in Tokyo, on Sept 26, 2012. [Photo/Agencies]
A revitalized Li Na will begin her 2013 season at home after the WTA added a new tournament to its schedule in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.
Inspired by the nation's growing passion for tennis, the WTA decided to extend its 2013 schedule with a new tournament, the Shenzhen Gemdale Open, which will be held in the southern coastal city from Dec 31 to Jan 6.
"We are very excited to be adding the Shenzhen Gemdale Open to the WTA's calendar in 2013," said Stacey Allaster, chairman and CEO of the WTA.
"China and the Asia-Pacific region are key strategic growth markets for the WTA and Shenzhen will present a fantastic opportunity to continue showcasing women's tennis to the fans of China, and build upon the foundation that has been laid by the China Open and Guangzhou International Women's Open."
The third WTA event in China, following events in Beijing and Guangzhou, the Shenzhen Open will provide local aces like Li and Peng Shuai a great opportunity to prepare for the Australian Open.
"Playing in a new tournament in my home country is a huge honor," world No 7 Li said at the launch of the tournament.
After spending three weeks training with coach Carlos Rodriguez in Beijing, Li flew to Germany for a medical examination on her knee before arriving in Shenzhen on Sunday to tune up for the season-opening tournament.
"I am in great shape after winter training and I am also well prepared mentally. I am happy with my form now," Li said on Wednesday.
Under Rodriguez's guidance, Li has fine tuned her serve and improved her mental toughness, which was evident when she claimed her sixth career title in Cincinatti and then made the semis at the China Open, which secured her a spot at the year-end WTA Championships.
Still, she answered a question of "will you continue to work with Carlos?" with vague words.
"Will or not, what's the difference? Everybody cares too much about my next coach. I hope more focus will be on my game itself."
However, Rodriguez confirmed the partnership will continue.
"We are going to play about 18 tournaments this season and Shenzhen is an ideal event to kick it off," Rodriguez, who started to work with Li in August, told Titan Sports last week.
Besides Li, the field will also feature top-30 players like Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, Serbian former World No 1 Jelena Jankovic, Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei and WTA Newcomer of The Year, Laura Robson of Britain.
"Bonjour! I am excited to be playing the first Shenzhen Open," said world No 11 Bartoli. "I have so many good memories in China and l am looking forward to seeing you in Shenzhen to watch me in action in January."
For budding local players, another home event will provide more experinces at a higher level of competition.
Duan Yingying (world No 131) and Zheng Saisai (ranked 138) will join other promising players in the 16-player qualifier to compete for entry into the main draw.
Veteran Yan Zi, who just came out of retirement in August, will play doubles in Shenzhen to regain her touch after having a baby this year.
Boasting prize money of $500,000, the tournament includes a singles draw of 32 and a doubles draw of 16. It will be hosted at the Shenzhen Longgang Tennis Center, which features 32 hard courts, and a 4,000-seat center court that uses the Hawk-Eye system.