Sports / Tennis

Li too busy for league, targets No 1

By Agence France-Presse in Hong Kong (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-05 09:05

Australian Open champion Li Na on Monday defended her decision to skip the International Premier Tennis League, as she targets more Grand Slams and the world No 1 ranking.

The inaugural edition of the IPTL takes place this year with matches in Bangkok, Mumbai, Singapore and Dubai aimed at raising the profile of tennis across Asia and the Middle East.

But the event, inspired by cricket's financially successful Indian Premier League, has been dealt a blow by the absence of Asia's top male and female players: Japan's Kei Nishikori and world No 2 Li.

The Chinese star became Asia's first Grand Slam winner at the 2011 French Open and followed it up with a second major title at Melbourne in January, vaulting her to a career-high rankings position.

Women's Tennis Association chief Stacey Allaster has placed the 32-year-old at the head of a concerted push into Asia, including multiple new tournaments in China and the end-of-season championships in Singapore.

Full schedule

In September, Li's home city of Wuhan will host a new, premier-level competition, one of six WTA events on Chinese soil this year.

But the hottest property in women's tennis appears to have no room on her tightly-packed calendar for November and December's IPTL - the brainchild of Indian doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi.

"I already put my schedule (together) at the end of last year," Li told a media conference in Hong Kong, where she lost an exhibition match to former US Open champion Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 6-4, to mark World Tennis Day on Monday.

"When I was doing it I didn't see any (IPTL) tournament ... so that is why I didn't schedule it."

The league will operate during the offseason of the tennis calendar, between Nov 27 and Dec 14, and will feature 24 matches across the four host cities.

It falls at a time when most tour players opt to get some rest and will come just weeks before Li would be due to defend her Australian Open title in January.

The team event will take place shortly after October's season-ending WTA Championships in Singapore, which, barring any mishap, Li will contest as one of the world's top eight players.

Li said her focus was on adding to her two Slams and replacing Serena Williams at the top of the rankings.

"I want to be No 1 in the world," she said. "It's a goal, the dream for all athletes. I will try as hard as I can. There's no timing (put on it)."

Li said she was handling the aftermath of her second Slam win better than her first, when she struggled to deal with the pressure of expectation and suffered a slump which led her to consider retiring from the sport.

"After I won the French Open I didn't have any experience and also nobody told me what I should do next," she said.

"This time is different. I am working with (coach) Carlos (Rodriguez) and he has a lot of experience. He told me before what I should do."

Russia's Maria Sharapova and Swiss great Roger Federer are also passing on joining the IPTL, which announced about $23.98 million has been spent signing up the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Williams.

World No 5 Tomas Berdych and former top-ranked Lleyton Hewitt will play for Team Singapore, while Wimbledon champion Andy Murray lines up for Team Bangkok.

Each match will follow a best-of-five format comprised of separate sets contested in men's singles, women's singles, men's doubles, mixed doubles and past champions singles.

"It is an honor to be picked," Berdych said in Hong Kong ahead of his exhibition loss to Hewitt, 6-4, 7-5.

"I am always looking for a new experience and I see this is a good one.

"The IPTL is a fantastic concept and I think it is going to be a great success."

(China Daily 03/05/2014 page24)

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