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Li Na's success fuels tennis growth in China, says WTA boss

(Xinhua)

11:30, August 13, 2011

TORONTO, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- Li Na's success as China's first Grand Slam champion will inspire more young people to play tennis and bring more Chinese people to the sport of tennis, said chairman of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) here on Thursday.

Stacey Allaster, who has been WTA Chairman and CEO since July 2009, made the remarks on the sidelines of the 2011 Rogers Cup, a WTA tournament, when taking Xinhua's interview.

"You have your first Grand Slam champion, Li Na, who is dramatic ambassador for woman tennis and for China," Allaster told. "160 million Chinese people watch Li Na win at Roland Garros. That will inspire more young boys and young girls to play the sport."

"It's a terrific time and terrific opportunity," she added.

There is much excitement for this year's China Open in Beijing, with a new state-of-art court with 15,000 seats and a retractable roof. Beijing has invested more in tennis, after hosting a world class Olympics in 2008, noted Allaster.

The WTA opened up an office in Beijing in 2008 and this week made a commitment to holding the China Open event in Beijing for the next six years. Over the past year, the WTA has held three different tennis festivals to bring more children to tennis.

Allaster singled out the phenomenal success of NBA in China as a model that women's tennis should emulate.

"As I drive through Beijing, I'm quite taken by the presence of basketball. NBA has done a fantastic job building the grassroots, building the foundation for basketball in Beijing.

"I would like to see permanent WTA courts. We get to mix in the event, and we mix in the athletes, and it's a winning equation to really grow the sport in Beijing," she said.

A former junior and collegiate tennis player, Allaster had been a vice president at Tennis Canada before becoming the president of the WTA and now chairman and CEO. She was recently named by Forbes magazine as one of the "most powerful women in sports".

Asked about Li Na's defeat on Thursday by Australia's Samantha Stosur, Allaster attributed the loss to Li's lack of practice prior to the match.

"She came up to against a really tough player today, Samantha Stosur. It what's happening in women's tennis right now, there are so much depths. Any given day, any top athlete can win," she said.

"She is a fantastic competitor, very fit. I think she is hitting her stride," Allaster said of Li Na.

"We have only seen the beginning from Li Na," she predicted.

Allaster is likewise upbeat about the status of women's tennis in the world.

For the first time in WTA's history, the top 10 players come from 10 different nations, according to Allaster.

"I think the global world is actually now a macrocosm of WTA," she noted, adding that "I think this global world we have is going to change WTA as well."

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